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KILLER COLT by Harold Schechter

KILLER COLT

Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend

By Harold Schechter

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-345-47681-4
Publisher: Ballantine

Energetic Wild West tale about two enterprising brothers whose determination to make something of themselves came to radically different ends.

Even though retailer Christopher Colt, of Hartford, Conn., enjoyed wealth and prominence in the early 1800s, his sons, Samuel and John, were determined to make their own way in a raw-edged, upwardly mobile America. Samuel, with his “unquenchable mechanical curiosity,” was enchanted by the working of firearms and water mines, and by age 16 had hit upon the idea of how to create his multishot pistol, which would eventually revolutionize the killing potential in the Wild West. Meanwhile, older brother John fashioned a revolutionary accounting theory into a ponderous but hugely successful textbook, The Science of Double Entry Book-Keeping, which “would go through no fewer than forty-five editions and earn its author a lasting place in the history books.” Established in an office in lower Manhattan, John was dodging creditors when he received a visit on Sept. 17, 1841, from his publisher Samuel Adams, with whom he was in dispute about production delays. The two argued, a noise “like the clashing of foils” was heard by office neighbors and the next morning John was seen dragging a pine box down the staircase and into a hired cart. Soon enough the body of Adams was found in an awaiting ship’s cargo, stripped, folded and salted; the death had resulted from a series of blows by a hatchet-hammer. Was it self-defense or premeditated murder? The newly minted “penny press” of the New York Herald and others turned the story into sensational news (rendered by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Oblong Box”), which true-crime veteran Schechter (American Literature and Culture/Queen’s Coll.; The Whole Death Catalog, 2009, etc.) records in lively, plentiful detail.

Possesses all the elements of lurid true crime and dark early American history.