three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
user_rating: 
0

The Hunt for D. B. Cooper

A-SkyjackInvestigative journalist Geoffrey Gray, a contributing editor at New York magazine, began making inquiries into the identity of the famous hijacker for an article in 2007. Skyjack, his first book, is an expansion of that story.

The Topic: On November 24, 1971, a polite, self-assured man calling himself Dan Cooper (not "D. B.," as the media would mistakenly report) hijacked a Boeing 747 en route from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, where he collected $200,000 in unmarked 20-dollar bills, released the other passengers, and ordered the plane to take off again. Somewhere between northern Washington and Reno, Nevada, Cooper parachuted into oblivion. He left behind him, despite an extensive manhunt and a still-active FBI case file, the only unsolved airline hijacking in American history. Geoffrey Gray reconstructs the crime and its aftermath, assessing current theories and tracking down potential suspects. As he follows a trail of clues, however, he becomes increasingly obsessed with this elusive and unlikely folk hero.
Crown. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780307451293

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Answers aren't really the point; this is a book about the perils and pleasures of a great mystery. Trying to untangle the various theories, separate real clues from background static--and there's a lot of chatter out there in conspiracy-land--is the best Gray can hope for, and while it's not enough to land him that Pulitzer, it's the basis for a very satisfying book." Kate Tuttle

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Gray weaves a fascinating tale about one of the 20th century's greatest unsolved mysteries. It's a page turner, despite the fact D. B. Cooper remains elusive right up to the end." Craig Wilson

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gray organizes this, his first book, like a Tarantino film, cutting chronology into strips, then reassembling them in a sequence that readers may consider (pick one) eccentric, confusing, artistic, random, maddening, fun, revelatory. It's all of the above. As he yanks us abruptly from story to story, from decade to decade, as he shifts focus from the hijacking to the investigation, the airline personnel, the sundry candidates for Cooper, we appreciate the discomfiting nature of this case." Dan Dyer

Onion A.V. Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Taken together, the period-sharp details and increasingly outlandish tangles of futile theorizing create a momentum of their own. In the absence of conclusive evidence for any suspect, this panoramic overview has its own kind of downbeat satisfaction." Vadim Rizov

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gray does not offer a neatly tied-up ending for readers--no definite statement about Cooper's true identity. The ending might fairly be called bizarre, and also unsatisfying. Still, it does not erase the rollicking reading experience provided by Gray." Steve Weinberg

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Incidents are not always adequately explained, and some background information is, besides being superfluous, ludicrous or questionable, such as the number of heroin addicts among American soldiers in Vietnam. Perhaps more irritating than those gripes are the jumps backward and forward in time and among characters." Roger K. Miller

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"While his inside look at fanaticism seems to be one of the points of Skyjack, he begins to lose control of the narrative. It's a bit frustrating that a book that starts out promising to give answers winds up being so messy and personal." Greg Schneider

Critical Summary

Although Gray begins his book with a detailed description of Cooper's crime based on previously unavailable FBI files, his journey deep into the lives of witnesses, suspects, kooks, and fanatics eventually comes to dominate the narrative, providing readers with an unsettling look into the nature of obsession. Gray takes numerous detours--too many, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which viewed these digressions as monotonous filler--to re-create the turbulent, distrustful era that drove Cooper to break the law and then transformed him into a hero. The critics were also divided in their opinions of Gray's choppy, erratic chronology. Skyjack may not solve any mysteries, but this "offbeat (sometimes downright strange) yet mostly fascinating quest book" (Oregonian) undoubtedly moves the discussion forward.