First Line: In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma.
After oil was discovered beneath their land in the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. They built mansions, rode in chauffeured limousines, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off, and the family of one Osage woman in particular, Mollie Burkhart, was a prime target.
This may have been one of the last remnants of the Wild West, but some people began to notice these deaths. When they tried to investigate they, too, began to die. When the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI was called in on one of its first major homicide investigations. When the case was badly bungled, a desperate young J. Edgar Hoover put former Texas Ranger Tom White in charge. White put together an undercover team, and with plenty of hard work, they began to uncover a conspiracy that will make your blood run cold.
Author David Grann spent years doing research and uncovering new evidence in writing Killers of the Flower Moon. Since I was a fan of his from reading The Lost City of Z, I expected this latest book to be the sort of non-fiction I love: the kind that reads like the best fiction. I was not disappointed. What I did not expect was just how infuriated I would become by reading it.
Having been a huge horse racing fan when I was a teenager, I knew about the wealth of the Osage Nation in the 1920s. One of the Osage owned a winner of the Kentucky Derby. But that knowledge was just cursory. I had no idea how rich the Osage really were, and I certainly didn't have a clue that the government didn't trust them with all that money. I should not have been so naive. It had to madden many whites that, although they'd shoved the Osage onto a piece of land they deemed unfit for themselves, oil would be discovered and the Osage would turn out to be the wealthiest people in the world. The one way they had of trying to horn in on this wealth was by declaring that the Osage were not fit to use their own money wisely. In many cases whites were put in charge of the families' money, and they gave their wards allowances (and themselves large fees for their business knowledge).
Why on earth should I be so surprised that this greed would escalate to murder? It is the natural progression after all. To this day, the Osage have trust issues, and who can blame them? They tried to get dozens of murders investigated, but instead the killings were covered up. What Grann did in Killers of the Flower Moon was to dig deeper and deeper and expose just how huge the problem actually was. As I read, words like horrifying, unspeakable, and several others flashed through my mind.
This is an uncomfortable read for anyone with a conscience; nevertheless, it is a fascinating and important one. I highly recommend it. Although Killers of the Flower Moon won't be available until April 2017, I wanted to give you all a heads up about one of the best books I read in 2016. It's a mesmerizing true historical mystery that grabs you and won't let you go.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Doubleday © 2017
eBook, 352 pages
Source: Net Galley