Summary and book reviews of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon

The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
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  • Published:
    Apr 2017, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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Book Summary

A twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West - where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the "Phantom Terror," roamed - many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization's first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

Chapter 1

The Vanishing

In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma. There are Johnny-­jump-­ups and spring beauties and little bluets. The Osage writer John Joseph Mathews observed that the galaxy of petals makes it look as if the "gods had left confetti." In May, when coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-­eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Osage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-­killing moon.

On May 24, 1921, Mollie Burkhart, a resident of the Osage settlement town of Gray Horse, Oklahoma, began to fear that something had happened to one of her three sisters, Anna Brown. Thirty-­four, and less than a year older than Mollie, Anna had ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Grann's shock at discovering that the murder plots against the Osage might have gone far beyond those outlined in the trial – and his zeal for discovering the parties responsible for the dozens of unprosecuted murders – makes Killers of the Flower Moon more entertaining than a book about such a dire subject should be. He seems driven to amend the historical record, to prosecute, even from the distance of several generations of history, those responsible for the deaths of these now-forgotten victims. Grann's powerful narrative resurrects a bitterly important chapter in American history, suggesting that the trail of tears doesn't have to lead to a dead end.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative

Library Journal

Starred Review. A spellbinding book about the largest serial murder investigation you've never heard of , which will be enjoyed by fans of the Old West as well as true crime aficionados.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs. Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Author Blurb John Grisham, New York Times bestselling author of The Whistler
A fascinating account of a tragic and forgotten chapter in the history of the American West. As in all his work, David Grann digs deep, and this powerful story reveals the unimaginable scale of these shocking murders almost a hundred years ago.

Author Blurb Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Dead Wake and Devil in the White City
uite simply, this is a remarkable book, by a remarkable author - an exhumation of a shockingly brutal series of historical murders, that I for one knew nothing about. Utterly original; completely compelling.

Author Blurb Jon Krakauer, New York Times bestselling author of Missoula and Into Thin Air
Killers of the Flower Moon is a magnificent book - a riveting true story of greed, serial murder, and racial injustice that exposes an extremely disturbing episode of American History. David Grann is a terrific journalist, and this is maybe the best thing he's ever written.

Author Blurb S.C Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon
Loyal readers of David Grann's books have come to expect jaw-dropping set-ups and brilliantly crafted narratives. Both are on full, dazzling display here. There is an unexpected bonus in the book's final section, when Grann puts on his deer-stalking hat and proceeds to solve several 85-year-old, unsolved crimes.

Author Blurb Louise Erdrich, National Book Award-winning author of The Round House and LaRose
Killers of the Flower Moon brings shattering resolve to a story that resonates now...Through meticulous detective work, Grann rescues unbearable truth. As with all of his books, this is a mesmerizing read.

Author Blurb Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of Hero of the Empire
Killers of the Flower Moon is an exceedingly rare book: at the same time a riveting, page-turning mystery and a deeply researched, serious work of nonfiction. This stunning story had been lost to time. Now, thanks to David Grann, it will never again be forgotten.

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Beyond the Book

Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary

What do the following people have in common? James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King; Former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick; and Carl Panzram, a confessed serial killer who committed more than 20 murders.

If you have no idea, then congratulations – you've led a life of moral rectitude. Or, at the very least, you've never spent any time at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, perhaps the most notorious prison in America and the one-time home of each of those mentioned above. The prison figures prominently in David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon. As one prison-related website notes, "Its guest list reads like a who's-who of infamy, full of swindlers, gangsters, murderers and monsters."

...

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