On the Trail of the Assassins is a history book only in that it's about Jim Garrison's unsuccessful prosecution of an alleged conspiracy to murder PreOn the Trail of the Assassins is a history book only in that it's about Jim Garrison's unsuccessful prosecution of an alleged conspiracy to murder President Kennedy. The trial did occur in New Orleans, led by Garrison when he was District Attorney of that parish, and in that sense this is a book of nonfiction. Otherwise, I recommend anyone picking up On the Trail to read each chapter with a critical eye, and to be prepared to challenge and research just about every assertion Garrison makes.
My most generous evaluation is that Jim Garrison honestly believes his tangled tale of plotting and assassination, which he called a "homosexual thrill-killing" to journalist Jim Phelan (one more damning piece of evidence of just how wrongheaded Garrison's investigation was). My more caustic view is that this book was authored to burnish Garrison's stained legacy, work that came to fruition when it was adapted by Oliver Stone into the movie JFK.
Where to begin? Just about every charge Jim Garrison makes should have an asterisk or footnote beside it, one that indicates there are two or more sides to his story. You don't have to be a stooge or a CIA agent or a blind defender of the Warren Report to think Garrison's off-base, wrong, or lying, you just need to do a little research to see how thin his theories really stand. And I do mean theories in the plural, as Garrison doesn't present a single cohesive theory, but rather long handfuls of loosely associated notions and suggestions, holding them up like an aging fan dancer hiding her wrinkles and blemishes from the audience.
My personal favorite is his chapter on Kerry Thornley. Thornley served in the marines with Lee Harvey Oswald. After being discharged he wrote a Catch-22-esque novel featuring a character based on Oswald before the assassination occurred (only published after Oswald became a household name). Thornley went on to become a sort of Forrest Gump of the American counterculture throughout the 1960s and 70s, even writing a column for Factsheet Five in the zine's waning days. Garrison takes Thornley's long strange journey and concludes, with zero evidence available, he was a body double for Oswald and in the pay of the CIA. (Kerry Thornley, who was dragged before the Warren Commission and then put under the hot lights in Garrison's office, had some sharp words for the New Orleans District Attorney.)
These kinds of logical leaps would be howlers if they weren't coming from a district attorney who later went on to become a judge in Louisiana's 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. We expect more primary references in a high school essay than Garrison is able to muster for his explosive allegations. Yet Thornley is only an example of Garrison's investigative methods, flailing about and dragging any character he can find into the conspiracy, like a novice camper throwing more and more cordwood onto the fire hoping the pile will ignite.
In the process Garrison smeared a number of individuals, including Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman, civic leader, and patron of the arts. Garrison essentially outed Shaw and wrecked his good name. This book isn't merely the idle speculations of a conspiracy author. In his vain grab for glory, Garrison destroyed lives....more