I just finished Michael Ross’s The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, and I’m so glad I read it, for so many reasons.
First, it is just a really good book. The writing is not particularly beautiful language, it’s very journalistic in tone—which, for me, means it moves at a faster pace. It is thoughtful, well-researched, honest, and is as good a narrative history as you could want. It lapses into some dry textbook-esque spells at times, but they don’t last long enough to be off-putting. It pulls together several universal historical themes into a microcosm of one largely forgotten court case and offers several cute little “Huh! I never knew!” nuggets of history—both about New Orleans and about Reconstruction—for the reader. All in all, an enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys this sort of nonfiction.
Second, it focuses largely on the court proceedings. Third, the whole event/trial in question occurred in 1870-71. Right in my wheelhouse, y’all. Just a few states south and a wee bit earlier.
So, aside from just being an enjoyable experience, this means the book also provided me with several examples of possible ways to deal with issues I’m confronting in my own manuscript (historical context, missing information, flat-out conjecture of “WTF were these guys thinking when they did X??”).
Even better, the fact it was recently published also indicates there is a possible market for what I’m doing, assuming I ever manage to finish.
But the best part of the book, for me, was the afterword and acknowledgments. So much of what he wrote had me nodding, “Oh, my, yes, I know EXACTLY what you are talking about,” “Oh, wow, that is so cool the way that came together!” etc., etc. I don’t know if this means that misery loves company or what, and I realize I’m an anomaly in finding this such a nice addition to the book, but there you are.
As for my own book, I finished the trial chapters this week. It only took one all-nighter and one afternoon of using banked hours from work—and some helpful information from some wonderful people. I can now officially say I have communicated with medical and legal experts on this effort. Once again, I must give a rousing round of applause to the Internet, because without it I would have had a much harder time getting both those pieces.
The funniest moment of the week: I called the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the county hoping to get a law librarian or some assistant who happened to be in their office to answer a few questions for me. Instead, I got the Commonwealth’s Attorney himself. I told him what I was working on, and he was all, “1972? Oh, EIGHTEEN-72? Well, I wasn’t here then, but go ahead…” (He arrived in 1968. Maybe I should find a case from 1972 just so I can ask about one he remembers!) It was a lovely ten-minute chat and it really cleared up a number of questions I had about legal procedures and even a few mysteries about “Why didn’t the prosecutors ask This Person about That Thing? It seems so obvious!”
I worked it all out, and it looks like I’m about 7,000 words away from a finished first draft—2,000 of those words will be easy. I’m sort of dreading the other 5,000. But I’ve given myself until March, so it still seems entirely doable.