Books & Literature

Book Review: Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann

HISTORY: From the bestselling author of The Lost City of Z, now a major film starring Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller and Robert Pattison, comes a true-life murder story which became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations.

A suspenseful, intelligent, and heart-wrenching work of historical true crime.

Feature image credit: Simon & Schuster

First published in 2017, David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon has been republished as a tie-in with the Martin Scorsese film released this year.  

In the 1920s in Osage County, Oklahoma, members of the Osage tribe (as it was then known) began dying in suspicious circumstances, and in numbers well above the national average. Adding fuel to the circumstances was the fact that each member of the tribe owned Headrights: rights to a significant annual income from the massive oil reserves under Osage land. At that time, Osage County had the highest income per capita in the world. Small towns in the county such as Pawhuska, Gray Horse, and Fairfax were hotbeds of corruption and greed. Government policy was such that many Osage were declared legally incompetent, and given white men as guardians, with ready access to the Osage wealth: a perfect storm for indiscriminate murders, and the subsequent killing, or paying off, of witnesses, lawmakers, and jurors.

Alongside the murders themselves sits the origin story of the FBI. Previously known as the Bureau of Investigation, its young, ambitious new director, J. Edgar Hoover, saw in the Osage killings a case which could put the Bureau on the political map, and clean up its image after the corrupt and incompetent years under the Harding administration.

New Yorker staff writer Grann has put together a work of breathtaking investigative journalism, researching the murders, the FBI agents, and the geo-political landscape of the time. He met with members of the Osage Nation, most of whom have grandparents, or other close relatives, who died in mysterious circumstances during what became known as the Reign of Terror. He trawled through archives, and visited many of the landmarks that became important to this horrific narrative.

Killers of the Flower Moon raises more questions than it answers (although it answers many), as Grann finds more and more victims, of more and more possible killers.

This is a work of suspenseful and detailed true crime. It is also a splendid work of history, and an excoriation of the infantilising of the Osage, a policy which undoubtedly fed the murderous spree. Complete with many extraordinary photographs, this is one of the best non-fiction works published (or re-published) this year.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: October 2023
RRP: $24.99

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