A young store owner and an up-and-coming lawyer start a lifelong relationship in Jonathan Putnam’s These Honored Dead. Joshua Speed runs a general store in Springfield, Illinois. When he’s asked if he has room for a new man in town to bunk with him, Speed reluctantly agrees to share his bed—not an unusual circumstance in a town with too few rooms for bachelors to bunk down—with the young lawyer. But when Speed sees the tall, lanky Abraham Lincoln for the first time, he begins to question his generosity. However, the two men not only start a friendship, but they also embark on a tangled path of murder, deceit and illicit affairs. When Rebecca Harriman’s niece is murdered in her barn, Speed takes it upon himself to prove her innocence. His motives seem unusual to Lincoln, but he doesn’t know that Speed and Harriman had a secret affair. When two more murders occur, it is up to Lincoln to defend the man accused of the crime. Through Speed’s investigations (with help from his sister), and Lincoln’s crafty legal ruse, secrets come to light that no one could have suspected.
Putnam takes the real-life friendship of Lincoln and Speed and spins a wonderful fictional history of their first years together. As to the mystery part, it is not too difficult to piece together the murderer early on, but the story is engaging enough to pull you through to the end when you are given the whys. A well-researched book that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, and a book that should be on a Lincoln buff’s reading list.
Review originally appeared in the Historical Novels Review August 2016