Saturday, July 3, 2010

Good Read: Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides

His name was Martin Luther King Jr (b. January 15th, 1929-d. April 4th, 1968) and he's most famously known for his nation-changing work as an activist and his role in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-to late 60's. As I rewind the hands of time, I can recall my days in elementary, junior high school, high school, and even through college, when my teachers would take a moment and reflect on the life of this man. An African-American hero, baptist minister and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who became selfless in the fight against racial discrimination and racial segregation.

As the years passed by, we spoke and learned of his victories, his passion, his focus on non-violent demonstrations, and his amazing Dream. But oddly enough, and for obvious reasons of course, we never studied the other side of the coin. The fact that Dr. King was a man of flesh and bone, who suffered failures, self-absorbed depression, extra marital affairs, battled a smoking habit and was in constant fear for his life.

We've also learned almost nothing about his "assassin", James Earl Ray. I say "assassin", because there are still several conspiracy theories out there that claim that the "powers that be", and not Ray, had something to do with it. It was a public known fact that Dr. King was tremendously disliked by the then Director of the F.B.I, J. Edgar Hoover, who headed the agency from 1924-1972 (when he passed away) and had an ongoing obsession with the person of Dr. King and his mission. But if for only a moment, we step away from the theories and focus on the facts of the crime, we find ourselves face-to-face with the convicted felon James Earl Ray.

James Earl Ray (b. March 1oth 1928-d.April 23-1998), was the man ultimately convicted of Dr. King's assassination. Besides the fact that he died in jail, known to the world as the murderer of America's Hero, his life's résumé wasn't worth much praise either. Ray was a high school drop-out, World War II veteran, who was convicted of his first crime (burglary) in 1949, and who continued to live the life of a felon, and then escaped convict, until his capture for the assassination of Dr. King on June 8th, 1968.

In Hellhound On His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr., and The International Hunt for His Assassin by acclaimed best-selling author Hampton Sides, Sides provides a unique and detailed report and tells the story of this famed assassination through the eyes of the killer himself. Using the facts surrounding this case-which are plenty-and his knowledge on the life of Ray, Sides paints a vivid picture of the things that could've occurred in the months leading to the tragic event of April 4th, and dissects the person of James Earl Ray. He allows us to visit and enter the mind of this fleeing felon. What's his motive? Did he work alone? Was his work being funded by a segregationist organization? Was Hoover behind this? How about George Wallace, the ex-governor of Alabama and pro-segregationist? Was J.E.R realistically capable of planning and committing this crime on his own?

The murder scene. Using police reports, autopsy reports, facts from evidence and memoir accounts from folks that were present on that day, Sides positions the reader behind a hidden camera lens in the scene of the crime. The reader sees the trajectory of the bullet, the entrance and exit wound, the position of Dr. Kings body on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis Tennessee, and the first response team's attempt to save Dr. King's life. The reader can be easily impacted and emotionally disturbed by how close to the crime Sides' depiction makes you feel.

The final focus of this novel however, and the main reason it differs from other books and reports off this tragic day, is on the international chase of J.E.R, the murderer. A wild-goose chase covering thousands of miles and involving law enforcing groups from Memphis, the United Kingdom, and the F.B.I.

Looking for a page turner? Interested in some American History? Want to get away from that boring book your BFF recommended? Give Hellhound On His Trail a look. You won't be disappointed. I give it two thumbs up!


Anonymous said...

Ernie, I saw you reading this book when we went to in the heights. When you told me about it I was interested in reading it. Now, after reading this review I will definitely pick it up. I never really thought about the man who assasinated MLK, mostly because I always believed it to be a government set-up and that's the end of that.But I see that I have a lot to look forward to with this. Good job!

JEGZ aka Black Casanova said...

Thanks Lari! Yay! You left me a comment! lol. You have a great memory. Yes, that's exactly what I was reading that day. I can relate to the way you feel. I'm still bothered by the conspiracy theories surrounding this case. This book just gave me a distinct and different perspective. I think it's a good read anyway. I believe you'll enjoy it. Take care.