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What to Read Next (No. 281): Murder in the Heartland
Happy Friday, readers!
Colorado continues to shock us with unseasonably cool, wet, and gloomy weather. We’ll take it, to be sure, but it’s leading to a bit more inside time than we’re used to this time of year. And you know what more inside time means: more reading.
I continue to lean hard into my summer of crime and have recently finished two great books centered on murders in America’s heartland.
First, though, I have something a little more lighthearted. As always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading and enjoying these days!
A YouTube Video to Brighten Your Day
About a year ago, my oldest kiddo started a YouTube channel for kids. His editing and interviewing skills have skyrocketed in the last few months and I’m continually amazed by this precocious almost-8-year-old. Here’s a recent video that I’m particularly fond of:
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre: Non-Fiction (History)
My upper Midwest education about the KKK basically amounted to: “The KKK/racism was really bad in the South.” We heard a few anecdotes about the horrors Black folks faced, but never got a real sense of how widespread the violence was.
Until reading Timothy Egan’s revelatory new book, I didn’t know that the KKK had a large and despicable presence in northern and western states as well, especially pre-Great Depression. In fact, the clan chapter in Indiana — where most of A Fever in the Heartland takes place — was the country’s largest. Between 1915-1930, most of the powerholders in the state, and upwards of 30% of all white Indianans, were clan members.
These facts on their own were shocking to learn about. Even more remarkable, though, was the story of Madge Oberholtzer — the young woman who helped turn the tide of the clan’s hold in Indiana.
What really sets this book apart is Egan’s narrative prowess. Though it’s never explicit, he makes it easy for the reader to connect the dots between the America of 100 years ago and the America of today. There’s a moral to the story, but Egan never smacks you over the head with it.
Of my most anticipated history titles for the spring, A Fever in the Heartland stands out as the best of the bunch. It’s a gripping, often jaw-dropping page-turner — highly recommended for any fan of history. Especially if you’re a Midwesterner, it’s worth knowing about the region’s condemnable past.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre: Crime/ Thriller
I’ve reviewed plenty of Stephen King books in this newsletter, but none are quite like Mr. Mercedes.
Bill Hodges is an ordinary, retired detective in Ohio. Even though he has plenty of commendations to his name, things aren’t going so well since he gave up his badge. His family life is shit, he doesn’t have any friends, and he’s considering saying goodbye to the world.
But then he gets a tip about one of the few cases he couldn’t close: the Mercedes Massacre. So Hodges resumes the hunt for the clown-masked man who rammed a stolen car into a crowd of down-on-their-luck folks at a job fair, killing eight and maiming many more.
This is one of those detective stories in which we know the perpetrator pretty much from the beginning. The drama is not in the reveal, but in the final clash between good guy and bad guy.
Mr. Mercedes has all of King’s trademark style with none of the supernatural elements that he’s most famous for. It’s a true murder mystery and thriller, which makes it a perfect entry point for Stephen King skeptics or newbies who might be turned off by the horror stuff.
King is that rare author who makes me want to quickly turn the pages to find out what happened next, while also managing to make me deeply care about the characters. That combo is what makes him an all-time great.
Though King has won a ton of horror/fantasy awards, this book was the first for which he earned an Edgar Award, which recognizes the best pure crime novels. There are two direct sequels that fill out the Bill Hodges trilogy, as well as another book, The Outsider, that’s loosely connected. I’m highly looking forward to reading ‘em all!
Thanks so much for reading! I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.