I'd like to announce the winner of third annual Powell's On Oregon Blog "Book of the Year." I'm the sole judge; I live in Oregon; and the book I pick has to be about Oregon in some way, either as a topic or setting. It could be a new release, a forgotten classic, or totally obscure. It could come from a national publisher or printed by a local copy shop. Whatever the book's origins, I simply happened across it in my routine fixation of all things literary Oregon, and it blew my mind. After reading the book, I felt an intense desire to share it with others.
There are no nominees — just a winner. I may know the winning writer, or I may not. He may have handed me the book in the bar, drunk. She might have flung it at me in a post-coital rage. Who cares? This process is probably a lot more honest than the ones that determine most regional and national literary awards. It's certainly more transparent than the processes that decide who gets published in the important literary magazines that no one reads.
This award carries no monetary prize. There is no certificate. Maybe I can scrape up a little trophy corroding in a thrift store and shine it up to look nice. Maybe I'll take you out and get you drunk on cheap Pacific Northwest lagers formerly brewed in the Pacific Northwest by union men.
And the winner is: HA-HA-HA by D. B. Cooper. Yes, that D. B. Cooper. And it's a memoir, not a novel.
In 1983, a publisher from Jefferson, Oregon called Signum Books Ltd. released a 330-page soft cover book titled HA-HA-HA. The cover features a drawing of a man in a suit holding a briefcase while parachuting from a commercial jetliner. The back cover features a graphic of a certificate announcing a contest called "Your Big Score." The certificate's first sentence reads: "It's true. In this book are seven clues. By reading it carefully and discovering the clues, one could receive as much as $200,000 in 20 dollar bills."
The book's author is D. B. Cooper.
As every sentient Pacific Northwesterner knows, on November 24, 1971, a man who gave his name as Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 from Portland to Seattle, extorted $200,000 from authorities, had the jet refueled, and then somewhere between Seattle and Reno, jumped out of plane with a parachute. His body was never found nor was an arrest ever made. In the subsequent 40 years, D. B. has gone on to become, alongside Bigfoot, the greatest legend in Pacific Northwest History.
Not only could Cooper successfully hijack a plane and elude the FBI, he also was (is?) an excellent writer. HA-HA-HA is a lively, often hilarious memoir that recounts his hard luck life before the hijacking, (failed real estate developer, boozer, petty thief) describes in serious detail what really happened that night (he smoked Raleigh cigarettes to deflect suspicion), how he made his escape (he rented a house and gassed up vehicle not far from where he landed near Pyramid Lake), and how he shrewdly invested the ransom money (in Boeing and silver!) and became very wealthy. He may yet be alive and reading this.
Besides writing well, Cooper also seems to have invented a new literary genre: a cryptic yet lucrative contest within a book written by a criminal mastermind who practically dares the law to locate him. Unfortunately, finding this book is about as easy as finding D. B. Cooper. A recent search on the most comprehensive used/rare book site turned up exactly zero copies. I have never seen the book in a library or at Powell's. But it's out there, I can feel it. Just like the author.
HA-HA-HA originally retailed for $3.95. I bought mine for $6 at a used bookstore in Lincoln City a decade ago and never bothered to read it until the summer 2011 release of the latest D. B. Cooper book, Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper by Geoffrey Gray, and the revelation that the FBI had a new lead in the case. As it turned out, the lead went nowhere and the mystery remains, which begs the question: Did Gray and all the other D. B. Cooper buffs bother to read HA-HA-HA. I doubt they knew of its existence.
Wouldn't it be something if D. B. Cooper did write this superb book and the Big Score was (is) for real? What better ingenious way to throw off the FBI? Tell everyone what happened and everyone thinks you're a nut. And then to top it all off, stage a contest!
Whoever owned HA-HA-HA before me made an active effort to discover the clues and left behind outstanding notes. Is $200,000 just sitting somewhere in a safety deposit box or storage facility? There are 44 words/phrases in bold that appear throughout the book. Clearly, they represent a pattern of some kind. For example, on page 25: The Phoenix Sun. I have no facility for figuring out these sorts of things so I didn't spend too much time on the puzzle. I even gave away my copy of the book, at a recent D. B. Cooper Night in Portland, sponsored by a kick ass organization known as Kick Ass Oregon history. What a hot show that was! I met the owner of a bar and we discussed the possibility of staging an event for the re-release of Don Carpenter's long lost and brilliant novel Hard Rain Falling, one the best novels to ever originate from the Pacific Northwest. At some point, I was so impressed with her enthusiasm for Oregon literature that I just handed her my copy of HA-HA-HA in appreciation. Why not?
Besides, I don't need the money. I was once a suspect in the biggest jewel heist in Portland history (a true story that I'll share later), but the police eventually cleared me, and the jewels were never found.
Because I dug them up not too long ago, had them fenced and…ha, ha, ha.
÷ ÷ ÷
Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain