International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review
Man Who Would Not Die By Stephen Olvey
Published 2008 by Haynes Publishing
Long before Jack Osbourne became an adrenalin junkie and Evel Knievel
decided to jump over buses for a living there was Lucky
Herschel McKee. The front cover describes McKee as Barnstormer,
war hero, test pilot, motor racer, scoundrel. Intrigued by
the sepia photograph of an old fashioned aviator confidently grinning
back at me I decided to find out more about him.
Author Olvey is
in an excellent position to shed light on who McKee was as he is married
to one of McKees grandchildren. He also has extensive knowledge
of motor racing and obviously had access to accounts in the first person
as well plenty of newspaper cuttings and official records to aid him
in his quest in piecing together the life of this remarkable one-off
I have to say that I was riveted as I read about how the restless McKee
left his family home at only sixteen years of age to join the Lafayette
Flying Corp in Europe during the First World War. Always seeking thrills
and adventure and having an avid interest in mechanics from an early
age I read how this young naive mischievous man became an Ace
fighter pilot. He survived being shot down and being captured by the
enemy, the first of many brushes with death over the ensuing years.
Unfortunately Olvey does rather exaggerate the importance and role of
the Lafayette Flying Corp making the ridiculous claim that without them
there may have been a different outcome to the war. The book is also
prone to bouts of hyperbole and does read like a Boys Own
comic book at times. A lot of poetic licence has been taken here and
much of the claims have to be taken at face value. If you cast your
cynicism aside it is still a highly enjoyable read.
There is an excellent section on McKees Barnstorming
days in the 1920s when he toured America performing stunts on his motorbike
and in his biplane. Here Olvey manages to vividly evoke a bygone era
where crowds would be enthralled by the daring stunts and feats performed
on the ground and in the air. McKee was also a riding mechanic in the
Indianapolis 500 in the 1920s and 1930s and again his exploits and brushes
with near death make for compelling reading. Some of the crashes and
accidents described make for chilling reading and McKee does indeed
seem to have a charmed existence.
The book takes the reader through his days as an advisor and bomber
pilot in the Second World War as well as his covert operations out of
Florida in the 1950s for the forerunner of the CIA. It all makes fantastic
copy and I found myself turning the pages quickly.
McKee lived life to the full and had a really fatalist streak. He does
not come across as a particularly likeable person; he was a heavy drinker,
womaniser and bigamist. Self-centred and egocentric he never gave a
second thought about jettisoning someone after he lost interest in them.
Despite not being particularly endearing he is a colourful individual.
The era and attitudes of the day are evoked well.
Olvey has a good writing style. One of my quibbles is that fact and
fiction conveniently become blurred at times, how does Olvey know what
McKee was thinking and what he said? Like I mentioned earlier there
is a lot of poetic licence taken in telling this story. For all its
faults this book will still appeal to those who enjoy history, adventure
and a good yarn. Yes it is romanticised but still an enjoyable tale
affectionately told about one of lifes real characters.
© Dan Cann October 2009
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.