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The Anarchist    by John Smolens order for
by John Smolens
Order:  USA  Can
Three Rivers, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Anarchist, John Smolens lays out a fictional account of events surrounding the September 1901 assassination of William McKinley by a passionate and fanatical young anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, who believes it is his duty to kill the President.

Paving the way for the Presidential visit to Buffalo - and in light of threats received and of the international movement's assassinations of royalty in Europe - Pinkerton agent Jake Norris develops informants. His first spy, a prostitute named Clementine, is murdered. The second, canawler Moses Hyde, gets close to Czolgosz and warns Norris that he is serious and has acquired a weapon. Moses tries to follow Czolgosz but loses track of him at the critical period when he nears the President.

After the President is shot, it looks for a time like he might survive the assassination attempt, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds. While his health is deteriorating and mobs riot, Jake Norris and Buffalo police captain Lloyd Savin seek to find - or manufacture - evidence of a plot. The ungrateful and brutal Norris works to implicate Moses, Motka (the prostitute whom Moses hopes to marry), and Motka's brother Anton who does have ties to the anarchists' movement.

Moses Hyde, the ultimate underdog, keeps focused on his goal. He eventually tracks down Clementine's killer, foils another anarchist plot, and wins a new life and family for himself. Though it reads at times like a documentary when filling in the historical facts, I enjoyed The Anarchist for its representation of the era and glimpses of figures like McKinley himself, his wife and doctor, and the brash and energetic Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt.

An interesting Author's Note at the end talks about the 'scant, murky, and contradictory' historical records regarding Leon Czolgosz, and ends with the excellent question, 'Why do such lofty aspirations of freedom so often lead to bloodshed?'

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