Sunday, July 23, 2017

REVIEW: The Hindenburg Murders

The Hindenburg Murders
Author: Max Allan Collins

On May 6th, 1937, a German passenger airship, The Hindenburg, burst into flames as its crew attempted to dock at Naval Airstation Lakehurst in New Jersey. 36 people died in the disaster: 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and 1 mooring worker on the ground. Many theories about the cause of the disaster have been put forth over the years -- sabotage, static electricity, lightning, engine problems, leaking hydrogen, etc. But no definitive cause has ever been pinpointed.  The disaster changed public opinion about the safety of airship travel and marked a rather abrupt end to that mode of transportation.

The Hindenburg Murders takes the sabotage angle, and formulates a fictional mystery around the disaster. The plot does not make light of the historical disaster, or the deaths it caused, in any way. It merely poses a fictional account of what happened on the ship leading up to the disaster. Famous Author Leslie Charteris (author of mystery novels featuring a mysterious sleuth, The Saint) is a passenger on the Hindenburg. Charteris enjoyed passage on the Hindenburg's maiden voyage the year before, and is happy to be travelling on the airship once again. Although he does notice immediately that security on the airship has been heightened to almost ridiculous levels by the Nazis. Once the voyage has begun, Charteris is warned that his cabinmate is actually an undercover state police agent onboard to ferret out any anti-Nazi sentiments or behavior among the passengers. Soon after, his cabinmate disappears. All that is left is a bit of the man's tie stuck in one of the airship's windows. One of the passengers or crew is a murderer. The Nazi crew expresses fears of sabotage or a possible time bomb on board the airship as well, asking Charteris to aid in their investigation of the killing.

Not only does the story give some awesome details about the airship itself, but the mystery portion of the plot has some awesome and suspenseful twists and turns. I had no idea about the murderer's identity, or the exact reasons why, until the moment of reveal. The other passengers are interesting and well-developed, not merely caricatures of stereotypical political/social issues of the period before WWII. They discuss politics, fear of the state police and the Nazi regime, relations between their countries and other topics that would have concerned people of the era in a believable way, adding depth and intrigue to the plot.

The Hindenburg Murders is the second book in the Disaster Mystery Series. There are six books in all. Each one is a separate, stand-alone story, woven around actual historical events and featuring a different famous writer or actor as the main character. Max Allan Collins uses real historical events as a setting for these stories, mixing fact with fiction. The disasters are portrayed respectfully and not in a light manner. The books are well-written and excellent mysteries, adding in background, information and real details of the actual disasters. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the books in this series!

I listened to the audiobook version of The Hindenburg Murders, narrated by Simon Vance. The quality is outstanding. Vance's voice and reading style is excellent. Very enjoyable audiobook!

Max Allan Collins is the author of several books, including CSI novelizations and the Reeder & Rogers Secret Service books. For more information on the author, the disaster series and his other books, check out his website:

Leslie Charteris wrote his novels featuring Simon Templar, The Saint, from 1928-1963. Saint stories after 1963 were ghost written by other writers. The Saint was also adapted into radio drama, movies and television shows.  Charteris is listed as a passenger on the maiden voyage of The Hindenburg May 6-9, 1936. It was not the first flight for the airship, but rather its first trip to North America. On the day of the disaster in 1937, there were 36 passengers on board (the ship's maximum capacity was 72 passengers). Charteris was not on board The Hindenburg on the day of the disaster. The airship, once it caught fire, took only seconds to crash to the ground. News crews were on site to document the landing of the airship in America, so the disaster was well documented. Herbert Morrison's radio coverage of the event for Chicago radio station WLS is probably the most famous eyewitness accounts of the disaster.

News coverage of the disaster:

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