Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hellhound on his Trail by Hampton Sides

My blogging friend Linda, of Each Little World, recommended this book. She reads a lot more nonfiction than I do, and she makes it all sound so interesting! And this was! It’s about James Earl Ray and the assassination of Martin Luther King, and it reads like a thriller. The book follows Ray from his escape from prison in 1967, through the assassination and its aftermath, to Ray’s capture in London in 1968.

I was shocked, as I read this, to discover how little I knew about this event. I think it’s because I am caught in an age-related limbo state. I was in elementary school when King was shot; too young to have been reading newspapers and following the unfolding drama on television. In contrast, my children have studied all this school. I think they know more about it than I did.

As you would expect, Ray is not a sympathetic character. Neither are supporting characters such as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated King, but was obliged to investigate his death. The author’s portrait of King is nuanced and engrossing, and is well balanced. Sides doesn’t give much credence to the various conspiracy theories surrounding King’s assassination. Likewise, he doesn’t spend a lot of time contemplating Ray’s motives, though he makes clear that Ray was a racist and an admirer of George Wallace and Rhodesian leader Ian Smith. This is a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of storytelling and it works very well.

(Book 50, 2010)



Glad you liked it. I still think it was one of the most mesmerizing reads I've enjoyed in a long time. What surprised me was how much I thought I knew and how much I've forgotten or suppressed about those events. King — and then Bobby Kennedy — were assassinated at the end of my junior year in college. If I think about those days, then nothing at the moment seems quite as bad.

Unruly Reader said...

Great review! Sounds like a book whose pages fly by --

Shelley said...

It's easier to accept the most bizarre conspiracy theory than to accept that one crazy man can destroy so much good.

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