The two volumes of this book are a fascinating and highly enjoyable read for anyone interested in the interactions between various pulp, mystery, adventure, and science fiction characters with real people throughout history. The premise of this book is inspired by SF writer Philip José Farmer’s “Wold Newton” concept which he developed in the 1970s: a “radioactive” meteorite crashed near Wold Newton, England in 1795 and affected several carriages full of people who were passing by. Their descendants became highly intelligent and powerful heroes (or villains) such as Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, Lord Greystoke (aka Tarzan), and many more. Farmer wrote popular and detailed biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he detailed the family trees of many “Wold Newton Family” characters. Over time, the concept has been expanded and continued by others into the Crossover Universe. Win Scott Eckert has done a fantastic job of compiling references to literary heroes who have met each other (or “crossed over”) and had adventures together, and thus co-exist in the same fictional universe. Volume 1 covers the dawn of time up through 1939, and Volume 2 covers 1940 into the far future. Reading these two books is a fun and highly addictive experience!
Ken Rex McElroy terrorized the town of Skidmore and several counties in Northwest Missouri for decades. He robbed, raped, burned, shot and maimed the citizens of the area. No matter how many times he was arrested he was never convicted of any crime. He and his large family basically terrorized the entire population. He was finally convicted of the shooting of Bo Bowencamp in 1981, however, he was not put in jail. The people of Skidmore were fed up with the inability of the law to do anything to help them. So on July 10, 1981 McElroy was shot while sitting in his truck on the main street of Skidmore. There were dozens of witnesses, but no one will say who did the shooting. To this day none of the townspeople have identified the shooters or been prosecuted for the crime.
I went to college in Maryville, Missouri which is only about 20 minutes from Skidmore. My criminal justice professor talked about this case during class and knew the people involved. I have always been fascinated by the Skidmore story. This was a community that law enforcement had failed. They were finally at the end of their rope and took the law into their own hands. Were they vigilantes? Maybe. Were they people without any hope? Definitely.
Harry Maclean tells the story of Ken Rex McElroy from childhood until his death. I think he does a good job of being impartial to the story. If anything he does take a few jabs at the ineffectual law enforcement of the area. It is a fascinating story and Maclean does a good job of telling it. My only complaint of the book is the extra filler information. Maclean seems to be fascinated with describing the weather or the crops or what happens at that time of year. Every dozen pages or so there is a passage on farming and the weather. It wasn’t really necessary and didn’t add anything to the story. I ended up skipping those parts for the majority of the book. However, that doesn’t take away from the story. McElroy is a very interesting character and this book is definitely a page turner.
Its 1937 in Peking, Japan is closing in and tensions are high. Peking is still relatively safe however. It is a mix of native Chinese, white Russian emigrants, and Europeans. On gray morning the body of a young, white girl is found mutilated at the base of Fox Tower. It is a grisly murder and shocks Peking. Her name is Pamela Warner and this book is the story of her murder and its investigation.
The Peking police and the European police investigate the murder but they are hampered at every turn. They are stonewalled by the British authorities and certain leads are never fully investigated. Politics in Peking are a tricky thing and no one wants to lose face. Pamela’s father, ETC Werner is also problematic. He is a former diplomat who does not have the best reputation with the authorities. The police close the case without ever charging anyone or really coming up with any viable suspects. This doesn’t stop Werner from launching his own investigation into his daughters murder. He uses his own money and investigators and uncovers a seedy underworld of sex and violence against young white women. The perpetrators are upper class Europeans and white Russians. Even with all the evidence he collects Werner is never able to get the British or Chinese or any government to properly investigate Pamela’s murder. It remains unsolved today though Werner’s theories appear to be the correct ones.
Fascinating story full of intrigue and corruption and dangerous elements. Because this is a factual account pulled from the actual historical documents there is a lot of information to digest in this book. French definitely tries to do justice to this story and by the end I think he has. He pieced together a lot of information to really create a truly accurate picture of what events were like a that time. He really shows the people involved and the climate of the times. Peking is on the verge of war and the writing shows this.
I think the real strength of this book is the end once we get into Werner’s investigation. Things pick up and a lot is revealed. The first part of the book (the official investigation) was a little dry for my tastes. There are a LOT of facts about the people, the times and Peking thrust into the first half of the book. I am not sure all of them were necessary for the story French was trying to tell. I am sure they were all completely accurate and information he uncovered during his research, but I don’t think you necessarily have to put everything you find out in the book…maybe put it in the back as notes. A lot of the background information pulled me away from the narrative of the investigation so that the first half of the book didn’t seem to flow very well. The second half doesn’t have that problem because there isn’t the background info dump of the first half; so it was a lot easier to read. I enjoy a narrative book a lot more than information dumping; however, I did think this was an interesting look into a historical story. I was fascinated by the coverup and the stonewalling by the various governments. And I do think Werner and French’s theories on Pamela’s final hours are probably correct; they just make sense. Too bad the authorities never brought anyone to justice for her murder.
Didn’t completely finish this one. Not sure why it didn’t hold my interest like other books by this author. It may just be me at this time, but I would highly recommend Devil in the White City by this author instead, if you are looking for fascinating history blended with a true crime mystery.