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Hardcover Dynamite Fiend Book

ISBN: 1403967946

ISBN13: 9781403967947

Dynamite Fiend

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Book Overview

The Dynamite Fiend brings to light the stunning story behind one of the most devious criminals of the nineteenth century, Alexander "Sandy" Keith. Beginning his dark career as a Confederate secret... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A "Dynamite" Account of a Forgotten Story - Well Told!

Before getting into the review of this book I would like to say that is was one of the best historical non-fiction books that I have read in years. The story is about a Canadian civil war blockade runner and con man, Alexander "Sandy" Keith, and the evil that his sociopathic, self serving ways brought to this world. In one of those events that "rocked the world" then settled into the annals of history, the Sandy Keith's family moved from Scotland to the Canadian Maritimes in the early part of the 19th century, settling in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As a young man Sandy Keith drifted toward his well to do uncle rather than harboring aspirations to follow in his own father's footsteps. Sandy even took on his uncle's name, possibly in order to be seen as a surrogate son or to gain position as the heir to the elder Alexander Keith's fortune, mainly from trading, ship's agency and running a well known brewery. After working for his uncle a number of years and progressing finely, around the time the US Civil War broke out, young Sandy Keith and his uncle parted ways. So Sandy Keith hung out his own shingle offering his services as a ship's agent and interloper for Confederate vessels that desperately needed military and civilian supplies. It was during this time that Sandy Keith began to show his deviant side. The more money that he could make on running the federal blockades the more hungry Sandy Keith became. He became involved in insurance fraud, providing inferior goods to what had been purchased and at times out-and-out theft. But the most disturbing new developments in the young man's character, which have never been proven, were his developing tastes for explosives. While Sandy Keith was still a ship's agent there were two incidents that pointed to Sandy Keith's sinister side: An explosion in Halifax harbor at a coal depot and a disappeared vessel that Sandy Keith had insured to the hilt. Sandy Keith's windfall on this missing vessel taught him a terrible lesson... It was possible to make easy money through destruction. Nonetheless, Sandy Keith's dishonesty became his downfall, leading to his having to abandon his Canadian home. The point of no return came when Sandy accepted money for train engines to be built in Philadelphia, brought to Canada then covertly shipped to the Confederate States of America. Keith also sold the same engine to an investor in Canada as well. Sandy Keith traveled to Philadelphia and laid a down payment on the engine. Once work was started the US Government was mysteriously notified of the true destination for the engine and so the train was seized. Sandy Keith pocketed the money and claimed to the investors that all was lost. From this point on the good in this man could never be resuscitated. Sandy was eventually forced to run from authorities in Canada and the United States, leaving a young woman pregnant and penniless in New York, eventually fleeing to Saint Louis and on to the plains of Illinois

Portrait (with small defects) of a Victorian villain

Ann Larabee has written a fascinating portrait of a Victorian villain as coldblooded as any killer today. Unfortunately some small defects may distract the reader. On page 40 she writes that in the 19th century "no CIA or Interpol existed, and bored diplomats were the principal international spymasters." Interpol has nothing to do with spying, and while diplomats have always been responsible for reporting to their governments what is going on abroad, that makes them neither spies nor spymasters. Page 47: "Ice...was desperately needed as the only truly effective remedy for yellow fever." Ice was not effective, nor did anyone think so. Page 48: The author translates the Latin motto on the Confederate seal, Deo Vindice, as "God will vindicate." The two nouns, in the ablative case, mean "With God as avenger." Page 115: The town of Bodenbach (Decin, today) is up, not down, the River Elbe from Dresden. Page 119: Professor Larabee says that in the 1870s "well over 10,000 ships sank every year, mostly small boats...." Ships and boats are different things. Pages 127-128: The Washington paper published by the bomber's fellow passenger, Donn Piatt, was The Capital and not the Washington Capitol. Nor was Piatt, as she says, ambassador to France. We had no ambassadors abroad in his time, only ministers heading legations. Piatt was secretary of legation at Paris, the minister's deputy. Professor Larabee calls her book narrative nonfiction and says she has taken few liberties with the historical record. One could have hoped, however, that she would cite more sources for her narrative. She thanks her editor, who "reigned in some of my narrative excesses." Whatever the reign, the reins should have been tighter, including a spell and grammar check.

Truth remains more interesting than fiction

Why would anyone want to read a novel when they can spend time with this true-life thriller? The author has unearthed the real story of a despicable but fascinating character. The book is thoroughly researched and informative, as well as nicely written. This is a page-turner for anyone interested in true crime and/or the American Civil War.

A Great Absorbing Narrative

Ann Larabee tells an engrossing story. A well structured, well written narrative. Meticulously researched. An enjoyable read.

Fiendishly Good Read

Wow! What a read: I couldn't put it down once I started it! It's obviously well-researched, but it read like a novel. I never knew what historical figure I would meet on the next page, Keith crossed so many paths. Larabee has done an excellent job bringing to light little-known aspects of wanton terrorism, with its roots in the U.S. Civil War and extending to the Continent.
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