Tuesday, June 27, 2017

25. Killers of the Flower Moon

I damn near failed.

In this little quest to read a book a week this year, it has been pretty easy to finish each book. Most weeks, I've finished by Wednesday or Thursday and had a few days to spare. Not this week, folks. I finished this week's book with one hour and two measly minutes to spare.\

That's not a reflection on the book. This book, as I'll describe in a minute, is superb. It's due to teh fact that life - specifically, work - got in the way. The last week in June is the busiest week of the year for me at work, as I produce our news station's coverage of a massive 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It means a lot of late nights, a lot of tired eyes (well, just two eyes - but much fatigue) and it caps off with two dawn-to-dusk days. I still read every night last week, I just couldn't stay awake to read for long. Anyway, I raced to get done. I didn't want to fail all tens of you! And, I made it by the skin of my teeth.

I heard about this book a few months back on NPR. The story was compelling enough, I immediately put it on my ever-expanding list of books to read. I was eyeing this read for summer, specifically a plane ride to San Diego in mid-June. But, I couldn't wait. As I heard more and more reviews about it, I couldn't even wait for the library hold turnstyle to spin my way. I paid full price for the hardcover and cracked it open immediately.

The book tells the true story you've probably never heard of one of the most notorious crime sprees in American history. I mean, maybe you'd heard of it, but I doubt it. It tells of such a dark history of race relations and greed in our country, it's amazing that it once made headlines worldwide and has since been brushed back into history.

In the 1800s, when the federal government was relegating Native American tribes to reservations, the Osage tribe in Oklahoma made a shrewd decision. They got the feds to agree to a deal that gave the Osage rights to whatever was under the ground on their reservation. Unbeknownst to them, they were standing on massive reserves of oil. The Osage grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams - and, instantly became the target of greedy killers

Mollie Burkhart and her sisters

One by one, members of Mollie Burkhart's family turned up dead. Some, obviously murdered. Others appeared to have died natural deaths. It wasn't until a dedicated lawman - an agent with the newly-formed FBI - began to dig, uncovering an unconscionable web of lies, deceit and blackmail that put the entire tribe at risk.

David Grann's research takes you back to that time, while giving you the benefit of the foresight tribal members and investigators could not see. Your heart simultaneously breaks and races as you watch one Osage after another fall victim to the people they were supposed to love and trust. And, you cheer both the integrity of the lead investigator and the strength of Mollie Burkhart as you wait to see if the justice system will fail again.

The book is thick with research and I sometimes found it hard to keep all the players straight. In the end, though, I was left with a fascination of how this went down - and, bewilderment as to how it has become nothing more than a footnote in history.

As a journalist myself, I most loved the plot twist Grann introduces on page 238. Just as you think it's neatly wrapping up, Grann writes, "There was another layer to the case - a deeper, darker, even more terrifying conspiracy, which the bureau had never exposed."

Oh, hell yeah.

Even better? It's Grann's reporter that unmasks yet another killer, nearly a century later. One the FBI either missed or ignored.

Grann's book not only follows the twists and turns of how greed turns to murder, it also explores the effects of this chapter on the tribe today. Every death - even still - is questioned. And, no one has forgotten the devil who worked so hard to take all they had left.

It's gripping. And, if you appreciate good reporting and public records, you'll be extremely satisfied in watching it all shake out.

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