Lost Cities, Murder Conspiracies and Robert Redford's Last Bow 

Author David Grann talks about writing bestselling books, making movies and finding justice for the Osage

An ageing gentleman robs banks. An adventurer vanishes into the jungle while searching for a long-lost city. The Federal Bureau of Investigation comes into its own as one of its best unearths a conspiracy to murder wealthy Native Americans. Based on a sentence-long summary, each of these very different stories sounds like a gripping tale, and they all have two things in common: They're all true stories, and they were all told by David Grann.

"In reporting, I always feel like we're all searching for our 'Lost City of Z,' but we never find it. What interests me is that I think the details or elements of the stories are very different, but the thing that probably unites them is less whether they're about crime or exploration, but about whether those particular stories tell us something about ourselves or the human condition," said Grann, who will be in Boise on Wednesday, March 13, for a reading courtesy of The Cabin's Readings & Conversations series.

His latest book, The White Darkness (Doubleday 2018), chronicles the travels of Henry Worsley, who retraced Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton's famous expedition and later died attempting to be the first person to cross Antarctica on foot; but Grann is perhaps best known for his true-crime book, Killers of the Flower Moon (Doubleday 2016). Killers has it all: When the Osage people of Oklahoma strike oil beneath their land, making them some of the richest people in the world, a group of whites marries into their families, then proceeds to murder them to gain access to their wealth.

The real-life murders got the attention of the then-newly formed FBI, and its own investigation full of false leads, dead ends, murder, intrigue and conspiracy followed. Beyond a mere blow-by-blow retelling of the killings and their investigations, Killers is also a snapshot of life in the west at the beginning of the 20th century, when racism ran rampant and the rule of law still searched for sure footing in the newly settled reaches of the Great Plains. Writing Killers, Grann said he struggled in searching for justice for victims whose killers died long ago.

"One of the challenges for me with Killers of the Flower Moon was that many of these crimes were never solved. ... Hopefully you can, at least, record the voices of the victims and identify all the perpetrators," Grann said. "But in the case of the Osage murders, all the witnesses and the suspects and victims are now deceased, and in many of the cases, the perpetrators of the crimes didn't just kill their victims, they denied them their history."

Several of Grann's books and articles have been adapted to the silver screen. In 2016, Charlie Hunnam starred as British explorer Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z, based on Grann's nonfiction bestseller of the same name (Doubleday 2009), about an adventurer who uncovers evidence of a long-lost, advanced human settlement hidden deep in the Amazon, but disappears before convincing his contemporaries of its existence. (Researching that book took Grann to the Amazon, and he said that "in some ways, I'm the least likely explorer in the world, when you take one look at me.") Notably, the film The Old Man & The Gun, told in Grann's collection of articles The Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Doubleday 2010), stars Robert Redford as career criminal and multiple prison escapee Forrest Tucker in what Redford said will be his last film role.

In 2017, Imperative Entertainment was reported to have bought the film rights for Killers for $5 million, with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio leading the development, which Grann said may further a social justice mission he began with the book.

"Killers of the Flower Moon deals with a part of our history that so many of us, not the Osage, obviously, but so many other Americans, have excised from their consciousness," he said. "My hope is a book can reach so many people, but a movie can reach even more, and that will help ensure that this is part of our national narrative and part of our national conscience."


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