Another time, another impeachment in the U.S.

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  1. S. Constitution: Article 11, Section 4: “A federal officer can be impeached for treason, bribery, or high crime or misdemeanor. The House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment and a simple majority of members can vote to impeach. The Senate shall then have the sole power to try all impeachments, and if there is a trial of the U.S. President, no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members of the Senate present.”

That’s it, all the U.S. Constitution says about impeachment. One small paragraph in a mighty document. It’s happening again, just the third time in the history of the United States. But, as John Banville once said, “The past beats inside me like a second heart.”

To further understand the process, I went to Brenda Wineapple’s brand new The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (Random House, $42). When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Vice-President Andrew Johnson became “the Accidental President.” Congress was divided over how the Union should be reunited. Enter Andrew Johnson, a strict interpreter of the U. S. Constitution who believed that since the Constitution says nothing about secession, there was none.

The Civil War administrator of military justice in the south, he was once governor of Tennessee who famously said, “This is a white man’s government.” He was rather pugnacious about it, opposing civil rights, pardoning former Confederates and re-establishing state governments. Johnson was impeached, the first president to suffer the fate of a trial in the Senate. He was found not guilty.

The case has no real resemblance to what is now happening today south of the border. But Wineapple (the author of dual biographies of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson as well as Gertrude and Leo Stein) does an excellent job of making a complex historical event understandable. It is a historical barn-burner of a book, a lay historian’s dream. Combine scholarly authority with literary grace and you have a book!

It is almost Christmas, time out to read a whole bunch of books, randomly at best. Carefully, I amassed enough new titles to last until 2020. And true to my holiday spirit, I began with a pair of thrillers. Darn, but they are fun. J. T. Ellison is a bestselling author published in 27 countries and 15 languages. She lives in Nashville with hubby and a pair of cats.

Good Girls Lie (HarperCollins, $21.99) is her latest. Perched on a hilltop in Marchburg, Virginia (I think it is not a real place), the Goode School is a finishing school for late teenagers preparing to go on to the Ivy League, a boarding school for the children of the rich and famous. Enter Ash whose real name is well, confusing. I suggest for this one you get out a pencil and try and follow all of the leads, hints and secrets. It is one of those kinds of thrillers, complex and fascinating.

And then to get on the right side of the border, I launched into Penelope Williams’ Lies That Bind (Dundurn, $19.99). Williams lives in Westport on the Rideau Canal, a town I know too well. But her novel is a grand mystery in a place the author calls Parnell. Tulla Murphy reconnects with three childhood friends; Leo, Kat, and Mikhail. And then mysterious deaths start. Maybe those friends are not friends at all.

Dreaming my way through nearly 500 pages of mounting deaths, this one keeps the reader both entertained and second-guessing the author. Can the whole town of Parnell be innocent or evil? Read it and found out.

During my days at the Owen Sound Public Library, I was often asked, “Got any true-crime books?” I would take the inquirer by hand and lead them to the shelves that Dewey marked as 364, many ranges of blood and gore and so on. Over the decades, I got a taste of the worst humankind can do – the records of their crimes reside in your local public library.

Think Ted Bundy, John Wane Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and now Israel Keyes. Maureen Callahan is an investigative journalist (ain’t many of them left around) whose writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Post, and other places. Living in New York, she adds to 364 with American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century (Viking, $36).

Keyes turned out to be a killer who left bodies and kill kits scattered over a dozen or more states. Caught in mid-career, he murdered women time and again. Callahan first heard of him in 2012. And she realized that Keyes was America’s most prolific serial killer. The FBI got their hands on him and he began to confess, murder after murder. If you don’t like this kind of book, give it a pass. If you do, Maureen Callahan has done a bang-up job of recording Keyes’ crimes. As a reader, the decision of what to read is yours!

Just a last book on a snowy day (spring is a long time away). I have had a fascination with Theodore Roosevelt since reading Doris Kearns’ Leadership, a study of four men: Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson. Read it when you can.

Mark Lee Gardner, author of To Hell on a Fast Horse and Shot All to Hell, is an experienced writer for such as The History Channel, NPR, and the Travel Channel. He checks in with Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill (Morrow, $33.50).

Remember the Maine? The ship’s explosion in Havana Harbour in 1898 led to a war with Spain. Teddy (as he was known) left being the American Assistant of the Navy for Cuba, gathering a crowd of cowboys, college men, and other friends to go and fight in a far-off land.

I watched a movie version of the same tale last winter (my, it was loud) and now, I have read the book. Rich with action, violence, camaraderie and courage, Rough Riders should be the last word on one of America’s little wars. Several of Gardner’s previous books are on my reading table – where I am now taking up space for the holidays.