Guest Reviewer: Benjamin Wallace on Skyjack by Geoffrey Gray
Benjamin Wallace is a contributing editor at
© David Fields
New York Magazine and the author of The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
It seems like all the good mysteries are gone. We know who Deep Throat was. We know where Thomas Pynchon lives. The missing 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes have proved unrecoverable. But then, winking at us like one last taunting fossil from the violent, paranoid 1970s, there’s the baffling case of D.B. Cooper.
On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727, demanded $200,000 and parachutes, and jumped out over the Pacific Northwest. At a time when the country was beset by war, assassinations, riots, a faltering economy, and the Nixon presidency, Cooper was heralded as a Robin Hood of the sky. Enormous investigative resources were marshaled. Ballads were written. Cooper was never heard from again.
Forty years later, Geoffrey Gray dives chute-less into the swirling abyss of Cooper mania and lands with a true non-fiction novel, with characters too eccentric to be invented and a hurtling pace rarely found in the world of fact. The writing is stylish. The reporting is unstoppable. Gray is sympathetic and funny and saucer-eyed--even, at times, unhinged. He wants to solve the unsolvable, and remarkably, for a famous cold case, his spadework turns up fresh material.
As much as Skyjack is about D.B. Cooper, it is also a searing group portrait of those who even today find meaning in his mystery, a travelogue through a tumultuous era in American history, and a study of the paranoid style in American obsession. Most indelibly, it is an exploration of the mystery within the mystery, the puzzle of why these unfilled blank spots in our past have such a haunting grip on our imaginations.
“Out of the wild blue yonder comes this pleasing tale of obsession and mystery. Geoffrey Gray has essentially parachuted into the early 1970s and found a nearly forgotten episode that elucidates a swath of our cultural history. The result is a clean, smart whodunit full of quirky characters, imaginative sleuthing, and thrilling surprises.”
—Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail
“Here is writing and storytelling that is vivid and fresh—a delectable adventure from a talented new author.”
“With verve and assurance worthy of his protagonist, Geoffrey Gray pulls readers along on a kaleidoscopic chase through the cult of Cooper. Both a masterful re-creation of the paranoid 1970s, and an exhilarating firsthand account of an erosive obsession, Skyjack takes us down the rabbit hole with Gray—and what a journey it is.”
—James Swanson, author of Manhunt and Bloody Crimes
“Who was D.B. Cooper? In SKYJACK, Geoffrey Gray lures in the reader with this iconic unsolved mystery, and for the next 290 pages explores a story as attention-grabbing as a bag of hot money. D.B. Cooper emerges as the great McGuffin of 1970s America, a prism through which Gray exploits to the fullest with his propulsive writing style, mad commitment to detail, and explores everything from the early years of gender reassignment surgery to the birth of airline security culture to the ghostly legends of the Pacific Northwest's Dark Divide.”
—Evan Wright, New York Times bestselling author of Generation Kill
“SKYJACK tells the legendary story of D.B. Cooper in a way that’s as inventive and as engaging as the subject itself. Only a writer as talented as Geoffrey Gray could knit together the many strands of this mystery and the extraordinary characters who have dedicated, and in some cases destroyed, their lives in pursuit of the truth. Just as Gray finds himself sucked into the tale, readers will leap into the void alongside him, landing on their feet and smiling at the shared adventure.”
—Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
“Easily one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a long, long time. In his obsessive search for answers in the legendary case, Gray becomes a little unhinged himself as well as encountering an array of characters I haven’t seen the likes of since Mark Twain sent Huck down the Mississippi. His style fits the case, and Gray can be compared with Tom Wolfe and Evelyn Waugh in his talent for unearthing the eccentrics of the world and the bizarreness of life.”
—John Bowers, Associate Professor of Writing, Columbia University, author of The Colony and Love in Tennessee
“…An exciting journey into the byways of popular culture. This is hardly the first book about Cooper, but it may be the first to treat his story for what it has become: an ongoing phenomenon, like the search for Bigfoot, with a remarkable ability to consume the imaginations and lives of generations of searchers.”
“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.”--Cleveland Plain Dealer