Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harold Schechter

Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture at Queens College, the City University of New York.

Among his nonfiction works are The Devil's Gentleman and the historical true-crime classics Fatal, Fiend, Deviant, Deranged, and Depraved.

He also authors a critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Edgar Allan Poe, which includes The Tell-Tale Corpse, The Hum Bug, Nevermore and The Mask of Red Death.

Schechter's new book is Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend.

About a week ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My most recent read was Hampton Sides’ gripping tale of the Martin Luther King assassination, Hellhound on His Trail. I was drawn to the book for several reasons. As a writer of historical true-crime narratives, I'm always interested in seeing how other practitioners work. Sides, whom I've never read before, impressed me as an extremely deft stylist with a gift for thumbnail descriptions that bring his settings to vivid life and a flair for turning nouns into expressive verbs (smoke doesn't rise, it “tendrils”)--a technique I admire but have never been able to pull off. He certainly knows how to keep the story moving. The book has a headlong narrative drive and even, despite the devastating inevitability of the central crime, a palpable sense of suspense, an effect he achieves (like James Swanson in his bestselling Manhunt) by alternating the chapters between hunter and prey. The book also provided me with a much richer sense of the shadowy killer, James Earl Ray. I've read a great deal about the Kennedy assassination, a watershed event in my life (as in that of every boomer), and have a pretty good idea of Oswald's character. But I knew very little about Ray who, as Sides conjures him, is indeed essentially unknowable, a weird mix of two-bit lowlife criminal and slippery, shape-shifting assassin out of a cheap spy novel.
Read an excerpt from Killer Colt, and learn more about the book and author at Harold Schechter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue