The Judges of the Secret Court
by David Stacton, introduction by John Crowley
A novel about John Wilkes Booth.
David Stacton’s The Judges of The Secret Court is a long-lost triumph of American fiction as well as one of the finest books ever written about the Civil War. Stacton’s gripping and atmospheric story revolves around the brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, members of a famous theatrical family. Edwin is a great actor, himself a Hamlet-like character whose performance as Hamlet will make him an international sensation. Wilkes is a blustering mediocrity on stage who is determined, however, to be an actor in history, and whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln will change America. Stacton’s novel about how the roles we play become, for better or for worse, the lives we lead, takes us back to the day of the assassination, immersing us in the farrago of bombast that fills Wilkes’s head while following his footsteps up to the fatal encounter at Ford’s Theatre. The political maneuvering around Lincoln’s deathbed and Wilkes’s desperate flight and ignominious capture then set the stage for a political show trial that will condemn not only the guilty but the—at least relatively—innocent. For as Edwin Booth broods helplessly many years later, and as Lincoln, whose tragic death and wisdom overshadow this tale, also knew, “We are all accessories before or after some fact…. We are all guilty of being ourselves.”
Far more than just "a novel about John Wilkes Booth," The Judges of the Secret Court — haunting title — depicts the complex aftershock of the Lincoln assassination on a surprisingly large circle of people, including the various conspirators, the famous Booth family of actors and the Washington politicos who seize on the death of the president for their own purposes....What most surprises about this "historical" novel is its urbane, mildly epigrammatic style. Stacton is never florid or old-fashioned. He writes with lean economy and speed....The Judges of the Secret Court isn't just a novel about John Wilkes Booth; it is a vision of what life and the world do to us.
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
David Stacton is an original, finely pitched voice in American fiction. I own most of his books and have enjoyed every one. He deserves to return.
On the surface, it would appear to be a superior historical fiction, accurate in detail, moving and compelling narrative and character. But it is something more than this as well, an exploration by a brilliant and thoughtful writer of the labyrinthine ways of good and evil.
—Robert R. Kirsch, Los Angeles Times