Whenever a book receives a lot of praise, there’s always the chance when you finally get around to reading it you feel it’s been overhyped. (I’ll aways remember reading The Shipping News and wondering what’s the big deal.) Even though I enjoyed David Grann’s earlier books The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession and The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon I was still a little hesitant to read the highly praised, National Book Award finalist Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI when I saw an available copy at my public library. Remembering Grann has never let me down, I said what the heck and borrowed a copy. After finishing it I can confidently say he STILL hasn’t let me down. Yes, it’s worth all the hype.
During the first third of the 20th century something petty incredible happened. The Osage Indians of Oklahoma, after being kicked around for so many years finally caught a break when oil deposits were discovered on their land. Almost overnight The Osage when from poor as hell to living in classy homes, buying new automobiles at the drop of the hat and sending their children off to attend fancy boarding schools in Europe. Then things got strange. Amidst all this wealth and splendor one by one Osage members started suspiciously dying off. Some had been poisoned, and some had been shot. One was killed when a bomb went off in her home. After the death toll rose to two dozen something had to be done. With local authorities viewed with suspicion it looked like a job for an outside law enforcement agency and the FBI was sent to Osage country to investigate.
Alas, this was not the FBI as we think of it today. At the time it was young organization still trying to define itself and sense of mission. (Agents had yet to be granted authority to make arrests.) Investigating the Osage killings would the Bureau’s first high-profile mission and after botching an earlier criminal investigation it was eager to get this one right and thus redeem itself. A former Texas Ranger turned FBI agent was personally sent to Oklahoma by Director J. Edgar Hoover to get to the bottom of things.
With many bloggers weighing in this week on nonfiction that reads like fiction, Killers of the Flower Moon, just like Hunting Eichmann is a fine example of this kind of writing. Kudos to Grann for not only writing an outstanding book, but also bringing to light a tragic and long forgotten story from America’s past.