Sunday, June 1, 2014

Baton Rouge adoptee finds more than he bargained for, pens 'Most Dangerous Animal of All'

             Last week I mentioned the book that’s been in the news across America — “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father and Finding The Zodiac Killer” by Baton Rouge’s Gary L. Stewart with Louisiana veteran writer Susan Mustafa. I received my review copy shortly afterwards but at that point I had read the news stories and wondered if there was anything new to glean from Stewart’s book.
            I was wrong, practically reading it in one sitting.
            As an infant Stewart was abandoned by his father in an apartment building in Baton Rouge, his birth parents arrested and he being adopted by a loving couple. Years later his birth mother, who was underage when she gave birth to Stewart, contacted him and they were reunited. Yet, Stewart always wondered about his birth father. When he began searching for the man, clues emerged that led Stewart to believe his father, Earl Van Best Jr., was the Zodiac killer who terrorized northern California in the 1960s.
            That Stewart’s father may be the killer of one of the 20th century’s most horrific killing sprees, crimes that were never solved, is an amazing story in its own right but the depths of which Stewart pieced the mystery together makes for an even more engaging tale. For instance, Stewart connected with one of his father’s friends from school and learned of Best’s habits, interests and beliefs, background information offering clues into the life of a possible psychopath. There’s also a connection to the Manson murders in Los Angeles. So many elements of Best’s past gave reasons for his criminal actions, including the cryptic letters he sent the police and media.
            For me, the biggest question of all was why the San Francisco Police Department failed to provide Stewart with information on his father, the author suggesting a cover-up to protect one of its own, a police office who ironically married his birth mother. If you’ve seen the “Zodiac” movie based on the murders it could be that they believed the killer was someone else.
            There’s so much to relay about this story that I’m going to leave you with this — check out any number of Stewart interviews online or buy the book and get the whole sordid tale. I recommend the latter. Or you can do what I did and read the book, then followup with the film for more information and online interviews to see what the police department said in its defense.

Come Landfall
            Today marks the beginning of hurricane season, not something I really want to think about, but to set the mood Mobile Press-Register reporter Roy Hoffman has penned a new novel that deals with loss and renewal along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Come Landfall” follows three women and men, examples of the dichotomy of the Coast with its casinos, antebellum homes and the waves of immigration, such as the recent Vietnamese.
            Hoffman is author of the novels “Almost Family,” winner of the Lillian Smith Award, and “Chicken Dreaming Corn,” endorsed by Harper Lee. He is the author of two essay collections, “Back Home: Journeys Through Mobile” and “Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations.” A graduate of Tulane, he received the 2008 Clarence Cason Award from the University of Alabama's College of Communication and Information Sciences. He teaches for Spalding University's brief-residency MFA in Writing Program.  
            In other related news, Nicholas Meis, author of “New Orleans Hurricanes from the Start,” will read from and sign books from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

New releases
            Kathy Ezell, a West Monroe single parent of two children, kept asking herself what would her children experience if she had to leave them with her mother after being a victim of domestic violence.
            “I know my parents would raise them but would my children ask, who will tuck us in at night, who will read our bedtime stories, who will kiss us goodnight?” she wrote me.
            Ezell has published a children’s book addressing this issue in “Phil E Gumbo: Who Will Kiss Us Goodnight? about two crawfish, Phil E. Gumbo and his sister Penny, who suddenly have to live with Grandma Rue after losing their parents. The family has to adjust to the sadness of losing family members along with the challenges that come along with living together.
            Ezell wrote “Phil E Gumbo: Who Will Kiss Us Goodnight?” after a co-worker fell victim to domestic violence. The book is available at www.amazon.com.

Word Up
            Word Up is a summer creative writing camp for students who wish to improve their prose and poetry skills. The camp will be held on LSU-Eunice’s campus from July 28 to Aug. 1 and is open to students in grades 4-12. Teachers are invited to attend the students’ formal reading on Aug. 1 and teacher consultants for the Acadiana Writing Project will be on hand to discuss writing exercises that teachers might want to use in their classrooms and to pass on professional development opportunities to revitalize writing instruction. Registration information can be found by visiting http://www.lsue.edu/BengalCamp. For more information, contact Chrissy Soileau at ccifelli17@aol.com or Jill Dover atjilldover@gmail.com.

Book events
            Voices Seasonal Reading Series presents a special evening with Darrell Bourque as he reads from this new work, “If you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Carpe Diem! Gelato-Espresso Bar in downtown Lafayette.
            Octavia Books presents Khaled Hosseinii, the New York Times-bestselling author of “The Kite Runner, with a presentation and signing celebrating the paperback release of “And The Mountains Echoes” at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at Temple Sinai in New Orleans. The author will be interviewed by David Johnson, editor of Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Tickets are required. For more information, visit http://www.octaviabooks.com/.


Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Coming this fall is a history of Forest Hill, Louisiana. Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.