IN THE JOURNAL | BOOK REVIEWS
Tragedy in paradise
July-September 2013

I met Larry for the first time when I had just moved to Saipan. I was standing in front of an office building where he also had an office, not quite sure where I was going. I ended up stopping a scraggly looking guy in a dirty T-shirt and blue jeans and asking for directions; we had a short and reasonably pleasant conversation. He told me his name was Larry and asked me to pass along his regards to my boss. When I told my boss later, he asked me what the guy looked like. I told him he looked like the gardener. My boss laughed as he informed me that the “gardener” was worth about half a billion dollars – a valuable lesson was learned on making judgments about a person based on appearance.

Yet “King Larry” has its faults. I found Scurlock’s writing style distracting. He spends a lot of time setting scenes, overly describing his actual interviews and developing minor characters. At times, this reads like fictional biography, where some of the scenes are clearly made up. It also introduces several inaccuracies generally involving other characters. I took particular exception to a few of these; in fact, one description of a particular person borders on character assassination. A casual reader would probably not notice, but more to the point these scenes and characters don’t really have a bearing on the overall story. If anything, they take the tale off course.

Another weak point is that Scurlock delves into topics such as “What was Hillblom thinking at the time?” Although he admits he was unsuccessful in finding the answers, in reality it was difficult enough to separate fact from the urban legend surrounding Larry when he was alive. This can only get blurrier with time.

In some cases I think Scurlock may have tried to find answers that aren’t there, and might have mischaracterized Hillblom himself (such as when discussing some of the smaller business ventures). Hillblom was a lot shrewder in business than Scurlock gives him credit for.

The other part of the book – and perhaps the saddest part of the Hillblom legacy – is the 100 or so pages dedicated to the probate battle. In going through the details, I think Scurlock may have lost focus on the bigger picture. Hillblom clearly wanted the majority of his wealth to benefit some greater good via his foundation. I don’t think he would have intentionally shirked his responsibility to any children or to his live-in partner in Saipan. It is my recollection that his will (even with its faults) left his closest family relatively modest sums of money (a few million dollars) compared to the overall value of his estate. The story might have benefitted from a sharper look at the motives of some of the parties involved, thus keeping to the wider picture, as a lot of the legal wrangling is tedious.

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