Thursday, September 16, 2010

Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend

I really have to start reading the book blurbs more carefully when I enter the Book Giveaways on GoodReads. This is the second book I have received that is not what I thought it was when I signed up. I thought this book was about Samuel Colt and the invention of the Colt Revolver, a nice segue from the previous Giveaway, They Rode for the Lonestar; the Texas Rangers having made the Colt Revolver famous.

Instead, this book is about John Colt, Samuel’s brother, and the murder he committed for which he was tried and condemned. To make things more confusing, throughout the book both brother’s lives are described in tandem, switching back and forth between them, leaving the reader to wonder just exactly who the book is about. Or is it both of them? A nice little twist at the end, which I won’t reveal, explains how and why the brothers’ lives were so entwined despite their very different temperaments, professions and places of residence.

Both brothers are interesting, but I was particularly fascinated by John. Growing up, he was a cut-up and ne’er-do-well who as an adult finally found his calling as an accountant. None of the accountants that I know could be even remotely described as rabble-rousers. They are all terribly straitlaced and conventional. John Colt, despite his troubled past, was not only a good accountant, but he also wrote a book on accounting that was so popular it went through nine editions. It was the final edition of the book, The Science of Double Entry Book-Keeping, that was the cause of the quarrel between him and Samuel Adams, his printer, that resulted in the murder of Mr. Adams. Fully half of the Killer Colt is devoted to the trial of John Colt.

I was also unaware that the author, Harold Schechter, is a noted writer of true crime books. Not normally a fan of true crime books, I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Schechter writes from a historical point of view rather than the usual lurid and titillating approach typical of that genre. He quotes extensively from the contemporary press to provide the emotional color of the trial. He provides enough background on the City (Manhattan), the press and the various figures involved to allow the reader to fully appreciate the crime, the trial and the emotions swirling around them.

I am a huge fan of history so I loved this book. Through it, I gained a snapshot view of a particular time and place and really felt like I was able to enter into the lives and feelings of the people populating the narrative.

Review copy courtesy of Ballantine Books

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