In November 1971, a man traveling under the name Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 flying between Portland and Seattle, demanded $200,000 from the FBI, and later parachuted from the plane into history, landing somewhere in the Northwestern wilds.

The FBI has searched unsuccessfully for 42 years for any trace of either the man or the money; as recently as August 2011, agents were still investigating potential leads.

Oregon author William L. Sullivan offers his own convoluted solution in The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute, a “What if?” novel set against a backdrop of international art theft, Oregon’s community of Russian Old Believers and Portland’s infamous Shanghai Tunnels.

Sullivan can tell a riveting adventure tale. His middle-aged, guilt-racked police Lt. Neil Ferguson bicycles around Portland maintaining law and order, and keeping an eye on his autistic daughter. Reports that a “D.B. Cooper” is stealing paintings from a Russian Orthodox church propel the lieutenant into a murder mystery, and in the process transport the reader into Cooper’s mind and his possible motivations for the extortion and hijacking.

Those familiar with the Pacific Northwest, as well as lovers of all things Portlandia, will appreciate Sullivan’s frequent references to local landmarks. Ferguson’s detective work takes him from Portland’s Grotto—a Catholic shrine and botanical garden—to the dragon boat races on the Willamette River, and up to Mount Hood’s historic Timberline Lodge.

“The man who called himself Cooper was not pleased,” Sullivan writes late in the novel. “He shuffled slowly across the Timberline Lodge lobby, pushing his walker past the big stone fireplace with its crackling pine logs. No one had ever discovered his identity before.”

As befits a classic mystery, Ferguson teams up with a beautiful and enigmatic woman—in this case, a Russian translator—to solve a series of crimes. Though readers may have trouble untangling this novel’s complex political subplots, many of them will find the author’s dramatic conclusion convincing enough to declare with satisfaction, “Case closed.”

This book review originally appeared in the High Country News.

The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute

By William L. Sullivan


416 pages, $14.95