Dachokie's Reviews > Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper

Skyjack by Geoffrey Gray
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Sep 03, 13

bookshelves: crime

Introduces a Zany Cast of Crazies That Only Deepens the Mystery ...

This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book.

The first time I ever learned about D.B. Cooper was elementary school back in the 1970s ... it was the first story in a compilation book of "strange but true" stories/mysteries that I got at a Scholastic Book Fair. While I recall all the other stories having rudimentary drawings to visually entertain elementary school-level readers, the Cooper story was both creepy and intriguing to me because it included the actual police sketches of the hijacker (with and without the sunglasses). The story was compelling enough to remain dormant in my memory over the years only to be recalled from time-to-time (when the worn "Cooper" bills were found in 1980 and a few years later when the goofy "In Pursuit of D.B. Cooper" movie was released). I was hoping, after almost 40 years and the added benefit of an exponential increase in technology, Geoffrey Gray's SKYJACK: THE HUNT FOR D.B. COOPER would lead me to believe the case was going to be solved, but ... nope.

On the surface, the entire story of Dan (D.B.) Cooper is fraught with a romantic sense of mystery and brash daring. An innocuous middle-aged man in a suit, identifying himself as Dan Cooper, carries a briefcase onboard a Northwest Orient plane in November 1971 and calmly executes a hijacking mid-flight. Adding to his boldness, the hijacker demands that the plane land for refueling, $200,000 (in twenties) and four parachutes. As the plane is back in flight, presumably for Mexico, a sudden jolt in cabin pressure caused by the lowering of the plane's aftstairs reveals hijacker has taken the loot, jumped from the plane ... and vanished. Who was D.B. Cooper? Did he survive the jump? What happened to all the money? They are basic questions and after 40 years, there are still no definitive answers. Aside from attempting to answer these basic questions, exactly what Geoffrey Gray may be attempting to accomplish with his book has several possibilities: introducing a new generation of people to a fading mystery, exposing the folklore surrounding the case, document the impact the case has/had on those involved, covering old ground with a fresh perspective and drawing parallels between several colorful characters and mystery-man Cooper. SKYJACK may also be an effort to satiate the authors own obsession with the case, an obsession that Gray documents as being part of a curse that has driven many to ruin. SKYJACK is, at times, colorful and entertaining but I struggled with its delivery and in the end; I did not feel that it put a dent into solving the mystery or answer the basic questions.

Geoffrey Gray divides SKYJACK into three parts (the Jump, the Hunt and the Curse) in an attempt to corral a storyline that continually jumps back and forth from past to present and involves recurring individuals. Rather than starting with the hijacking itself, we are introduced, from the onset, of the man the author suspects is D.B. Cooper and the background that supports the author's opinion. When the author finally starts detailing the hijacking itself, we are then diverted to the background data on another person suspected of being Cooper. This see-sawing of events between past and present proved to be a cumbersome read at times. I found that once the events of the actual hijacking were covered, a reading rhythm could be established and came to the conclusion that the division of the book into three parts was either unnecessary or illogically done. What the gist of the book reveals is that while most Americans have moved on, the Cooper case remains an open investigation and there exists a sub-culture totally devoted to solving what appears to be the perfect crime ... at any cost. Gray journeys into this sub-culture and introduces us to a world that is colorful, yet dreary. We meet wacky people obsessed with the case, some more interested in identifying Cooper and others looking for the loot. Each of these people, like the author, has a theory as to who D.B. Cooper really is (ranging from an ex-parachutist to a transgendered former Northwest Orient Airlines purser) and what happened when he exited the plane that cold November night in 1971. While we get a lot of theories and assumptions, we get no definitive answers and the fact that most of the "suspects" have died only exacerbates the mystery. Even a new crop of amateur sleuths utilizing DNA technology can't seem to crack the case. What we discover is that the obsession to find D.B. Cooper and chasing all the dead ends usually takes its toll on health and finances of those involved (the "Cooper Curse"). Even the boy who found a portion of Cooper's ransom in 1980 was not immune from the "curse".

The case of D.B. Cooper appears destined to be shrouded in mystery forever ... like the true identities of the sailor and the nurse kissing in Times Square on VJ Day or to some degree, the identity of the Zodiac Killer. While SKYJACK does provide some good background on the case and documents the continuing effort to find the truth, it does not generate any ground-breaking information. I find SKYJACK to be more revealing in that it gives us a glimpse into the depressed, circus-like world of those obsessed with everything and anything related to D.B. Cooper and his ransom.

UPDATE: 8.1.2011: odd coincidence or perfect timing? With the pending release of Gray's book only a week away, the D.B. Cooper case made headline news this past weekend as "significant new evidence" regarding the case is being examined by the FBI. Maybe the author's desire to assist in solving this mystery will become a reality. In hindsight, the reading of this book prior to the recent news provided an exciting combination.
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