The first page of the galley for the AmazonEncore edition of The First Assassin carries a letter from my editor:
John J. Miller’s The First Assassin is a rare hybrid, indeed — a detailed, fascinating account of our country on the brink of the Civil War that has all the nuance, compassion, and clear-eyed historical context of Ken Burns’ classic The Civil War, and an edge of your seat espionage thriller that would please even the most hard-core Ludlum fan. Should this mash up work? Not at all. Does Miller succeed? Absolutely.
The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of the many different characters, and Miller has painted them with such idiosyncratic insight and detail that I had to hit Google more than once to see if they were based on real people or the author’s imagination. I haven’t been this impressed with a melding of the historical and fictional since Doctorow’s Ragtime.
I’m not a history buff, but the pre Civil War period presented in The First Assassin — the polarizing mood of the country, the virulent divisiveness, the absolute certainty and righteousness that each side believes only they truly hold — not only presents a clear-eyed, pragmatic, and original portrait of our country one hundred and fifty years ago, but subtly resonates and comments on the political factions of modern day America.
That said, if you’re looking for a kick-ass espionage thriller that moves at a breakneck speed, features a large cast of characters behaving honorably and/or atrociously, and ups the ante and anxiety as well as any episode of 24, you’ve found the right book. The First Assassin has been called a modern day successor to Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, and I can’t think of a more deserved comparison.
If you’re a Civil War or history buff, you’ve found your next book. If you’re a thriller junkie, you’re gonna love this. If you’re not a fan of either, you’re in for a surprise at how well both aspects work. And if by chance you’re a history buff who likes a good thriller — well, Merry Christmas, my friend.