I hadn’t heard of of J Frank Norris until I received this book. At first glance, it would seem that the claim on the front cover that this was the murder trial that captivated America has simply been consigned to the dark archives of history – barely remembered.
Yet this book is curiously captivating. David Stokes brings back in to the limelight what was certainly America’s first mega church pastor – a congregation of over 6000 members, a newspaper and a radio station – J Frank Norris was nationally known, very successful and was equally loved and hated by many. And all this in the 1920’s.
Stokes does a wonderful job of drawing you into Norris’ life. The actual description and meat of the trial does not get going until past page 110. Before this we have a potted biography of Norris’ up bringing – a devout mother, a drunken father and a poor life. His way to success, through an apprenticeship in a Church, college and finally into the pastorate is fascinating. A forerunner of the fundamentalist movement and a ‘sensationalist’ preacher having no fear to preach on politics, or moral crusades, Norris’ ministry grew – especially at First Baptist Fort Worth.
Norris’ character and sensationalist preaching made him enemies, sometimes powerful enemies. His church was burned down (although he was accused of burning it himself), he was shot at and his house was set on fire twice. But Norris was never one to be intimidated. He relished a fight and he always expected to win.
However the rising star that was J Frank Norris almost came crashing down in 1926 when he shot a man in his church office, D E Chipps. What happened on that day and why J Frank Norris shot the man was the subject of the intense trial that followed.
This is a fun, enjoyable and interesting read. Another great ‘summer’ book to enjoy on vacation! (Released on July 12th)