“A Friend of Mr. Lincoln is a novel of real rewards. Not least among them is Harrigan’s ability to vividly and economically evoke his vanished world, as in this description of a path encountered on the Illinois prairie: 'It was a road that seemed almost arbitrary in this featureless immensity, as if someone had tried to carve a route through the curving vault of heaven.'
Even if Harrigan clips a bit off the wings of Lincoln’s better angels, he also offers us a powerful glimpse into what the great man liked to call his 'real life.' In doing so, he provides us with a rumbling, rambunctious novel, full of its own raw life.
...the book crackles when dealing with young love and romance, both Lincoln’s tortured romance with Mary Todd and Cage’s arrangement with a young seamstress named Ellen. Harrigan has a true gift for crafting female characters that navigate the constraints of their time with a stubborn deftness ... Meticulously researched, gorgeously rendered, A Friend of Mr. Lincoln is a powerful historical novel of friendship, love and ambition.
In lieu of plot, Harrigan offers twinned and twined chronological development, maneuvering – not always plausibly – his Zelig to be around Lincoln at critical moments ... Although Harrigan’s dialogue has period twang, his set pieces –descriptions of battles, natural settings, social events – often sound as if they had been written by a 21st-century historian, an effect compounded when Harrigan inserts unnecessary flash-forwards.
...deeply researched and elegantly written ... Although this is a fictional Lincoln, Harrigan’s careful scholarship and graceful prose guarantee insights into the real man that few biographies can deliver.