Sep 28 2017 11:00am

Review: The Death of an Heir by Philip Jett

The Death of an Heir by Philip JettThe Death of an Heir is Philip Jett's chilling true account of the Coors family’s gilded American dream that turned into a nightmare when a meticulously plotted kidnapping went horribly wrong.

The phrase “You should never judge a book by its cover,” has always amused me. As a reader, that is exactly how I choose my next read. The implication, of course, is that we shouldn’t judge people by their exteriors, but I would argue it is the best way to choose your next book. 

Take, for example, The Death of an Heir by Philip Jett, which accounts the true story of the murder of Adolph Coors III, heir to the Coors Brewing dynasty, and the subsequent manhunt for his kidnapper-turned-murderer. Based on the cover, I expected a slightly serious book written to bring life to a nearly forgotten crime, which is exactly what was delivered. Biographies and historical accounts are one of my favorite genres to read, but they are tricky. Rely too much on the facts and the story is dry; elaborate too much and you lose the truth. Jett did a beautiful job of balancing the two in The Death of an Heir

The book is broken into three parts: The Plan, The Disappearance, and The Capture and Trial. Each section recounts a portion of the kidnapping story. 

The first section was particularly strong. Here, Jett lays out a bit of history about the Coors family and brings Adolph Coors III and his wife, Mary, to life. The descriptions are strong and relatable. You can nearly hear Turkey Creek bubbling past the Coors’ newly completed ranch; you can feel the cool tension in the air between the Coors’ brothers and their stoic but quietly loving father.

One of the passages that jumped out at me the most detailed Mary’s state of mind the night before the kidnapping: 

Mary couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be home with the kids and Ad and her fireplace and her favorite chair and everything feeling like it should. She wished she could freeze the moment and keep things just the way they were forever. She knew things were changing and the kids were growing up. What Mary didn’t realize was that night would be the best it would be, forever, more.

This passage is likely conjecture, but this type of writing is what makes the difference between a boring, textbook-like approach to historical writing and a truly good read. Throughout the book, Jett jumps forward and backward in time, both to give the reader background information and to build drama. These shifts were well-executed, though it might confuse faster readers who occasionally skim read (I might be guilty of that on occasion).

My one contention is with the final section of the book. By the end, I was feeling quite attached to Mary and her point of view. The third section switches to focusing more on the trial, the evidence, and the corruption issues within the police force. The reader is given updates on Mary’s spiral into depression and drinking, but the updates feel distant. While the forensic aspect was interesting, I was more intrigued by the emotional impact on the family at that point in the story. 

However, the descriptions detailing the very beginning of forensic science were quite intriguing. I found myself fascinated by the amount of legwork required to find evidence and leads in a time before phones were ubiquitous. 

The Death of an Heir is a well-executed historical account of the kidnapping and murder of the high-profile heir to the Coors Brewing dynasty. Author Philip Jett does a fantastic job of using vignettes to bring the characters and their motivations to life. The section that focuses on the trial of the killer was a bit dry for my tastes, but I think that was due more to personal preference than any failing of the writer. Readers who are into the history of the FBI or the beginning of forensic sciences will likely find the section interesting. 

Read an excerpt from The Death of an Heir!


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Danielle Antosz is a Chicago-based editor and writer who finds talking about herself in the third person super awkward. She spends her days brandishing a red pen and her nights dreaming of a world where everyone agrees the Oxford comma is a necessary grammar device. You can stalk her on Twitter

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