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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 Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers’ cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.
With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England–a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI.
Magnificent in scope, drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates one of the darkest hours in American life–an example of how history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great.
"Enlightening . . . a valuable contribution to the historical record [and] a memorable and persuasive portrait . . . Ray's desire to achieve something in life, Sides convincingly and originally argues, was first and foremost what sent him on his deadly trail to Memphis." —The Washington Post
"[Sides] has pieced together a viscerally dramatic account. . . . Sides writes in forceful, dignified, obscenity-free language and creates the momentum of a tightly constructed nonfiction film....Both Dr. King and Ray come to life in these remarkable pages, generating great suspense. . . . spellbinding....[A ] bold, dynamic, unusually vivid book" —New York Times
"Searing . . . Skillfully lifts the obscure details of the assassination out of the realm of historical elegy and translates them into a complex crime mystery that shifts the focus from Dr. King to his killer. Sides’s reconstruction of the assassination itself is searing — and a reminder of how little we know about it. Relying on FBI recordes, memoirs and past historians’ accounts, Sides re-creates Ray’s journey from his prison escape in April 1967 to the moment when he fired the single shot that felled Dr. King. After the shot is fired, Ray takes flight and, like an extended episode of the old television show "Dragnet," thousands of agents begin their search. Sides’s treatment of the killing is gripping." —Wall Street Journal
"Extraordinary. . . . remarkable journalism. . . . compulsively readable"—San Francisco Chronicle
Remarkable. . . . The book is a window on the passions and contradictions of an era — the hatred stirred by the civil rights movements, the battle lines within a single presidential administration, and a martyr who died just as his own flame seemed to be flickering amid dissension and disappointment. . . . Thanks to the skills of historian and author Hampton Sides, readers will feel as if they are standing on the ledge at the Lorraine Motel with King. . . . moving. . . . a page-turner. . . . Its story is told so effectively and efficiently that readers will want to head back in time and pluck the bullet out of the air on that April evening, when the best and worst of America met in Memphis." —Christian Science Monitor
“Impossible-to-put-down . . . Hellhound On His Trail is a masterful work of narrative nonfiction, one that benefits from its author's considerable talent as both a researcher and a writer. And as a result of his efforts, we not only have a greater understanding of King and Ray, but also a book that is every bit as good as any of the fiction thrillers being written these days. Sides has made an art form out of what Truman Capote called the journalistic novel. In fact, the best works in this genre are the ones that locate the dramatic within the known. And no one does it better than Hampton Sides.” —Associated Press
"A riveting re-creation of a tragedy. . . . Hellhound doggedly pursues the story of MLK’s murder. Magazines and newspapers have a name — 'tick-tock' — for the kind of story that re-creates an event or decision as if it’s unfolding all over again. Sides’ compelling Hellhound is an extended tick-tock that reads like a tragic novel. Through Sides’ use of novelistic pacing, details and descriptions, he creates suspense that will propel readers through a slice of history." —USA Today
"A taut, vibrant account. . . . chilling in detail and particularly haunting in evoking the confusion and pathos in the minutes following the single crack of Ray's rifle." —Los Angeles Times
"Sides is a crack research artist with a feel for both halves of the American chronicle, the grandeur and the violence. . . . meticulous. . . . a page turner, and something more: It brings the disquiet of an era fully alive."—Bloomberg
"Sides' account. . . . is special for at least four reasons. First, his reporting on Ray's difficult-to-unearth squalid life constitutes remarkable journalism. Second, Sides' brand of literary journalism makes the saga compulsively readable. Third, Sides' re-creation of the effort to capture Ray, which begins on Page 166 of a book topping 450 pages, provides a law-enforcement angle that is fresh. Fourth, Sides is a Memphis native, so he writes about the killing staining his city with a passion that resonates. . . . Sides does, however, offer a character sketch that avoids portraying King as a plaster saint. . . . Compelling" —Dallas Morning News
"Hellhound unfolds like a mystery--one read not for the ending but for all the missteps, gotchas and near misses along the way." —Time
"It's as much thriller as history book and the compulsive story races along like a fugitive on the lam."
—San Francisco Gate
"Sides' book, meticulously researched, reads like nothing so much as a novel. . . . sense of immediacy. . . . creating plenty of plain old-fashioned suspense that makes the reader's heart pound, even though the tragic outcome is known in advance. . . . I have rarely read a better work of narrative nonfiction.....Sides' fine book brings [this time period] brilliantly back to life. . . . Among other things, this memorable book serves as a chilling reminder that a single loser with his finger on the trigger and mayhem in his heart can bring an entire nation to its knees." —The Portland Oregonian
"Exhaustively researched, fast-paced and at times minute-by-minute telling. . . . To Sides' great credit, this is a feat of shoe-leather reporting and research. . . . astonishing. . . . briskly alive" —Austin American Statesman
"As urgent a page-turner as any crime novel – a feat Sides accomplishes without sacrificing historical detail and insight. . . .vivid historical context. . . . Sides places the King assassination in its historical context, paints memorable portraits of both killer and victim, and writes a true crime story as gripping as a fictional thriller. He also reminds us that, although King's assassination occurred more than four decades ago, some of the forces that drove it are disturbingly familiar in this era of vehemently antagonistic politics." —St. Petersburg Times
"An authoritative, engrossing narrative. . . . thoroughly researched but executed with the pacing of a fine novel and a dash of top-notch police procedural. . . . meticulous. . . . the tragedy that Sides has so ably captured is how a giant of American life was so quickly erased—and the course of history irreversibly altered—by a cretin as small as James Earl Ray." —Miami Herald
"Salute author Sides for a carefully researched and crisply written account. . . . Sides crafts careful profiles of his major characters" —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Sides' meticulous yet driving account of Ray's plot to murder King and the 68-day international manhunt that followed is in essence a true-crime story and a splendid specimen of the genre—a genuine corker. . . . Sides deftly constructs the book so that the killer's character becomes the mystery" —Salon
"[Sides] masterfully recreates the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.....captivating....Like any good thriller, Hellhound on His Trail is full of movement....creates an especially riveting portrait of King’s last minutes....Though the outcome is clear, we are nonetheless rapt–and then devastated–by Sides’s treatment of this historical event." —Time Out New York
"Nailbitingly riveting" —Newsday