Media feast: A charcuterie board of podcasts, TV shows and books about rural LE
This diverse mix will provide hours of listening, watching and reading pleasure
When the sun goes down at 1630 and the temperature drops along with it, we look for a hot drink, a fuzzy blanket and ways to fill the long hours. (If you’re working and your reports are all caught up, then maybe you turn up the heater and look for a quiet place to wait for the next call.) Here’s my media version of a charcuterie board: a little something for everyone, entertaining, interesting and easy to handle.
Podcasts for keeping your mind busy and your eyes on the road
One is long-form, great for road trips and night shifts, and one is a single long episode, both about crime in rural places.
Bardstown, The Most Beautiful Small Town in America: join journalist Shay McAlister on a 10-year journey beginning with the still-unsolved ambush murder of Officer Jason Ellis. This bulldog reporter refused to let go of the threads linking Ellis’s assassination to seemingly unrelated cases of murder, missing persons and corruption. Pretty little Bardstown, known for bourbon distilleries and small-town charm, finds itself increasingly divided by grief, suspicion and fear. The podcast lays bare the lie of “nothing like that ever happens here,” anchored by compassion for bereaved families. Follow the news for real-time resolution as justice seems finally to be arriving this past fall.
Dateline NBC: On a Dark, Deserted Highway: In 2017, Deputy Mason Moore died in a barrage of rifle fire during a pursuit. Interstate 90 crosses the southern tip of Broadwater County, a remote and beautiful place with a population density of fewer than six people per square mile. What kind of monster kills a cop in a place like that? The kind that hates everything about authority in general, government in particular, and anyone who doesn’t look or think like him, and who teaches his sons to do the same.
Lloyd Barrus is serving a life sentence for Moore’s murder and few know anything about him, his background, or the other crimes he and his sons committed along the way to Broadwater County. (His last high-speed pursuit with another son in 2000, resulted in the only known instance of a California Highway Patrol helicopter being shot down.) This podcast tells those stories and the stories of the survivors. Moore’s widow Jodi set up a nonprofit in her husband’s memory that raises funds for safety equipment for other rural officers, saying in the end, “Love wins.”
TV shows for when you have a little more time
Joe Pickett: Two seasons of the series about a Wyoming game warden are available on Paramount Plus. Based on an excellent, long-running series of novels by CJ Box, the series wanders a bit from Box’s original tone and depth but is still worth watching for its “Everyman with a Badge” quality, set in spectacular landscapes. After decades of urban police procedurals, it’s fun to watch patrols on horseback, with the weather its own character. Bring your willing suspension of disbelief, and enjoy it.
Lawmen: Bass Reeves: If ever a historical lawman deserved a TV show, it’s Bass Reeves, one of the first Black deputy US marshals. He rose from enslavement to a career riding for the notorious “hanging judge” Isaac Parker; it’s been speculated that Reeves may have been the real-life model for the Lone Ranger. The show is an engaging Western, with themes recognizable to modern cops as the toll of the job wears on Reeves’ soul and relationships. The show is available streaming on Paramount Plus. It’s produced by the same team as the blockbuster Yellowstone and movies like Wind River and Hell or High Water, which also treated rural law enforcement as developed characters rather than comic relief.
And one that almost got away ...
Dark Woods Justice: This docudrama gem ran for a single season in 2016 and remains viewable on multiple streaming platforms. Timber theft sounds boring; the dark reality in this series is the theft of ancient big leaf maples worth tens of thousands of dollars each, coveted for their beautiful grain and tone in guitar making. Pacific North West deputy sheriffs and US Forest Service LEOs pursue thieves who work at night, armed with chainsaws and trailers. Some of the trees grow on public forest lands, despoiling landscapes and ecosystems when they are felled and dragged away. Some are on private land, and a night’s worth of crime may mean a pension plan tended for a lifetime, vanished. I don’t know how I missed this one; make sure you don’t.
Books for quiet hours
The River We Remember: This novel by William Kent Krueger, set in 1950s Minnesota farm country, tells the story of a suspicious death, a small-town sheriff, and the way lives touch each other and tangle. The author has written many books set on reservation lands and other rural places and he is familiar with the dynamics. While the subject matter is brutal, the story deals gently with the traumas each character bears, rooted in wars, in policing, in broken families, and the ways we should treat each other but rarely do.
Hatchet Island: Paul Doiron’s newest offering in the Mike Bowditch series is a straightforward mystery romp on a bird preserve off the coast of Maine. Game warden Mike Bowditch and his biologist girlfriend find their kayak trip interrupted by mayhem and dirty dealing, and set about surviving the weekend and solving crime, in a remote place with few resources and no communications. The whole series is fun and I can’t wait for the next one.
A three-fer to end with
Killers of the Flower Moon: This summer’s blockbuster movie is beautifully filmed and gracefully paced, with Hollywood royalty for the cast and production team. It’s based on the book of the same name by David Grann about the real-life murders of dozens of oil-rich Osage people in 1920s Oklahoma.
The movie is gorgeous, but I enjoyed the book more. The tale is dense, the criminal cases complex - poisoning, shootings and bombings - driven by greed and overt racism, and it is impossible to convey the years of violence even in a long film. The investigation was complicated by a grab-bag of earnest, honest but untrained law enforcement, mixed with corrupt and criminal cops, doctors, judges and attorneys.
The infant FBI sent agents to help crack the convoluted case, but its resources were primitive by modern standards. A half dozen agents, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau, spent months undercover gathering evidence, and that’s where the crossover comes in.
A 1959 classic movie starring Jimmy Stewart, The FBI Story, tells the story of some of the major cases that shaped the bureau (including a disastrous raid in the forests of Wisconsin that left dead agents and police in its wake, and John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson still on the run). One of the major storylines in the nostalgic film is a version of the Osage Nation murders and the FBI’s role in trying to bring justice. It is well worth a couple of hours for a glimpse into the history of both law enforcement mythology, and filmmaking. View it through the lens of its own time, like the museum piece it is.
The nights are long this time of year, but the weeks are short. Allow yourself to spend a little extra time with stories! Then, let me know what you think, and which ones I’ve missed.