Path of Peril

Aug 2, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Marlie Wasserman

Some of you reading Kings River Life Magazine are old enough to remember the horrible day in 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy. If you do remember, you will have lived through one presidential assassination. Now, imagine your memories if you were a middle-aged adult in 1900. You would remember the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the day Charles Guiteau shot James Garfield in 1881, and the day Leon Czolgosz shot William McKinley in 1901. Three presidents dead in office in 36 years. Those are the memories that must have clung to Theodore Roosevelt when he became president upon McKinley’s death. By all rights, he should have been scared out of his mind and getting his affairs in order. By all rights, his wife, Edith should have been stockpiling black dresses and veils.

Roosevelts on the train they took across Panama

Teddy and Edith Roosevelt never showed the public the fright the rest of us would feel daily. Moreover, rather than hiding in the guarded White House, they went out into the world. When Teddy decided, in 1906, to visit Panama to check on the construction of his beloved canal, he became the first sitting president to ever travel abroad—travel that we take for granted these days as presidents go to summits and visit the troops. Edith went with him, wearing white for the tropics, not black. Few people knew Teddy carried in his jacket a small, pearl-gripped Browning M1900 pistol—and he knew how to use it.

In the years before Roosevelt’s travel to Panama, dozens of men threatened to kill him. Some had a political agenda, some a personal agenda. Readers of “Path of Peril,” my new historical novel about Roosevelt’s trip, will know that the president returned from Panama all in one piece. But what if assassins—maybe more than one—did their best to kill him on his trip abroad, when he might have fewer guards than usual? The historical record hints at threats on Roosevelt’s life, and my educated guesses tell me that even more threats stayed hidden from the public. Teddy Roosevelt did not want his trip to check on the greatest engineering feat in history to be marred by reports of danger. He cherished his reputation as a man of vigor who, according to legend, led his Rough Riders on an assault on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, fending off nearly one thousand armed Spanish soldiers. Roosevelt would not want the reporters who tagged along in Panama to portray him as a victim of an assassin or two.

Like many historical novelists, I begin with what we know, in the case what we know about Teddy Roosevelt’s personality and the threats on his life. Then, I imagine what we don’t know, what observers failed to see, and what witnesses were persuaded to forget.

Join Teddy and Edith on their travel across Panama, seen through the eyes of the little-known men and women on the entourage who accompanied him and the assassins who hunted him. You’ll learn about a fascinating country, warts, and all while wondering how Teddy avoids catastrophe.

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Marlie Parker Wasserman writes historical crime fiction, after a career on the other side of the desk in publishing. In addition to Path of Peril, she is the author of The Murderess Must Die (2021) and the forthcoming Inferno on Fifth (2024). She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Triangle chapter of Sisters in Crime, and reviews regularly for The Historical Novel Society Review. Marlie lives with her husband in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

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