Bookmarks Issue: 

Searching for Philip True

A-TrailOfFeathersIn December 1998, Philip True, a Mexico City correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News who was planning to write an unsolicited story about the region’s Huichol Indians, set off for the remote canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre. When he didn’t return, Rivard, his editor, went in search of him. Trail of Feathers recounts Rivard’s six-year attempt to solve the mystery of True’s disappearance. He followed a trail of feathers from True’s sleeping bag to his corpse and navigated through Mexico’s abstruse legal system to see the Huichols accused—but not convicted—of the murder. In this true-crime memoir, Rivard asks difficult questions about True’s troubled past, draws parallels between their lives, and questions the Mexican system that produced such injustice.
PublicAffairs. 417 pages. $27.50. ISBN: 158648222X

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Aptly labeled a ‘true crime/memoir,’ it’s not just one story of crime and punishment, but also an exploration of deeply hidden personal secrets, bonds between men, the nature of contemporary journalism, cultural differences, the nature of justice, and, ultimately, what one editor believed he owed a friend and reporter. … [Rivard] has submitted a far more intimate true-crime book than the market has seen in many years." Ron Franscell

Express-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Loyal readers of this paper will know [True] was a well-respected and widely beloved member of the Mexico City foreign press corps. … Trail of Feathers emerges as an exemplary work of literary journalism, unique in its balance of hard-edged reporting and ambitious reaches into the profound implications of the Philip True saga." John Phillip Santos

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Rarely are authors so candid about dead colleagues and about themselves. … Trail of Feathers is a triumph, managing to uplift even as it chronicles degradation." Steven Weinberg

Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although he greatly admires True’s fearlessness and journalistic skills, he also realizes his subject was flawed. … Yet emerging with luminous salience is this: More fierce even than True’s murder was the determination of his family and colleagues." Daniel Dyer

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Rivard has apparently addressed every question possible in this strange case. Yet the reader is nonetheless faced at the end with a lingering mystery." Tom Dodge

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"There is far too much detail. … But the twists and turns of the legal process eventually become as intriguing as True’s hike across the mountains." William Grimes

Critical Summary

Rivard, who has served as editor of the San Antonio Express-News for almost a decade, positions True not only as a victim of a marginalized Indian tribe’s violence but also as a symbol of the fragile relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Critics agree that Trail of Feathers is a model of its genre. Told with unflinching honesty and sensitivity, the book recounts True’s blue-collar upbringing, evolution as a journalist, and marriage to a Mexican woman pregnant with their first child—experiences that resonate deeply with Rivard. Too many characters, details, and clichés sometimes cloud the story, and of course the central question remains unresolved: Why did True make the dangerous trip alone?