Thursday, February 17, 2011

American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood by Howard Blum

WOW!  Terror, mystery and the Birth of Hollywood?  If an author could really deliver all that, this would be one terrific book.
Howard Blum does that and more.  On the East coast, you have DW Griffith reluctantly stumbling into the movies and literally creating the modern movie industry.  On the West coast, you have Harrison Otis building the Los Angeles Times and determined to squelch a fledgling union movement.

And then someone blows up the Times building killing 21 workers.  It is called "The Crime of the Century."  So, who could possibly solve the Crime of the Century?  None other than the World's Greatest Detective.  And remember, all of this is true.

William J. (Billy) Burns is hired by the Mayor of Los Angeles to track down whoever is responsible for the bombing.  While Billy and his men are searching the country for bad guys, DW Griffith is really getting into making movies.  Along the way, he discovers Mary Pickford and develops a filming technique called "close ups." 

He also came up with the brilliant idea of shooting movies in California over the winter, although it took him a while to leave New Jersey permanently.

Billy eventually breaks the case and gets the culprit, but then Clarence Darrow is hired to handle the defense.  Darrow, as it turns out, is dealing with several major life issues -- a passionate extra marital love affair, career crisis, and fears for his health among them.

I really have to stop there.  The surprises are too good to play around with.  You really have to experience this book for yourself.

I listened to this story and it was brilliantly read by John H. Mayer.  I am sure his fine reading contributed to my enjoyment of the book.  I am also sure that I would have liked it just as much if I had read it.

If you like really bad bad guys and really good good guys and don't mind too much if the good guys are sometimes rotten and the bad guys are -- well, mostly worse than you ever imagined -- you will love this story.  You will learn some history that was somehow left out of your history books. 

You may even find some interesting parallels with things going on right here right now.  Did someone say something about history repeating itself?

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