Book: Hunting Eric Rudolph by Henry Schuster with Charles Stone

Very good on bombings and hunt for accused bomber; drags a bit near the middle, but that's what really happened

Henry Schuster with Charles Stone
Hunting Eric Rudolph
Berkeley, 2005
ISBN: 0-425-19936-3
348 pages (main text)

Eric Rudolph is accused of planting the bomb that exploded in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It wounded 111 people and indirectly caused one man to die of a heart attack. He is also accused of bombing two health clinics where abortions were performed and a gay nightclub. In one of the clinic bombings, an off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse was badly injured. Hunting Eric Rudolph is about the bombings, how Eric Rudolph came to be the suspect, the five-year manhunt for him, and his capture in May of 2003.

Mr Rudolph denies the charges. His first trial is scheduled to begin in May of this year, but unless there's very significant information that's not in Hunting Eric Rudolph, I'd be surprised if he were acquitted.

The early parts of the book, about the bombings, the reasons that Eric Rudolph is suspected of having committed them, and the early part of the hunt for him, are very good. The virtues and failings of a big government investigation are made very clear. That's roughly the first half of the book. The last part, about his capture and its aftermath is also generally very good, though it's somewhat anti-climactic.

But a fair portion of the second half of the book drags. In some sense, that's not really the fault of the authors. Early in the manhunt, the FBI and the other agencies that were working on the case had a good idea where Mr Rudolph was. Unfortunately for them, that was the Nantahala National Forest, which covers about 500,000 acres of western North Carolina. Worse, he knew it extremely well. After an initial flurry of activity on the part of the law enforcement agencies and a confirmed sighting when he stole some food, no one saw (or will admit to having seen) Eric Rudolph for five years. The authors are chronicling the investigation and the manhunt and for a long period there's not much new and the manhunt is slowly wound down.

The other thing that I could wish were different about the book is that we never get a very good feel for Eric Rudolph as a person. That, too, isn't really the fault of the authors. They find out what they can, but he's a pretty enigmatic character, even to his family. Perhaps we'll learn more about him at his trial or trials.

There are some questions left unanswered at the end of the book. Chief among them is whether Mr Rudolph was receiving help while hiding in the woods. It seems that his appearance when he was captured didn't suggest someone who had been living rough for five and a half years.

As a chronicle of an investigation into some instances of domestic terrorism, the book works well. It doesn't read like a novel, but then it would be very surprising if it did.

If I had copy-edited the book, I would have taken out most of the exclamation points. And there's an "and" missing between "gay" and "lesbian" on page 52.

Update April 13, 2005
Eric Rudolph has pleaded guilty to all four bombings. It seems that he is likely to be sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Posted: Mon - April 4, 2005 at 09:40   Main   Category: