Review published Jul 2017.
True crime is a special genre of non-fiction, connecting the world of thrillers and mysteries with historical, psychological and social science studies. Often a true crime book is off-balance. Either the story is captivating and becomes a literary creation itself, or it is a bland recounting of a case study.
Grann's story is masterfully constructed, a careful analysis of a series of murders of members of the Osage Indian tribe of Oklahoma in the years just before the Great Depression, when oil wells flourished in the open lands of the Oklahoma prairies bringing wealth to the members of the Osage Nation who had managed, unlike most Native Americans, to actually own the land they lived on.
Called "headrights", they allowed the Osage to receive payments from the oil companies who were sinking well after well on their land. It did not take long for greedy speculators and con men to realize that there was easy money to be made -- just become an Osage, usually through marriage.
The Osage themselves had little protection from the law enforcement agencies of the times. In addition to their isolation from urban resources, they faced the bigotry of the white men and lack of interest from the existing legal systems of the area. The federal government frequently appointed guardians to manage the financial affairs of the "backward" Indians.
But the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover was just getting started, and Hoover had a strong incentive to catch some criminals and prove his theories of ciminal justice. He hired Tom White, an honorable and brave man, to run the investigation of a growing number of unexplained deaths on the Osage reservation. This is the story of White's investigation and its results.
The book is clearly and vividly written, and Grann has found photos galore which make the story even more dramatic. His calm voice contrasts with the deadly events to glue the reader to the page.
Although it would seem, at the beginning, that this is a historic study of events in the past, readers reaching the final pages will learn the heart-breaking stories which still affect people today.
A terrific and necessary read.