Feb 27

Book Review: Dead Run

Dead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American WestDead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West by Dan Schultz

True crime isn’t my favorite genre, so I’m not sure why I got this from audible. Maybe it was the nice cover photo. I’m glad I did. It’s a gritty and fascinating story about three anti-government gun nut types who stole a water truck and ended up killing a cop that incited a massive manhunt for them in the four corners region.

I really enjoyed both the depth of the research and the skill of the writing. Schultz deeply investigated this murder and revealed it in a way that maximized the mystery behind it. If he had begun a few years earlier, he might have been able to discover more than the police eventually did. He walks a careful line, telling you all the evidence in such a way that you will come to your own conclusion as to the real story, without actually telling you things that haven’t been established as true, except at the end when he says “here’s a story.”

(view spoiler)

The main thing that keeps this from being in my “best book of the year” category (I only give five stars if the book is absolutely stellar) is that I was disappointed at how many mysteries remained when all was said and done. There was a fourth guy who had been interviewed and knew a lot about the plot, (which might have been to blow up the Glen canyon dam), and he was dead by the time the book was published. But did anyone have copies of those interviews? What was the guy’s name? Who was he? Do we know anything about him?

Schultz whispers at a deeper conspiracy, but then he backs off. I can’t say I blame the author; I personally would not want to dig too deeply into the secrets of gun nuts who almost certainly were willing to kill even their own friends to keep the secrets hidden. I just found it disappointing as a reader.

Since I’m from Arizona and have been to the four corners region on several occasions, I found the wild-west romanticism of the region to kind of miss the mark. It’s not the the wild west days of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp weren’t fascinating, it’s that there’s so much about that area and the people who live there NOW that’s interesting. Going back a hundred and fifty years ago feels like a nod to people who don’t know anything about the west and find it foreign and exotic. I would rather have had some more recent examples of this cowboys and outlaws behavior to back up the supposition. Like, “twenty years ago, someone was caught stealing cattle and he disappeared” or “Federal Surveyors reported being shot at when they came out here back in the 60’s” rather than “That one famous thing that you (who know nothing about this area) know about defines the culture of this region.” I would rather have had more description of the actual people who live there now and recent events than relying on the shorthand of a Hollywood stereotype to fill in the gaps.

Since the militia movement so strongly influences the story, I would have liked to know more about those people. Why weren’t they interviewed? Why did we not learn more about the other people who trained with them? Is it because they wouldn’t talk to reporters, or because Schultz couldn’t find them? As fascinating as this book was, it leaves more questions than answers.

I think this would be a great book for a book club because Schultz seems sympathetic with neither side, and because it touches on a lot of debatable topics. Gun control. Environmentalism. The irony of anti-government, anti-law enforcement types who call themselves “patriots” and “militia.” And above all, the question of what really happened. Who really killed these guys? I’ll keep my eye out for the book that finally tells the rest of the story.

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