From the acclaimed best-selling author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder, a taut, intense narrative about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the largest manhunt in American history.
On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man - whose real name was James Earl Ray - drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace's racist presidential campaign.
On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.
With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey.
Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of Kings funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassins flight and the 65-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England - a massive manhunt ironically led by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.
Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life - an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.
©2010 Hampton Sides (P)2010 Random House
"Sides's storytelling packs a visceral punch, and in Hellhound on His Trail, he crafts an authoritative and riveting account of two intersecting lives that altered the course of American history." (Amazon.com review)
I forget which author it was, but in the NY times 'By the Book' section he--I think it was John Grisham???--had stated that he couldn't put this book down. I purchased this on that recommendation. I am not a huge John Grisham fan, but I thought that this book looked interesting. The story is good, and there is the makings of a good book, but it is poorly executed by Sides. His writing is mechanical, if not outright clunky at times. He does not sufficiently build the tension surrounding James Earl Ray's stalking of MLK in the days prior to his assassination. Moreover, there are some tantalizing details that he leaves unaddressed that I cannot forgive. For instance, Sides states that JER, was, the day prior to the assassination, starting to run low on funds. Yet 24 hour after the crime he is in Atlanta flush with a little over a thousand dollars in cash (in 2012 that is about $12,000). James Earl Ray's had done time for forgery and I am sure the explanation is more mundane than nefarious. I tend to refuse conspiracy theories on principal. But where did this sudden influx of cash come from. Why does Side never address it? Sides states in the intro that he is trying to write a narrative history in the manner of Shelby Foote's masterly account of the civil war. A noble and ambitious task to be sure, but this is not what we end up with. Rather, it is more like the 911 report that 911 commission issued. Sides recycles much of the eventual congressional investigations that the assassination would spawn and splices this with the biographical works of others. JER's path is rather stilted and the portrait that is painted is not particularly interesting. It is almost as though Side's JER pulls over for gas in Memphis and decides he is an assassin and while he is in town he just go a head and kill the most important civil right leader in the country. I think I was hoping for something akin to Don Delillo's Libra, which is my own fault--one cannot just willy-nilly hope to stumble on Delillo all the time. Nonetheless, I do feel as though I deserved a bit better of a work than this. I did like narrative device that Sides employed in calling JER exclusively by his aliases. That is clever. I wished Sides would have taken more chances with the book.
What everyone else said is true, this is an excellent book. I do not listen to non-fiction, but my husband raved about the book. I read the reviews here and decided to take a chance. Glad I did. I was a kid when MLK was assasinated. I learned a lot about him and the event. And the story was masterfully told. I even enjoyed the narrator. Sometimes the author should leave narrating to the professionsal. But Mr. Sides did a nice job.
Fascinating tale of the assassin, the FBI's hunt for James Earl Ray and the FBI's hunt for Martin Luther King. I knew they had secretly recorded King but I didn't know Hoover hated King that much or the lengths to which he went to try to prove King was a communist or something. Hoover is a long dark chapter in our history, hope it doesn't repeat. Too much power given to an unelected, creepy guy.
As someone born in the 70s and not familiar with the manhunt for James Earl Ray, this was an excellent and eye-opening book. It keeps the listener attentive and eager for more. Excellent story and well worth the credit.
There's so much more to this story than I knew before. Sides has done a great service researching the minute detail of the weapons, places and people while the witnesses are still alive.
I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to know the whole story of the end of Martin Luther King's too short life.
I only wish the author who was so dedicated to the facts had spent more time trying to get into James Earl Ray's head and assessing motivation.
Great read. Don't pass this one up.
This book is way too tedious to hold one's attention, including too many details. The narration is very distracting, because the reader's phrasing is awkward, with pauses where they don't belong, and monotonous inflection. The writer chases many rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the stalking of Martin Luther King or the hunt for his assassin.
It was a good read, but left out facts. Maybe because he wanted to limit the size of the book?? It starts out following the trail of Eric S. Galt, the murderer of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The facts are loose, but the story is accurate to a point. Read by the author. Not a Summer read, but may be worth looking at if you only know MLK by the holiday.
This is a excellent book -- made even better by the author's narration (a claim I almost never make). The story is compelling and will hold your attention until the end. Even though I am familiar with the history of this period, I learned a great deal about the MLK assassination and its aftermath, especially the inner workings of the assassin. Well worth the listen.
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