Monthly Archives: September 2013

Review: Who Killed Hammarskjöld? by Susan Williams

Dag Hammarskjöld was the second Secretary General for the United Nations. A well known political figure in his day, Hammarskjöld was embroiled in a U.N. campaign involving extreme turmoil in Africa when he was suddenly killed in a plane crash. Was it simple pilot error, or a much more nefarious act of international sabotage?

This story, while tragic, does make for fantastic reading as a great mystery of modern history. All the elements for a box office thriller are here: countries in revolution, international spy rings, powerful mega-corporations, mercenaries, and more politicians of dubious moral fiber than you can shake a stick at. And so, down the rabbit hole we go, trying to figure out what, or who, killed Hammarskjöld.

The research presented here is top notch. The author has certainly put in the leg work on interviewing as many of the remaining parties as possible, and has seemingly considered all available evidence and documentation. The resulting story and the surrounding environment are painted in a sufficiently lush detail. Despite minimal prior awareness regarding the relevant times and places, I had little trouble following along for most of it. And it can be a wild ride. Just when you think you have a bead on what “really” happened, the next chapter introduces a new angle and throws you for another loop. There were a few occasions where the huge cast of characters did become a bit overwhelming, but with such a large scale event involving so many players, I’m not sure how much more could have been done to ease the burden for the uninitiated. My hardcover copy also included some nice black and white photo inserts which were a welcome way of giving faces to some of the important names involved. The notes, bibliography, and index are all extensive.

The text reads like a first rate mystery novel, twisting and turning through different people’s perspectives. There are wide ranging claims from various parties that are at times hopelessly in opposition with another. The problem is, all the intrigue is ultimately building toward a climax that never reaches denouement. You forge on, one strand of the story after another, and then suddenly it’s all just over. The book ends abruptly with nary a conclusion drawn.

It would be unfair to penalize the author for failure to solve a case which has befuddled investigators at all levels of government for decades. Some mysteries are just unsolved, and that’s the way it is in the real world. Nevertheless, I’m left feeling that somewhere the book has come up short. Maybe it’s the title, taunting the reader with that impossible question? Or perhaps it’s a matter of structure? I would have welcomed some concluding speculation or analysis. Some attempt to draw all the various facts and theories together into a cohesive picture of which bits are most plausible and which are more likely to be ruled out. Just something, anything, other than immediately walking away from the problem upon completion of the research. A way to feel like all this investigation has at least lead us somewhere beyond the point where we started.

Who Killed Hammarskjöld? should be required reading for any fan of historical mysteries or political intrigue. The author has done a commendable job in thoroughly researching the topic, and in trying to pave the way for a bit of justice for Dag. I just wish, one way or another, there was a more satisfying ending.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Man-Monkey by Nick Redfern

Certain parts of the world are famous for their large hairy hominids: there’s North America, of course, and the Himalayas for the Yeti. Even the isolated Australian continent has its own version of Bigfoot, the Yowie. And while Great Britain may not spring to mind as one of the more well known mystery ape haunts, author Nick Redfern suggests that we should not be so quick to dismiss the British Isles. In “Man-Monkey”, the author takes us on a trip to the European continent, as the tagline reads, “In Search of the British Bigfoot.”

On the positive side, much of the material in “Man-Monkey” is sourced from first hand interviews conducted by the author. The research was a side project of his spanning several years, and he was clearly motivated by a deep personal interest. He was able to visit many of the sighting locations in person, and the paperback text includes an insert of some black and white photographs to illustrate various people and places from the stories.

Unfortunately, for me, “Man-Monkey” never really managed to achieve critical mass. Unlike Bigfoot phenomena from other parts of the world, Redfern’s monsters always seem to avoid leaving behind any convincing physical traces. What we’re left with is a handful of the “momentary sighting of something” types of encounters that, while interesting, don’t really go the full mile in terms of overwhelming evidence. Moreover, the author plays it pretty loose with the variety of strange events to be considered, also bringing topics such as black dogs, ghosts, and shape shifters into the fray. Many of the incidents documented here lack an apparent consistency. The failure to maintain focus further dilutes what is already arguably somewhat sparse source material, and the end result is less of a “there’s a hairy humanoid running around in Britain” type of conclusion, and more of a “people in the British Isles sometimes see odd things.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s all a bit more supernatural and haphazard than you might find in some other literature of the Sasquatch variety. There’s also an ever-present autobiographical element which only really serves to pad out the length, and adds little practical value.

My other gripe is a somewhat questionable editing of the final product. Every paragraph was doubly spaced for no apparent reason. Worse, the author seems to have lost control over his adverbs. This particular foible really became increasingly grating the longer I read. I have never seen the word “duly” inserted so often into a single text. (Though there were others overused as well – that one stuck with me.) I’m sure some readers would probably entirely ignore this, but for me, it detracted from the overall enjoyability.

Technical issues aside, at the end of it, “Man-Monkey” left me feeling fairly unconvinced. It wasn’t a terrible read by any means, but it played more like folklore than rigorous cryptozoology. This might be more of a winner for “locals” (or at least “regionals”) with a personal interest in the places involved.

* For other “regional” treatments of Bigfoot phenomena which I find compare more favorably, I recommend “The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot” by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper and “The Beast of Boggy Creek” by Lyle Blackburn.

Rating: 3/5