Book Review: The Congressman Who Got Away with Murder, by Nat Brandt

Another men's book club selection, and a "bonus" of sorts as my copy was a library book retired after many years and only two check-outs in fourteen years - not exactly a hot-ticket at the public library in Meridian, CT! The two main characters are a congressman from a New York district and his wife, along with a descendant of Francis Scott Key, a widower and ladies' man who seduces the congressman's wife. After numerous sordid details, the former kills the latter, and "The most sensational murder trial in DC history" takes place. Washington DC is a swampy, sparsely populated unimpressive place at the time, with a strong North-South chasm in society and the pre-Civil War Congress (sound familiar?).

This rather titillating story at the time of the very onset of the Civil War lugs along with far too much minutia including an unending series of names and trivial details. One important and interesting theme is the development and use of "temporary insanity" as a defense for the very first time, and its acceptance as a valid argument with Biblical references to support its claim. The trial itself is a main theme after the initial "set-up" and the emotional distress of the wronged husband is vivid. In addition, the judge's final instructions to the jury are brilliant with "Reasonable Doubt" listed along with the theme of Temporary Insanity. From the title of the book, it is no surprise that the defense is successful, and the story turns to the relationship (or lack of one) between the wronged husband and his wife as well as with some vivid action scenes in the Civil War itself.

The aggrieved husband emerges with a rather full and sordid life after his trial and Civil War heroics. All in all, an interesting but over-saturated-with-details story of a life of a man who does not endear himself to this reader.


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