Tactful by Jeannie Peneaux (PersephonePenguin)

Story TitleTactful
Author Name:  Jeannie Peneaux (PersephonePenguin)
Category:  Pride & Prejudice
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating:  All Ages
Status: Completed
Series Status: Open. Includes 1 novel-length story (Tact), 2 one-shots (Turned Out Well and Undercurrents), and 1 novel-length WIP, Tacked.)
Length:   83,869 words
Story Summary:  Elizabeth Bennet is blessed with tact.

Gioia’s Rec:
I’m crazy for this series. There are too few authors in the Jane Austen fanfic (JAFF) community as it is. There are fewer still who have such a creative mind, entrancing plots and characterizations, and the skill with which to wield such gifts.

To give you an example of how invigoratingly creative this author is, make note of the fact that the character of Mr. Collins is not actually repulsive. I think this may be a first for me. I can’t recall ever seeing any authors attempt such a feat, much less pull it off believable without totally re-writing Mr. Collins’ characterization and/or background.  But PersephonePenguin manages to stick to canon’s foundation while creating circumstances in which we can see Mr. Collins grow into a more likable character of worth (although still not actually someone with whom I’d want to hang out).

I had originally expected this story to be similar to “An Endeavour at Civility” by Jennifer Ray, an MIA story I’ve long admired.  However, I was very wrong. This is quite different.  In Jennifer Rey’s story, Elizabeth is making a one-time attempt to be courteous during Mr. Darcy’s disastrous proposal.  In this story, Elizabeth has, from a young age, striven to be kind and tactful with her words.  As Elizabeth has never been a purposefully cruel or caustic person in canon, this change is far more nuanced than I originally expected.  Lizzy doesn’t lose her sharp wit.  She simply makes it a goal in all of her interactions to give thought to the other person’s feelings, and tries to use her words to not merely amuse herself, but to uplift the other individual.  So, while much of canon remains the same, the biggest difference is in the relationships Lizzy has with those around her, not with the basic facts of the canon P&P.

This author is deserving of far more honor and accolades than either I or the small JAFF community can provide. Do consider diving in, regardless of your previous awareness of Pride & Prejudice. This series requires no such knowledge in order for one to thoroughly enjoy the tale.

My Only Critique: There are a handful of minor typos; very minor, and very few.  They should not interfere with one’s ability to enjoy the story, as they are typically errors of punctuation, not of grammar, which I, personally, find more distracting than something as little as a missed apostrophe.

Posted in Character Study, Content Rating-P&P: All Ages (G - PG), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Deviates from canon at or post-Netherfield Ball, Deviates from canon in or just prior to Chapter 1, but consistent with canon backstory, Drama/Angst, Era: Regency, Features sibling of Elizabeth or Mr. Darcy, Fluff, Friendship/Mentorship, Het: M/F, Hurt/Comfort, Improved Lydia, Introspective, Mr. Bingley/Jane Bennet, Mr. Collins/Mary Bennet, Mr. Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet, Nicer Lady Catherine, OMC/Kitty Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Protagonist with disability or impairment, Resolution earlier than in canon, Romance, Series, Unconventional Couple | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Story Title:  The Royal We
Author Names: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Category:   Published Book
Story Url: Google Play Link (57-pages available to download free!)
Story Url: Story Link ($1.99)
Content Rating:  Teen
ID: ISBN-10: 1455557110; ISBN-13: 978-1455557110
Status: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (April 26, 2016
Length:   496 Pages
Story Summary: American Bex Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess. But it’s adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall – and Bex who finds herself accidentally in love with the heir to the British throne. Nick is wonderful, but he comes with unimaginable baggage: a complicated family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a Brit. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex looks back on how much she’s had to give up for true love… and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.

Gioia’s Rec:
I’m a tad conflicted about this awesome book.  I mean, I’m totally recommending it, but maybe only for those of you who don’t mind mild to moderate levels of angst.  The Royal We is very well-written. It’s beautifully researched. It’s frequently, screamingly hilarious.  The historical inserts, ever so slightly altered to protect their real-life muses, made my history-geek heart go bumpity-bump!  The authors even included a cameo of some of my favorite tiaras in the collection of the real Queen of the UK (and one peer)! (With the caveat that I’m guessing on the 6th tiara’s identity.)

But the angst. Oh! the angst! Anyone who reads my recs should know by now that I don’t do well with angst.  I’m a complete wimp.

The story could be described as fanfiction of the real-life romance of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, except that the role of Kate is played by an American girl named Bex. I was expecting her to be extremely Mary Sue-ish, to be honest, but she’s not.  She’s well-rounded to the extent that I want to bop her on the head sometimes over certain human flaws.  Still, she’s written as someone I could befriend and for whom I would enthusiastically wish good things.

My need to like the protagonists may seem silly, but this is why I still can’t watch Seinfeld.  I hate it when the protagonists are jerks.  Here, Bex and Nicholas, the stand-in for Prince William, are very easy to like and cheer on.

The problem for me is the amount of screentime that the angst gets in contrast to the happy days.  If I were to chart the highs and lows of Bex’s Happiness Meter ™ in The Royal We, it might look something like this:

That chart covers a timeframe of many years, and most of the life depicted is great. But you’ll notice there are a lot of gaps, which I should have made bigger on my chart.  That’s because the book tends to have these great moments of rapture or despair, and then fast forwards big blocks of what we are assured are joyful times, resuming the narrative when something dramatically good or bad happens again.  This relationship’s dramatic moments are understandably given the spotlight.  But because the narrative skims over most of the normal, everyday sunshine bits, there were several times where I had a hard time understanding why Bex was fighting to keep this relationship alive.

I understand skipping over the mundane, honest.  It would’ve made this book tediously long and boring.  The Royal We is neither.  I stayed up all night to read this book, locking myself away from reality as I inhaled the captivating tale.

The characterizations are particularly great.  I love how absolutely normal these people felt.  Yes, it’s about an ordinary girl meeting a prince.  But it’s amazing how the authors made the Prince in question feel like someone I would’ve hung out with in college.  I understood their motivations for most of the book because it felt like they were my friends.   The novel invites you to befriend Bex and Nick, embrace them for their own humanity (fictional though it is), and forget about their real-world counterparts.

Bex is our narrator, and that really works well for this book.  The authors do a fantastic job of show, not tell.  I understand Bex’s thought processes, her heart.  When she expresses deep, committed love for Nick, I absolutely believe it and embrace those emotions whole-heartedly.  It’s why I cried more than once over this book, just as I also cackled and snickered and got frustrated at all the right points.

Beginning in the opening chapter, Bex has a tendency to take the blame for a lot of things that aren’t her fault.  By the end of the book she mostly does a better job of standing up for herself.  There was one confrontation at Westminster Abbey in which she does a particularly good job of drawing a line between what she will and won’t accept blame for.  But then she almost immediately – again! – blames herself in part for others’ deplorable actions.

In a few painful places, Bex is treated very badly by a few of the people she loves dearly.  And rather than be very blunt about how they have repaid her many acts of kindness and sacrifice with selfish gimme! gimme! behavior, she worries that she provoked them into their choices. She seems to think that if she had just tried harder, worked harder to accommodate their unreasonable demands, that her so-called loved ones wouldn’t have decided to stab her in the back. That drives me nuts. But that dynamic characterization and those emotionally-evocative scenes are also what really sells this book. (And that pleasing-others flaw is nicely addressed in a bonus chapter from the POV of Prince Freddie, the stand-in for Prince Harry.)

I said earlier that this was a sort-of fanfic about the real British royals, but ultimately, that’s an over-simplistic and maybe an undeserved label.  It’s true that the setting was borrowed. And although the historical players were renamed and the 20th-century history was slightly, fascinatingly altered, the real-world framework of this story (Average!Girl with BFF sister meets Prince in college. Girl is mocked for new-money, un-sophisticated origins. Girl and Prince fall in love. Hijinks ensue.) was mostly left intact. The novel’s royal characters are obviously inspired by, and occasional satires of, some of the lesser-known, real-life British royals.  (The alter egos of the actual Earl & Countess of Wessex are just perfect, in all the best ways.) But labeling the novel as mere fanfic is unfair because it wouldn’t be worth a read if it were populated solely with 2-dimensional imitations and a plot everyone already knows.

And it is worth reading. And dang it, that sounds like I’m again damning a story with faint praise, which isn’t my intention.  Every time I came up for air during my marathon read, thoroughly enchanted by the characters and story, I gleefully would check the page count and bask in the knowledge that I still had hundreds of pages to go.  I kept mentally high-fiving myself each time my remaining page count was still high.  I felt like I was losing a whole circle of friends when I realized I had less than a hundred pages left. I never wanted it to end.

So, allow me to stop prevaricating and just say it:  I wasn’t completely sold on the feasibility of their relationship. There. Whew.  I got it out.  I hate saying that. I really, really liked Nick and Bex.  But because the authors had to skip over so many mundane, sunshine days…and weeks…and years…by the end of the book I was distracted from the satisfying conclusion by both my desire to defend Bex from blame for something done to her (for which she was again accepting accusations and blame) and by the problems which they had never learned to solve (though they had at last acknowledged and set goals to address those issues).

Their relationship could be the poster child for the Pre-Marital Counseling Is Essential To All Successful Marriages campaign, which I’ve just started, in my head.  As an old married woman, I kept cringing at the avoidance tactics and poor communication skills I saw exhibited in their relationship (and in this review!). It wouldn’t have been so painful to watch if those weren’t traits I recognize from my own early years of marriage. This is what premarital counseling from an impartial, qualified therapist or pastor is for.  Someone needed to help them set up rules for when they fight. Someone needed to help them establish rules for when they are having a hard time communicating, for whatever reason – military deployment, busy schedule, tense surroundings, sleep deprivation, family drama.

I think that, ultimately, Bex and Nick will be okay and will start developing those rules for their marriage.  But I would’ve enjoyed the book a lot more if we could’ve spent more time watching them make their relationship work, rather than just going up and down a line graph from nauseating lows to dizzying highs, without ever understanding why they want to fight for this relationship.

Maybe my complaints boil down to this: The Royal We is a fascinating, hilarious, thought-provoking book about what it takes to build a healthy marriage under the most immense stress this planet can dish out.  However, as a woman married for over 25-years, I was frustrated that the book left out what, in my experience, makes up the best parts of marriage: The every-day, mundane, sunshine moments of hanging out with your best friend.  And while I was drawn in by the protagonists, with my happiness linked to their highs and lows as if they were my friends, I needed a better awareness of why I’m supposed to root for them as a couple, not just as individuals.  I needed to see them succeed at the nuts-and-bolts part of a relationship.  Instead, those parts were largely left to the imagination.

I’m reminded – to a much lesser degree – of my complaint about My Fair Lady. I loved those characters. But at the end of the film, we’re suddenly supposed to accept that Prof. Higgins and Eliza are a good team as a couple. That Eliza practically runs his household, knows where his slippers are, and is indispensable to the Professor. But the movie had focused too much time on their speech therapy, fighting, the horse race, the ball, etc., and none on showing them as compatible.  The Royal We is nowhere near that bad. Not even close. But my basic nitpick is similar, if on a smaller scale.

So, if you get a kick out of history, you enjoy satire, you love witty female protagonists and the men who respect them, you want to make a new group of friends and be sucked into a beautiful romance and exciting plot, you’ll really like this book.  I anticipate multiple re-reads. If you are better than I am at respecting the role turmoil plays in the maturing of a happy, strong relationship, you’ll love this book.   Either way, you should all read it.  The first 57-pages are available for free. I’m betting that those of you who read them will be just as hooked as I was.

(Incidentally, if you use the Google Opinion Rewards app, answering simple surveys for Google Play Credit, you can quickly get enough to cover the cost of this $2 book, as I did.)


Posted in Alternate Universe, ANGST! ANGST! ANGST!, Character Study, Chick Lit, Comeuppance/Vindication/Schadenfreude, Drama/Angst, Fluff, Friendship/Mentorship, Het: M/F, Historical, Historical Novel or Setting, Humor/Parody, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Published Novel, Reunion-fic, Romance, Tragedy | Tagged | Leave a comment

These Cuts I Have by Melindaleo

Story Title:  These Cuts I Have
Author NameMelindaleo
Category:   Harry Potter
Content Rating:  Teen (discussions of sex, but nothing shown)
Status: Complete, with WIP sequel
Length:   216,003 words
Story Summary:   The war has been won, yet the aftershocks continue. The scattered survivors are left to pick up the pieces and find ways to move on. Join the various members of the extended Weasley family as they struggle to rebuild and cope with the consequences. And of course there are still Death Eaters left to find.

Gioia’s Rec:
There is no better HP fanfic writer than Melindaleo.

This more recent, completed story is a marvelous sequel to DH, covering the immediate aftermath the Battle of Hogwarts through 1 September. She addresses those questions which many of us had about what happened to our heroes after the battle, but before the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue. How did George cope with Fred’s death? How did the wizarding world treat their new savior? Did Hermione find her parents? Did Harry & Ginny reconcile immediately?

If you like canon-centric, What Came Next fics, you’ll love this novel-length, fun story. Frankly, I find it far more satisfying Cursed Child. (WHAT was wrong with Harry in that story?)

Posted in Bill Weasley/Fleur Delacour, Character Study, Content Rating-HP: Teen (PG-13), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Friendship/Mentorship, Harry Potter, Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley, Harry-centric, Het: M/F, Introspective, Romance, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger, Spoilers for Deathly Hallows, Weasley-centric | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Timely Brothers by NyGi

Story TitleThe Timely Brothers Series (Start with “Baby Brother to read chronologicaly; or go to the Trick or Treat Series to read the same stories organized by writing date.)
Author NameNyGi
Category: Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
Category: Harry Potter
Content Rating:  All Ages & Teen rated one-shots
Status: 33 completed short stories; The Series as a whole is still WIP
Length:   62,661 words
Story Summary:   Series of short glimpses into the possibility of Harry Potter being part of the MCU. This is the chronological version. The original Series ‘Trick or Treat’ is the way this story should probably be read… for the more adventurous ones 😀

Gioia’s Rec:
I adore this series so much, I could just explode from the sheer elation I feel while reading it. This also contains the best AU premise, or raison d’être, that I’ve seen or imagined in the HP/MCU genre. This level of excellence is particularly evident in “Faultlines,” which depicts where Harry would’ve stood in the face-off of Captain America: Civl War.

I love crossovers between the Marvel-verse and Harry Potter, and I often go hunting for them. But most have rather generic reasons for the crossover, such as Harry wandering into the battle over Manhattan and pitching in to help.  This series’ premise is particularly, awesome with a completely different foundation for the crossover. Lily Evans Potter is unknowingly the product of a relationship between her mother and Howard Stark. When she and James die, leaving Harry an orphan, Howard shows up to make sure Harry is being cared for by the Dursleys.  Howard then ends up taking Harry back to NY where he is raised as Tony’s baby brother.

The series is a fantastic, enthralling series of one-shots that give us a peek at what would be different, and what wouldn’t, if Harry were on the periphery of Tony’s life throughout the events of the MCU, and if Tony were on the periphery of Harry’s life throughout the events of the HP series.  This does not go in predictable ways.  I’m amazed at how in-character NyGi’s depictions are, while taking the stories into very different directions, which changes result in insightful changes to those characterizations.

My Only Critique: There are numerous completed stories in this series. However, as of this post, the series as a whole hasn’t been updated since June 2017.  Hopefully we’ll see more after the Infinity Wars movies are out for awhile. It looks to me like the author is waiting for that additional canon before picking up from just after CA:CW.

Posted in Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Baby/Kid-Fic, Character Study, Content Rating-HP: All Ages (G-PG), Content Rating-HP: Teen (PG-13), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Crossover, Drama/Angst, Favorite Story, Favorite Story-Harry Potter, Fluff, Friendship/Mentorship, Gen, Harry Potter, Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley, Harry rescued from the Dursleys, Het: M/F, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Outsider-POV, Post-CA:Civil War, Post-CA:Winter Soldier, post-canon setting, Pre-canon setting, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger, Series, Spoilers for Deathly Hallows, Superhero Saturdays | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Rec: This, You Protect by Owlet

Story Title: This, You Protect
Author Name: owlet
Category: Captain America, Marvel Cinematic Universe
Story Url: Story at AO3
Content Rating: All Ages
Status: Completed, with sequels
Length: 64,326
Story Summary: The mission resets abruptly, from objective: kill to objective: protect.
Podfic (Audio book):  This, You Protect by
Gioia’s Rec:
Because this story deserves far more raving than I can write at the moment, I’m thrilled to pieces that ReyEl wrote a rec and posted it on this blog’s “Share Your Recs” page.  Following is our very first Guest Rec, which is also our very first Marvel rec!

ReyEl’s Rec:
Where do I even start? The whole fic is precious and wonderful and heartwarming. I have read it twice so far and I just found new reasons to love this. The writing is superb, the characterization is wonderful and the few OCs that get introduced in this story as so good they feel like they have been there all along and the author makes you care deeply for them almost from the get-go. Its a beautiful AU that you can only wish would be canon, fortunately there’s a sequel, so it makes you less sad when you get to the end of this one. I never used to be a big Bucky fan, but then I read this and I fell deeply in love. It portrays Bucky in ways few fanfics ever manage to, it lays bare the inner workings of a brain that has been through the grinder hundreds of times and at the end came through because his best friend needed him. It tells the story of a literal nobody building a life for himself, making choices for the first time and becoming something, becoming a human being.

Posted in Action/Adventure, Amnesia, Audio Book, Captain America, Character Study, Drama/Angst, Favorite Story, Friendship/Mentorship, Gen, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Outsider-POV, Post-CA:Winter Soldier, post-canon setting, Reunion-fic, Sci-Fi, Series | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

These Cuts I Have by Melindaleo

Story Title:  These Cuts I Have
Author Name: Melindaleo
Category:   Harry Potter
Story Url: Story Link
Content Rating: Teen
Status: Complete, with WIP sequel
Length:   216,003 words
Story Summary:   The war has been won, yet the aftershocks continue. The scattered survivors are left to pick up the pieces and find ways to move on. Join the various members of the extended Weasley family as they struggle to rebuild and cope with the consequences. And of course there are still Death Eaters left to find.

Gioia’s Rec:
There is no better HP fanfic writer than Melindaleo. She’s so good, in fact, that (much to her horror) before Deathly Hallows came out, one of her fics was being circulated by plagiarists claiming that it was Book 7, and many journalists plus thousands of HP fans believed it!

This more recent, completed story is a marvelous sequel to DH, covering the immediate aftermath the Battle of Hogwarts through 1 September. She addresses those questions which many of us had about what happened to our heroes after the battle, but before the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue. How did George cope with Fred’s death? How did the wizarding world treat their new savior? Did Hermione find her parents? Did Harry & Ginny reconcile immediately?

If you like canon-centric, What Came Next fics, you’ll love this novel-length, fun story. I find it far more satisfying Cursed Child was, given CC’s Harry-bashing!

My Only Critique: None

Posted in Action/Adventure, Bill Weasley/Fleur Delacour, Character Study, Content Rating-HP: Teen (PG-13), Conventional (Canon) Couple, Drama/Angst, Favorite Story-Harry Potter, Fluff, Friendship/Mentorship, Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley, Harry-centric, Het: M/F, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, post-canon setting, Romance, Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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:


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


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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