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Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  10,467 ratings  ·  1,137 reviews
On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign.

On February 1, 1968, two
Hardcover, 459 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Doubleday Books
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 ·  10,467 ratings  ·  1,137 reviews

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Start your review of Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin
Jeffrey Keeten
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1960-s
”We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy ton
I was not particularly interested in the character of Martin Luther King’s killer, James Earl Ray, but I trusted Sides to make the story of his crime and manhunt interesting and a means to elucidate the history of this time. I was already batting a 1,000 with three five-star reads among his books (Blood and Thunder, Ghost Soldiers, and In the Kingdom of Ice). His genius lies in telling an historical story like a novel, conjuring up characters with personal details and putting their dramatic acti ...more

Every time I read a history book about the late 60s it reminds me of how little America has changed in 50 years. This was really a blend of true crime and historical analysis of the last days of Martin Luther King Jr. Sides has accomplished a rather remarkable thing here: a compelling historical account and a riveting chase drama.

So, on April 4, 1968 James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr end of story, right?! Well not so fast. There is a story behind James Earl Ray and hi
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
With the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) a few days ago, I felt it appropriate to read Hampton Sides’ stellar account of the lead-up to the event and the hunt for the killer. I’d heard much about it and knew that I would be in for something that would educate me, as well as provide context for this important event in more recent American history. Sides delivers a powerful narrative of the year preceding the King assassination, from multiple perspectives. ...more
Mariah Roze
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mariah Roze by: Matt
I read this book for the Diversity in All Forms! Book club. I enjoyed the read and learned so much! I suggest this book to everyone.

"On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign.
On February 1, 1
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
James Earl Ray came from a family rich in murderers, rapists, bank robbers and conspiracy theorists. As for Ray, he was a chameleon taking on various identities as needed. Just during the period that the FBI pursued him for King’s murder he assumed the personas of Eric Starvo Gault, Paul Bridgeman, John Willard, Harvey Lowmeyer, and Ramon Sneyd. He could spin a plausible personal history in the blink of an eye. He successfully escaped the country and was on his way to Rhodesia, where he felt he ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a thriller; and it is real. You know the outcomes: first MLK will be shot and then James Earl Ray will be caught. Sides still has you at the edge of your seat. It is not historical fiction, a “true life novel” or any other liberty-taking genre. It is a well documented history of a major 20th century event. The only book that comes close in my experience is My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy by Nora Tilton (co-inci ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, crime
What could have been an utterly gripping account of the assassination of Martin Luther King was marred, for me, by an attention to detail that bordered on the lunatic. In this account, Martin Luther King wouldn't vist a shop on the High Street to by some gum, for example. Oh no. That would be far too general. The author would more likely write, "Dr King pushed through the swing doors of the Woolworths on 365A High Street and took out his Sears Wallet to extract one of the three five dollar bills ...more
This has to be perhaps the creepiest book I've ever read! Telling the story of assassin James Earl Ray's trek of madness "Hellhound on his Trail" goes deep within and under the surface of one of the most heinous crimes in American History. The story begins a full year before the events of April, 1968 with Ray's prison escape. Delving into the psyche of just who James Earl Ray really was, the reader joins him on a bizarre trip through his ghoulish transformation. We see him, rootless going from j ...more
MK Brunskill-Cowen
I wish I could give this book 6 stars - it deserves it. This book reads like a psychological thriller where the reader follows the hero and the villain as the move towards their fateful meeting. He captures the time, place and feelings of those involved, and we can feel the tension as JE Ray checks into the flophouse from which he fires the gun while Dr. King relaxes with his associates. He portrays Dr. King as a real human, warts and all, which only intensifies the importance of his mission. Li ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Thinking about this book today ... on MLK's Federal Holiday ... and appreciating the fact that I read it. (It's not new, and Hampton Sides has written plenty of other (really) good stuff, including his latest book, on the Korean War, On Desperate Ground.) There are innumerable books about King and related topics, but, well, ... I like Sides' stuff, and he was on my mind today, so....

* * *

This is a terrific book, and anyone interested in the history of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Mo
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brother¬ hood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be trans¬formed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
In Hellhound on his Trail, Hampton Sides chronicles the events leading up to, and the subsequent investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, which culminated in the capture of James Earl Ray. Sides highly detailed account is often told from Ray's perspective, which makes for some harrowing reading. Sides has the sense of drama of a master Mystery novelist, which will keep readers in suspense even though they already know the final outcome.

The best and most complete book I
Barry Sierer
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hampton Sides tells the story of two men on a collision course, and the time they lived in. A time when racial violence wasn’t just feared, it was expected.

James Earl Ray (known usually as Eric Galt) escapes from prison in Missouri and lays low in Mexico. Over time, he attempts to develop skills as a pornographic photographer and a lock-smith with no success. He moves to Los Angeles and becomes an avid supporter of presidential candidate George Wallace. Galt (Ray) is a perpetual wanderer. He is
Porter Broyles
Three time convicted robber James Earl Ray was not a criminal mastermind, but after he assassinated Martin Luther King, he succeeded in evading the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for over two months.

This book tells his story.

Sides, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Sides knows how to tell a story. If you want spoilers, there are other reviews that will trace them for you. I am not going to do that---I think that would ruin the fun.

I will say that this is one of those t
Hajarath Prasad Abburu
A very authentic looking, very detailed narration of the last few days of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

As the author pointed out in the introduction, this is a non fiction work written with a novelist's tools. This approach works very well for the book, except for the tedious beginning. Some parts, especially the evolution of the city of Memphis could've been written in a better way or chopped off for better impact.
Pete daPixie
I was recently introduced to 'Hellhound on his Trail', when the book was featured as the BBC Radio 4 'Book of the week', where excerpts are read over five days. Last week I bumped into the book on the shelves of the local town library.
According to Mr Sides, King's killer was a stalker, who pursues his victim across the U.S. in his guises of Harvey Lowmeyer, John Willard and Eric Starvo Galt. After the shooting the assassin heads north through America into Canada via Detroit and onto Britain and
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How ironic that the very systemic and societal issues which led to the dysfunction of the Ray family were the same issues that Dr. King was addressing: through the Poor People's March. How ironic and how sad that economic issues have been so obfuscated and confounded with invented racial issues that the very people who should be cooperating to end oppression for all, instead compete, even become violent, perpetuating the cycle. Dr. King, as the author points out, was working to help families exa ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars, nonfiction
Sides is one of the finest historians working today. While his research is always thorough, it’s his ability to construct an entertaining narrative that separates him from many of his peers. In “Hellhound on His Trail,” Sides patiently expands the backstory of MLK’s assassin. This allows him to slowly build the manhunt to a crescendo and expertly peal back the many layers of the killer’s complicated personality one at a time. And he manages to do this without bogging down the pace of the book. N ...more
Barnabas Piper
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sides does a remarkable job telling a story woven through with detail. The story itself is incredible, almost too much to be believed. And such a tragedy, one of the greatest our country has ever known. One of the best works of popular history writing I've read.
Lady ♥ Belleza
This book opens with the escape from Missouri State Penitentiary “Jeff City” at Jefferson City of Prisoner #416J on April 23, 1967. Through out the book we follow his travels to Mexico, where he is going by the name Eric Starvo Galt. We follow him as he travels north to California, then west to New Orleans, Atlanta and Memphis. He bought a gun using the name Harvey Lowmeyer and rented a room in Mrs. Brewer’s rooming house as John Willard. From the bathroom of the rooming house he shot Martin Lut ...more
Katherine Addison
The thing I particularly admire about this book (beside the fact that it is both well-written and well-researched, proving that the two things can coexist in the same work), is the way that Sides follows so many different paths, both as they twist together toward the assassination and as they unravel in a dozen different directions after. The underlying backbone of the book is James Earl Ray's trajectory, but Sides also follows Martin Luther King, Jr.--both as a man and (horribly but necessarily ...more
Mar 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Q: Who is Eric Gault?

Stumped? Join the crowd.

A: Eric Salvo Gault is the pseudonym of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King’s assassin.

Hampton Sides chooses to use Ray’s pseudonyms as he tells how Ray escaped from prison in Jefferson City, lived on the lam for several months, and then as an escaped convict, assassinated Martin Luther King and evaded a national and international man-hunt from April 4, 1968 in Memphis to June 8, 1968 in London.

As to Martin Luther King, Sides focuses on his life and
James Cridland
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Spotted in a US airport bookstore, and bought on the Kindle thanks to the barcode-remembering magic of Google Goggles. This is a wonderful, wonderful book. Really fascinating.

I ought to preface this by saying that I had no idea of the story of either Martin Luther King or his killer. I didn't know the killer's history, whether he was captured, or whether he lived to tell the tale. This is probably quite bad - but then, I wasn't born when this happened, but it was recent enough (and remote enough
Diane Kistner
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was 15 when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. My 46-year-old father, dead a month later, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Soon thereafter Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and I completely shut down. I missed so much of what was going on during those times because it was just too unbearable for me to pay attention. I left home at 17, and then things got even crazier.

The Sixties and their aftermath were very frightening and tumultuous for teens and young adults, a time that onl
Bookmarks Magazine
Jun 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: july-aug-2010
While he breaks no new ground, Sides succeeds in bringing these two contradictory men and their troubled era vividly to life. Meticulously researched and compulsively readable, Hellhound "reads like nothing so much as a novel" (Oregonian), and Sides's sharp historical focus, forceful prose, evocative details, and short, crisp chapters create a sense of urgency and suspense worthy of any top-notch crime novel. Sides does not presume to understand Ray's motives, and he only briefly discusses the a ...more
Nov 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
If you haven't read Hampton Sides, you should. The author of "Ghost Soldiers," and "Blood and Thunder," has once more brought history alive with "Hellhound on His Trail."

When reading Hampton it is easy to forget you are reading history. His histories read more live a novel. In fact, his latest has a great similarity to the style of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." Unlike Capote, however, Sides' history of the assassination of Martin Luther King is fully annotated with meticulous notes and a rema
Simon Robs
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
As good as Capote's "In Cold Blood" and/or DeLillo's "Libra" … or Mailer's "The Executioner's Song" or ..
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This book is a spellbinder! Most everyone born before about 1957 will remember the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But beyond remembering the name of the assassin, James Earl Ray, hardly anyone will remember the details. Author Hampton Sides has solved that problem with the award-winning "Hellhound on His Trail". This is truly a gripping story. Sides weaves the story of Dr. King and Ray in the months leading to the horrific act, as their path fatefully converge. Then the painstaking ...more
Lisa B.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-read
I would have been 13 year old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. While I remember the story, I do not remember all of the details. This book was a real eye opener as to the events leading up to the assassination and what happened afterwards.

What I like about Mr. Sides writing is that he takes nonfiction and makes it readable. He is very detailed and I find this makes the story more enjoyable. What I thought most impressive was the manhunt for James Earl Ray and that they were actually
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