The Last Master Outlaw: How he Outfoxed The FBI Six Times But Not A Cold Case Team by Thomas J. Colbert & Tom Szollosi

Story Title: The Last Master Outlaw: How he Outfoxed The FBI Six Times But Not A Cold Case Team
Authors Names: Thomas J. Colbert & Tom Szollosi
Category: Published Book
Category: Biography, True Crime
Amazon Url: Story Link
Content Rating: Teen (for a few swears)
Status: Completed, with History Channel 4-part documentary special
Length: 330 pages
Story Summary: In 1971, a skyjacker with a briefcase bomb demanded a $200,000 ransom and a parachute. Then he vanished out the jet’s back door and became an instant legend.

Now a determined citizen sleuth has assembled a forty-member cold case team, spearheaded by former FBI agents, to solve the mystery of D. B. Cooper. And after a five-year quest, they believe they have succeeded–with a fugitive at trail’s end.

The team’s relentless investigation and final confrontation with the mystery man serve as the bookends in The Last Master Outlaw. The suspect’s astonishing life story as a daredevil fills the remaining chapters, the bulk of which comes from the heartwarming, gut-wrenching accounts of six of his women–two former wives; his only sister; a befriended college coed; a “getaway gal” he met up with during two more FBI escapes, both again involving planes; and a Hollywood producer who was also his cocaine-trade partner.

Buckle your seatbelts as this Jekyll-and-Hyde ladies’ man travels through five countries, utilizing more than a dozen identities, wigs, and fake mustaches while engaging in a half-dozen careers and raising three families. Then be a witness as the cornered chameleon is forced to face the truth in front of the cameras of a dogged cold case team, which was armed and ready for any eventuality.

Gioia’s Rec:

db-cooper-military-sketch-300x180

Left: FBI Sketch of D.B. Cooper; Right: Robert Rackstraw Army photo, taken 14-months before hijacking

One of the greatest Whodunnit mysteries of the 20th century, and the only unsolved case of air piracy in the United States, is the case of D.B. Cooper and the 1971 hijacking of a Northwest Airlines flight in the Pacific Northwest.

Briefly: on the day before Thanksgiving in 1971, a Northwest flight was hijacked by a man using a suitcase bomb.  He was polite, mild-mannered, released all the hostages without harming anyone, behaved compassionately toward the fearful crew, and then parachuted out of the plane over a vast wilderness, escaping with $200,000.  He was never caught.

In 1980, a child camping along the Columbia River with his family found 3 bundles of the money from Cooper’s loot.  Investigators at the time took that to mean that Cooper had perished in his jump.  Robert W. Rackstraw, then one of their prime suspects, was cleared.  They couldn’t charge a living man for a dead man’s crime, right?

The FBI officially closed the case in 2016, but said that they would reopen it if either the parachute or the ransom money were found.  In August 2017, a sleuthing team headed by the principal author of this book, Thomas Colbert and his wife Dawna, acting on tips they’d received as part of their intense investigations, found what appears to be parts of the parachute Cooper used.  They have turned that evidence over to the FBI, which released a statement that the Bureau would be seriously following up on this find. It is assumed that the FBI will be doing an excavation at the site of this find, as the sleuthing team believes that the parachute and what is left of the ransom money is buried there.

It was these news reports that brought “The Last Master Outlaw” to my attention.  The book is fascinating and a very convincing read. I finished the book certain that Robert W. Rackstraw is D.B. Cooper, and equally certain that we’ll never get a confirmation of that until he is dead. Rackstraw is too smart to implicate himself, even though he is also proud enough of his remarkable crime that it must be chafing him not to confess to what is widely perceived as a Robin Hood story.

But don’t read this book solely because you expect to find a conviction-worthy confession from him within this book. Instead, read this book for an understanding of why Cooper hijacked that plane, what kind of background it took for him to be able to survive the experience, and what happened long-term since the hijacking. Personally, I misunderstood the goals of this book – in spite of the clarity in its title. I expected a detailed write-up on how the crime was committed and what happened next. In reality, this is about Rackstraw the conman, and how he managed to avoid prosecution.

$200,000 sounds like very little to my 2017 mind, even when converted into $1,213,226 in 2017 dollars. If you’re like me, you may therefore also be interested in knowing what Cooper did with his money and how he lived afterwards, since that can’t have been enough to go retire on a beach somewhere. And while the next few decades are covered very well, the events in the

    immediate

aftermath (i.e., from the moment of the jump through the next day or two) represent one of the less elaborate sections in the book, simply because that information wasn’t available at the time of publication.

DB Cooper-Rackstraw

Comparison image via dbcooper.com

The investigators spend a lot of time on Rackstraw’s background, which explains how he so easily fits into the skill set that Cooper needed. There is also a lot of time spent on the months before and after the hijacking. What is skimmed over is the hijacking. Maybe their target audience of amateur sleuths didn’t need a lot of information there, but I was surprised by how little was covered. I kept expecting the book to come back to the events of the hijacking and explain the various theories, but that never happened.

However, I want to emphasize that just because I’m disappointed they didn’t cover those details very thoroughly, that isn’t really the fault of the authors. My expectations did not take into account the extended, boasting title of the book, The Last Master Outlaw: How He Outfoxed The FBI SIX Times But Not A Cold Case Team. This book never purported to be a detailed examination of the day of the hijacking. It’s about Rackstraw’s extremely gifted abilities as a con artist and how he managed to get away without being caught. Yes, I think there should have been a bit more time spent on the hijacking itself, because how are we to otherwise understand what exactly he needed to say and do (or, not) to avoid implicating himself? But as I’ve reflected upon this book, I think that the authors simply had a different focus – which they did an entrancing job of concisely addressing in great detail – than I had in mind.

I was frustrated, though, when the authors made a reference to forensic work that was done on the money that was found in 1980, but that part of the story was then glossed over, too. Maybe I missed something, but I never saw a write-up in this book on what the forensics report showed. I’ve had to read other articles to find out about the theories and debate on how that money could’ve drifted to where it was found. The authors are certain that the money was planted, and after reading their evidence, I believe they are probably right. (It has always struck me as odd that the rubber band was still intact.) They discuss the planting of that evidence in great detail, and it’s a captivating read. But I don’t feel fully informed on the topic as they didn’t address the forensic evidence which validates the sleuthing team’s claims by making it look so certain that the money can’t have been in the water and muck for 9 years.

After reading articles about this book and the recent evidence that was found, I had hoped that the book would explain who Rackstraw’s presumed 1971 cohorts were. Again, this was my mistake, as the info I was seeking wasn’t acquired until long after publication. One article recently stated that an informant told the sleuths that Rackstraw split the money into four parts, dividing it between himself and two accomplices, with a fourth portion planted in a first, failed attempt to make it look like DB Cooper had drowned. That same informant, according to recent news stories, seems to be the source for the location of the evidence they found in August 2017. Understandably, none of that info is in the book. Hopefully they will publish an updated version of the book in light of this info.

So if you’re interested in understanding the most likely suspect of the D.B. Cooper case, or you’re interested in stories about conmen in general, this really is a spell-binding story which I absolutely recommend. But if you are expecting it to be your primary source for understanding either the 1971 case or the 2017 investigation status, you may be disappointed. There are other books which focus on at least the former, and those are listed among the sources and reference materials of this book.

Finally, there are two aspects to this investigation that really bothered me.

First, when the flight attendants are unable to validate the author’s theory by identifying Rackstraw from a photo lineup a few years ago, there’s a rather unkind reaction. While including the first flight attendant’s caveat that after 45-years, she had a fuzzy memory about the hijacking details, when she couldn’t identify Rackstraw as D.B. Cooper, the author refers to her as a “poor woman” with a “mental-health” issue. When two other flight attendants have the same dillema, it is again blamed on the witnesses’ “mental-health.”

In a world in which the unfair stigma of mental illness can cause serious pain and repercussions, those saccharine labels seem particularly unnecessary and cruel. I interpreted them as an example of cutting someone else down to make the accuser (or in this case, the accuser’s theory) look better.  The authors’ book would not have suffered from an honest explanation that it is unfair to expect such detailed recall after nearly 5 decades.  I note that they didn’t accuse a different witness of mental health problems when that passenger tentatively labeled Rackstraw as D.B. Cooper, albeit while thinking that Rackstraw’s photo was actually of a different suspect (Richard McCoy).

Second, toward the end of the book, we read how the investigative team, a journalist and a camera crew confronted Rackstraw and attempted to convince him to let them take out an option* on his story, with the understanding that he would confess to the crime and tell his full side of the story exclusively to them.

Keep in mind, whether or not you think D.B. Cooper is a folk hero (I don’t), Robert Rackstraw is alleged by the authors to be a murder, a wife-beater, a gaslighting womanizer, a deadbeat dad, a drug dealer, and a vicious con artist. Even so, the authors of the book completely lose my sympathy at this point in their tale. They did not engage in good faith negotiations. Instead, they tell Rackstraw that if he won’t confess all, and give them exclusive rights to his story for $20,000, then they will publish this book (The Last Master Outlaw) with the personal information and names of his entire extended family, including his children and grandchildren. They threaten him with the media storm and harassment that will be sure to torment both Rackstraw and each of his friends and family. It struck me as uncomfortably similar to a brazen, mafia-style shakedown for protection money. (Full disclosure: I’m probably oversensitive to that possibility due to my past experiences.) In this case, the “protection money” required was for Rackstraw to implicate himself in a very serious crime, or prove his innocence to the satisfaction of this crew, who had a vested interest in proving him guilty.

This felt to me like a shameful façade of ethical journalism and business practices. Whatever Rackstraw is guilty of, his family – aka, his most frequent victims – did not deserve this. I don’t understand why the producers even thought this would be a successful form of coercion. At what point did they get the impression that Rackstraw was the type to sacrifice himself for others? The authors unabashedly detail their manipulative, aggressive, questionable behavior, yet repeatedly imply that Rackstraw forced them to be this way by refusing to be blackmailed. Rackstraw is an apparent sociopath, according to the book. What’s the authors’ excuse for their own behavior?

*Taking out an option on a person’s story (whether biographical, fictional, etc.) allows one to lease the exclusive rights to the story for a set period of time, typically 1-year. If the writer did not manage to publish the intended book and/or make the intended documentary and movie within the agreed upon timeframe, the story rights would have defaulted back to Rackstraw. The investigative team would not have been able to do anything further with the exclusive information he provided them, unless Rackstraw was willing to sign an additional Option contract.  If the script had sold or been independently produced, then Rackstraw’s percentage of the resulting profits would have been additional, on top of the writer’s offered $20,000 option fee.  That final percentage of the profits is negotiated in advance, when the option is signed. E.g., “I’ll rent you the rights to my story for one year at $10,000, and you will then give me 10% of the gross profits of any book, movie, TV show or other resulting enterprise.”

Edited to add:  I’ve edited my wording somewhat after mulling it over and watching the first part of the 4-part History Channel special on this story.  I want to make it clear that I don’t think the investigators were motivated by any kind of bigotry.  I’m still troubled on those two points, with the issue of coercion particularly grating to me, thanks to my own personal background.  But it would be incorrect to imply that they acted remotely on par with the criminal visciousness that Rackstraw displays.  It isn’t their handling of him that I object to so much as involving his family & their privacy into the negotiations.

On another note, I’m loving their television special, “D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?” Some of the background details which I whined about missing, up above, are covered in this series.  The trailer is below:

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Posted in Character Study, Historical, Mystery/Crime Novel, Non-Fiction Book, Published Novel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge by Abigail Reynolds

darcys-refuge-front-june-2013-font-changesmaller-397x600Story Title: Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation
Author Name:  Abigail Reynolds
Category:  Pride & Prejudice
Category: Published Book
Story Url: Author’s website & Amazon
Content Rating:  Mature
Status: Completed
Length:   240 pages
Story Summary:   Trapped for three days by a flood, and trapped forever by society because of it…. The river isn’t the only thing overflowing in Hunsford when a natural disaster forces Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy to work together. The residents of flood-stricken Hunsford, seeking refuge in the parsonage atop the hill, are unaware they are interrupting Darcy’s disastrous proposal. Even worse, the flood has washed out the only bride to Rosings Park, stranding Darcy with the woman who has just refused his offer of marriage. But it may already be too late to redeem Elizabeth’s reputation…. In this Pride & Prejudice variation, the lane dividing the Hunsford parsonage from Rosings Park has been replaced by one of the flood-prone Kentish rivers. The storms are real – the spring of 1811 was remarkable for numerous thunderstorms in Southeast England.

Gioia’s Rec:
Abigail Reynolds is one of my favorite authors.  Her books are most assuredly among those I call my literary comfort food.  This particular one was new to me, and I inhaled it over a 24-hour period, in which I slept far less than I ought.

One of my favorite aspects of Dr. Reynolds’ books is that she knows the difference between dramatic tension and unnecessary angst.  (I’m not a fan of the latter.)  The backdrop to this story is a devestating flood which sweeps through Hunsford village on the night that Mr. Darcy shows up at the parsonage with an ill-worded, ill-timed proposal.  But the excitement doesn’t end there.  This book surprised me with several dramatic plot twists.  The various ways that our well-known characters and side-characters respond to those plot twists kept me captivated.

I was particularly moved by a few pointed depictions and denouncements of certain cultural norms for the Regency era.  In particular, the way Britain treated its children, its most precious and fragile assets, is horrifying.  Dr. Reynolds has our protagonists respond to this in culturally appropriate ways, yet with the sort of outrage that suits my modern sensitibilities.  Those reactions weren’t preachy or disrupting to the flow of the story, though.  Instead, the way that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth respond to those circumstances allowed each of them to come to a better understandanding and appreciation of the other.

My Only Critique: This doesn’t count as critique, but just in case… One complaint I hear periodically about Dr. Reynolds’ books is that, because she originally posted many of them as fanfic, and then published the books, and then occasionally had another re-release of the books, some of her novels were known by two or three different titles.  So, when in doubt, check the author’s website, where the titles are clearly listed.  As it is, this particular book, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge does not appear to have been published or posted under any other name. So this advice is not actually needed in the case of this specific title.

Posted in Chick Lit, Col. Fitzwilliam/Elizabeth Bennet, Col. Fitzwilliam/Jane Bennet, Content Rating-P&P: Mature (R), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Deviates from canon at or post-Hunsford, Drama/Angst, Era: Regency, Het: M/F, Historical, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Marriage rushed or urged due to compromising situation, Meetings prior to canon, Mr. Bennet not thrilled with Elizabeth/Darcy romance, Mr. Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Wickham/Lydia Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Prior connections between Darcys and Bennets or related characters, Published Novel, Resolution earlier than in canon, Rivals vying for Darcy's or Elizabeth's affections, Romance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Martian by Andy Weir

Story Title:  The Martian
Author Name: Andy Weir
Category:   Published Book
Category: SciFi
Amazon Url: Story Link
Content Rating:  Teen (for language)
Status: Completed, with movie made
Length:   385 pages
Story Summary:  Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.  Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Gioia’s Rec:
I ran across the movie, The Martian, a year or so ago and was captivated by the plot.  That drove me to go find the book.  I found it even more enthralling than the movie.  I saw a comic recently that does a great job of describing the target audience for the movie.  Do you remember the movie Apollo 13, the scene in which the NASA scientists dump a bunch of parts onto the table and announce that they need to make a solution to the problem using just the parts on that table?  The Martian will appeal to people who liked that scene.  I only took 6 hours of general science classes in college decades ago, so don’t let that comparison intimidate those of you without engineering or science backgrounds.  The whole point of the book is that the protagonist, Mark, makes the science easy to digest, with edge-of-your-seat excitement.  His ongoing war with the planet Mars has moments of insane hilarity as well as sheer terror.  There’s a lot of strong language in the book, because Mark has a notable, hysterical gift for comic swearing.  I’ve read the book through 4 times, and am working on my 5th read through with my kiddo.  The book has also become my latest fanfic fave.  I’ve found some good fics on fanfiction.net, but the majority are over at ArchiveOfOurOwn.org.

My Only Critique: There are one or two moments at the beginning when the writing feels vaguely amateurish.  However, I never could decide whether this was an author error, or if the author was deliberately using such moments to make Mark’s log entries feel casual, and like some random guy’s amateur writing style (when not writing for peer review).

Posted in Action/Adventure, Drama/Angst, Favorite Story, Gen, Introspective, Published Novel, Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi Novel, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Ladies’ Auxilary Pie Auction by Lauriofthepen

Story TitleThe Ladies’ Auxilary Pie Auction
Author NameLauriofthepen
Category:   Anne of Green Gables (Rilla of Ingleside)
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating: All Ages
Status: Completed
Length:  5,992 words
Story Summary:   We know that Rilla has always been interested in Ken, but when did Ken start seeing Rilla differently?

Gioia’s Rec:
It’s so rare to find fanfic based off of one of my absolute favorite books, “Rilla of Ingleside,” the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series.  I feel I should write this rec with all the italics of an Emily Byrd Starr childhood composition, or all the drama of one of Rilla’s own early journal entries.

The story was originally meant to be a one-shot about an incident that is barely mentioned in the L.M. Montgomery canon – a pie auction in which Ken Ford bought Rilla’s pie.  Lauriofthepen takes that vague mention and created a charming tale of how and when Ken first became interested in Rilla, prior to his deployment in WWI.  But what really makes this story work is the second chapter, set right at the end of “Rilla of Ingleside,” in which Ken and Rilla are reunited. What makes the two chapters flow together so beautifully is the way that they contrast pre-war-Ken and pre-war-Rilla with their post-war selves.  As much as L.M. Montgomery did a phenomenal job of writing the ending to that book (one of the best and most passion-filled, single-word conclusions ever!), Lauriofthepen‘s epilogue is just beautiful and feels utterly right.  I adore it.

 

Posted in Anne of Green Gables, Drama/Angst, Fluff, Het: M/F, post-canon setting, Pre-canon setting, Reunion-fic, Romance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PSA: Still Here

Goodness. It’s been over a year since my last post. I’m actually still here and read as much as ever. However Hubby’s ill health turned out to be a heart defect which my youngest child has, too, landing them both in wheelchairs. Thus, writing up my recs has been increasingly difficult.

If you’re interested in my reading list, follow the links in the sidebar to my Fanfiction.net and AO3 accounts, where I continue to Favorite and Bookmark, respectively, those stories I most enjoy. Eventually, I hope to update my favorite books over here, too. In the meantime, the “Future Recs” section, above, has some of these noted, too. And if you’ve got favorites of your own to share, I’m always interested in reading your thoughts on the section, above, labled “Share Your Recs.”

Happy New Year, and many blessings, to you all.
Gioia

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The Broken Wall by TaraSoleil

Story TitleThe Broken Wall
Author NameTaraSoleil
Category:  Harry Potter
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating:  Mature
Status: Complete
Length:   80,648 words
Story Summary:   It was only a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.

Gioia’s Rec:
What a delight this story was!  I’m not normally a fan of stories in which Harry encounters the Mauraders as teenagers.  But this story introduces Harry to his parents in such an unusual way, it easily won me over.  This is not a time travel story, for starters.  In some ways it reminds me of SamVimes’ story “The Cartographer’s Craft.”  If you’ve read a time travel story in which Lily falls in love with James Potter just because she learns that they ended up married together, or if you’ve seen a teenage James try to act like a father to Harry, don’t make any assumptions about “The Broken Wall.”  None of that occurs here.

The focus of this story really isn’t on Harry and his parents.  The person who brought about this miracle isn’t too much of a surprise, though I won’t spoil you here.  The focus of the story is on that person and on the repercussions of those actions.  Dumbledore’s oft quoted canon remark, that it is our choices which define us, is certainly applicable here.  Can magic which is meant to be evil be used with good intentions?  And if so, are there repercussions?

“The Broken Wall” is two parts action/adventure, one part romance, and, if you choose to focus upon it, perhaps one part wisdom mixed with hope.  (Feel free to ignore that bizarre formula. I’ve never claimed to be good at math.)  Don’t let the latter parts intimidate you, though, if you’re not in the mood for deep thinking.  Though I admittedly inhaled this story too quickly to focus excessively on the contemplative moments, I’ve been left feeling reflective afterwards, thanks to the marvelous writing, the characters’ careful contemplations, and the author’s own insightful thoughts, made obvious in every carefully crafted moment within this story.

In the end, though, it isn’t the deep thoughts which made me such a fan of “The Broken Wall.”  It’s the pure fun and excitement which captivated my imagination.

Spoilers are below in the tags, so I’d recommend avoiding them for now, especially as the sole ship is like nothing I’ve ever read before.

Posted in Action/Adventure, Content Rating-HP: Mature (R), Harry Potter, Hermione-centric, Maurader-centric, Sirius Black/Hermione Granger, Spoilers for Half-Blood Prince | Tagged | 4 Comments

We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines

We Don't Need RoadsStory Title:  We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
Author Name:  Caseen Gaines
Category:   Published Book
Story Url: Amazon Link
Story Url: Publisher’s Site
Content Rating:  All Ages
Status: Completed
Length:   288 pages
ISBN: 0142181536
Story Summary:   A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the wildly successful and beloved Back to the Future trilogy, just in time for the 30th anniversary

Long before Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled through time in a flying DeLorean, director Robert Zemeckis, and his friend and writing partner Bob Gale, worked tirelessly to break into the industry with a hit. During their journey to realize their dream, they encountered unprecedented challenges and regularly took the difficult way out.

For the first time ever, the story of how these two young filmmakers struck lightning is being told by those who witnessed it. We Don’t Need Roads includes original interviews with Zemeckis, Gale, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Huey Lewis, and over fifty others who contributed to one of the most popular and profitable film trilogies of all time.

With a focus not only on the movies, but also the lasting impact of the franchise and its fandom, We Don’t Need Roads is the ultimate read for anyone who has ever wanted to ride a Hoverboard, hang from the top of a clock tower, travel through the space-time continuum, or find out what really happened to Eric Stoltz after the first six weeks of filming. So, why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here – and start reading! We Don’t Need Roads is your density.

Gioia’s Rec:
As with most Gen-Xers, the Back to the Future trilogy is a big part of my childhood and teen years. So I was delighted to see that a definitive book had been written on the making of the trilogy. The stories contained within “We Don’t Need Roads” were immensely entertaining to me, and I happily forced family members to listen as I quoted sections from the book ad nauseam for days. But although I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure whether others will be as interested as I was in some of the minutia, unless they are big fans of the series or of the movie industry in general.

My husband and I both have extensive backgrounds in the entertainment industry, with decades of experience under our belts. Therefore, the things that were interesting to me — such as the details of pre-production, casting, production, and even some post-production, or the way the special effects were set-up, or the frustrating situation with Crispin Glover’s absence in the last two movies — may not be interesting to everyone else.

Thankfully, the book is laid out in such a way that if one isn’t as interested in, for example, how the hoverboards were made to look real on screen, it’s easy to skip that section. You won’t need to keep up with every detail in the book in order to focus solely on the info that interests you. And while the numerous subjects of his interviews certainly provide an ocean of information, the author very helpfully skimmed those interviews down to the essentials, and even kindly reminds the reader periodically who the different individuals are, whether cast, crew, or Eric Stoltz.

Probably the three biggest stories which captured my mind as I read this book were the firing of Eric Stoltz after five weeks of shooting, the absence of Crispin Glover in the second and third movies, and the horrific accident in which stuntwoman Cheryl Wheeler was nearly killed.  I won’t spill details regarding Eric Stoltz, as I think that tale is too good for me to attempt to retell it.

You can see Cheryl injured if you watch the hoverboard race around the Clock Tower in Part 2. Just watch for the female villain to fly toward the glass, only to hit the pillar, then begin falling 30 feet to the concrete below. The Cassandra comparisons are hard for me to avoid seeing in this situation. There were many, many warnings and questions — from both Cheryl and others on set — which ought to have prevented that catastrophe from occurring, but were instead blown off and ridiculed, in a snide manner which infuriates me and makes me want to summon Hermione Granger and point her at the patriarchy.

Crispin Glover’s involvement with Back to the Future is complex, yet absolutely worth reading. I don’t think that anyone is ever going to know the whole story here, as Glover’s 1990 lawsuit was settled out of the court, which means that the documented facts of the case will probably never be publicized. I understand where Glover was coming from in his creative requests for the character of George McFly, and I agree that it was uncool for the producers to use prosthetics to make another actor look like Glover in the sequels. They should’ve simply recast the role, as was done with Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer. Additionally, some of the details about the producers’ sequel negotiation tactics struck me as having been more about making Crispin publicly submit, acknowledge their authority over him, and return to the set as a chastened, humbled creature, rather than focusing on what was good for their franchise. And while Glover did receive some remuneration from the lawsuit, he also likely sabotaged his Hollywood career.

Yet, having worked exclusively in production, I know I would have been driven batty by some of Crispin Glover’s on-set behaviors. He made life immensely difficult for the crew, at a time when they were working around the clock, and thus exhausted, over-worked, and enormously stressed.  Reliable reports from the set of the first film describe Crispin defiantly disregarding directions and figuratively digging his heels in by arguing constantly over seemingly every step of the production. Frankly, he is lucky they didn’t fire him the first day he pulled that behavior on set.  And if, during negotiations for the sequels, Crispin really did insist upon a salary equal to that of Michael J. Fox (a charge Crispin denies) along with script approval (which means Glover could have forced the writers to change any parts of the script Glover disliked), then “the Bobs,” as they are called in this book, were right to be firm in their negotiating terms. It’s also worth noting that the producers of the film are far more forthcoming about the mess than Crispin Glover is, which could imply that Glover doesn’t want to admit to some of his poor business decisions.

Ultimately, I was left feeling most sorry for Jeffrey Weissman, the actor who replaced Glover and was treated poorly on set when the sequels were shot, and was unfairly blackballed in Hollywood afterwards. I felt badly for Crispin Glover, who doesn’t seem to have been deliberately malicious during either Part 1 production or Parts 2 & 3 negotiations, even if he was an enormous pain in the rear to deal with. I felt less badly for the producers, even though they may very well be right about Crispin’s diva antics, because they seem to have responded badly to his obdurate behavior by being intentionally unkind in the end.  No matter how he behaved, they did not need to use their positions of power to avenge themselves on a man who was no threat to them.  I may be biased, though, because the vengeful, mean streak which runs deep in Hollywood is the very reason why I’m very grateful to now be out of that industry for good.

Behind-the-scenes stories such as those above are what make this book a great read. A huge chunk of the book was about the making of the first movie. The stories about the two sequels felt rushed and abbreviated. It seemed to me as if way too much time was spent on issues like Mattel’s toy hoverboard controversy and the Back to the Future fandom as a whole. I’m not particularly interested in learning about why certain fans started websites, conventions, or fan clubs. The last chapter, in fact, was rather tedious for me. I’d rather hear more about how Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis envisioned 2015 for the film, why the films mispronounce “gigawatt,” and what ideas didn’t make it into the scripts. I was also a bit frustrated that the book’s author, Caseen Gaine (and, by extension, his editor and publisher) didn’t seem to know the definition of the word “nonplussed,” as it yanked me out of the narrative each time he misused it. Overall, though, there’s little to complain about here. The book’s trivia will entertain nearly all fans, and the negotiations, production problems, and publicity details will enthrall any cinephile.

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