The story here is dark and horrifying and fascinating. It reads almost unbelievable but it is entirely 100% true. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Osage people owned both the land and the head rights in Oklahoma when oil was discovered under their feet. Despite a deeply unfair system, they successfully argued to keep the head rights and rent the land, skyrocketing to become the richest people per capita in the country. And, because of evil and cunning and the loopholes built into that system, someone spent more than a decade methodically killing them for their money.
The story is incredible – I just wish the writing was as good.
David Grann definitely sees himself as a writer in the tradition of Erik Larson (Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, Dead Wake). While I am grateful that this book’s jacket introduced me to the descriptor “narrative nonfiction”, Grann just lacks the skill that Larson brings to the genre. This was a book about a careful conspiracy to murder an entire family and beyond – and Grann almost managed to make it boring.
I think part of the dullness is the investigation, and the high expectations set. The book cover bills it as the “birth of the FBI” which understandably can lead the reader to believe they’re going to learn about how this case formed the backbone of early federal law enforcement. Turns out, no, it was more coincidental timing than anything, and the guys who solved this one were really the opposite of who Hoover wanted working for him. This case happen to come along as the FBI was developing, but beyond that there’s really no connection. It’s a bit of a letdown.
It is though a story I’m glad to see come to prominence again. Did anyone else know there had been a movie made in the 50s?