This book made me physically ill. When an account of the (mis)workings of the criminal justice system is more frightening than the details of four bruThis book made me physically ill. When an account of the (mis)workings of the criminal justice system is more frightening than the details of four brutal rapes and murders, then said criminal justice system is seriously broken....more
I always thought I would hate Florida until I went there. To my shock, I loved it. It's a place steeped in contradictions and weirdness -- so, exactlyI always thought I would hate Florida until I went there. To my shock, I loved it. It's a place steeped in contradictions and weirdness -- so, exactly my kind of place. I don't know that I could live there, but it sure is fun to visit.
Craig Pittman is an excellent armchair tour guide in Oh, Florida!, which covers how the state's oddities have influenced the rest of the nation and offers up loads of fun stories. Pittman, a newspaper reporter, has never met a pun he didn't like, which gives this book a sort of old-school humor that I really enjoyed. He doesn't shy away from pointing out his home state's major faults -- seriously, could there be a collection of worse politicians? -- but the book still made me long to go back.
The crimes depicted in this book -- the widescale murder of Osage Indians for their oil fortunes -- are not particularly interesting; they probably could have been solved in two seconds were it not for the sweeping corruption throughout the white-controlled local government, which was of course aided and abetted by national policy. It's more terrifying than your typical true crime story could ever be....more
Eminently readable history of the English obsession with murder from the early 19th century to the mid-20th; I gobbled it up in nearly one sitting. WoEminently readable history of the English obsession with murder from the early 19th century to the mid-20th; I gobbled it up in nearly one sitting. Worsley makes connections between real-life cases and the fictional depictions of crime from the same era that I found fascinating. She's occasionally sidetracked by biographical detail (we delve, for example, into the personal lives of Thomas de Quincey, Wilkie Collins, and Dorothy L. Sayers) but all of that is interesting, too, with Worsley's voice lively throughout. As is often the case with popular nonfiction, I was left wanting more -- more analysis, some grander statement -- but it's possible that I am just yearning for life (and death) to make more sense in general. ...more
A compelling, if overly long, look at a Texas family's descent into tragedy and murder in the late '60s/early '70s. Lots of larger than life characterA compelling, if overly long, look at a Texas family's descent into tragedy and murder in the late '60s/early '70s. Lots of larger than life characters and a story so bizarre, it has to be true. By the end, though, I was just exhausted: at some point the narrative had begun to feel like misery porn. I'm off to cleanse myself with a novel about chefs....more
It's unfortunate, because while the cover screams "cheap and sensationalist!!!" the book itself is actually thMan, that sure is a bad cover, isn't it?
It's unfortunate, because while the cover screams "cheap and sensationalist!!!" the book itself is actually the exact opposite. It's a well-written, expertly paced, and nicely restrained and reasoned account of a truly horrific and bizarre murder that took place at a lululemon athletica store in an upscale Maryland neighborhood in 2011. This was recommended by the True Crime Diary blog, and I agree with writer Michelle McNamara's assessment: it's one of the best true crime books I've read, which I'd at least partially credit to Morse's journalistic background. He resists the urge to dun dun DUN!! in his depiction of events, and lets the suspense build naturally. He also treats all his subjects with humanity and respect.
If you like this sort of thing -- which periodically I do -- I definitely recommend this book. Unlike with the majority of true crime books, you won't feel totally icky after reading it. Yay!...more
A cultural history of Paris from 1925-1939 by someone who apparently feels nothing but spite and scorn for almost every topic she chooses to write aboA cultural history of Paris from 1925-1939 by someone who apparently feels nothing but spite and scorn for almost every topic she chooses to write about. Well, it's finally happened: we've found writing too cynical even for me. I enjoy a good snark, but reading this book was frankly exhausting. (Flanner, I think, even eventually became exhausted: the collection does mellow a bit as it goes along.)
Then there's this description of Josephine Baker:
"She has, alas, almost become a little lady. Her caramel-colored body, which overnight became a legend in Europe, is still magnificent, but it has become thinned, trained, almost civilized. Her voice, especially in the vo-deo-do's, is still a magic flute that hasn't yet heard of Mozart -- though even that, one fears, will come with time. There is a rumor that she wants to sing refined ballads; one is surprised that she doesn't want to play Othello. On that lovely animal visage lies now a sad look, not of captivity, but of dawning intelligence."
There are many reasons I could give for why you should read a book about the death penalty: cold, hard, fact-based reasons, like the chilling statistiThere are many reasons I could give for why you should read a book about the death penalty: cold, hard, fact-based reasons, like the chilling statistic that to date 17 people who have been executed in this country have since been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project (and that even one is too many). But really, my own opinions on the issue are irrelevant, and Dow's searing memoir can be approached equally well as a death penalty proponent, opponent, or as someone who has no real feelings on the issue at all. Dow, who defends death row inmates in Texas, occupied the first position before coming firmly around to the second, and his reasoning is much more ethically than morally based. Dow doesn't like most of his clients; he thinks even fewer of them are innocent. But the system he sees is a broken one, corrupted and corrosive -- death by a drunk executioner swinging a rusty blade. The stories that make up Autobiography of an Execution are exercises in frustration, Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and heartbreak. And yet: Dow tempers all this with prose that is more Hemingwayesque in its simple, stark power. And yet: the overall effect is as pulse-poundingly intense as the best John Grisham thriller -- and a thousand times more emotionally resonant, as it's all true, each life and death that of a real person. Forget politics: this is a book about people, and it should be read....more
Compelling look at Japanese culture, the Japanese underworld, and Japanese journalistic practices through the eyes of an American reporter who workedCompelling look at Japanese culture, the Japanese underworld, and Japanese journalistic practices through the eyes of an American reporter who worked for a major publication in Tokyo until his work brought him under fire from the yakuza. The yakuza thing seems like the major hook, but it wasn’t for me: Adelstein’s day to day work at the paper, his struggles as a foreigner in a place not terribly open to foreigners, and his insights into Japanese culture and tradition—which he seems to truly seek understanding of and respect—were what really drew me to this book. Adelstein isn’t what I’d call brutally honest—there are clearly things he withholds—but he’s not self-aggrandizing, either. (Read his review of his own book for a general sense of the tone.) This is both a solid, interesting true crime book, and a solid, interesting book about Japan....more
Terrific collection of investigative essays on topics ranging from murdered Sherlockian scholars to giant squid. I loved Grann’s full-length nonfictioTerrific collection of investigative essays on topics ranging from murdered Sherlockian scholars to giant squid. I loved Grann’s full-length nonfiction book, The Lost City of Z, and as he did in that work, Grann once again proves his skills at plumbing the depths of obsession with these fascinating short pieces. If you’re obsessed with obsession (as I am), you will easily become enthralled by this book....more
A play about people serving life sentences for murder in England, assembled from interviews with actual prisoners; in form it reminded me somewhat ofA play about people serving life sentences for murder in England, assembled from interviews with actual prisoners; in form it reminded me somewhat of The Laramie Project. Like Laramie, this play is effective and disturbing because it forces you to view people you might otherwise find repugnant as people: you sympathize and feel repulsed by them in turn, often within moments of each other....more
You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to read 700 pages of a brutal true crime narrative?” If you do, this is probably an above average choice: the ManYou have to ask yourself, “Do I want to read 700 pages of a brutal true crime narrative?” If you do, this is probably an above average choice: the Manson murders are psychologically complex and horrifying, the evocation of time and place—late ’60s/early ’70s California—is vivid, and the author has inside knowledge—Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney—that really brings the story alive. It’s certainly better than the Ann Rule I read recently, and simply as a piece of local history, I’m not sorry I read it. But, well. You have to really want to read 700 pages of a brutal true crime narrative. I think I’ll be cured of that for a good long while now....more
What is it about Washington State that attracts serial killers? Last year I read Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me, which is a fascinating book in larWhat is it about Washington State that attracts serial killers? Last year I read Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me, which is a fascinating book in large part because Rule, even then a crime writer, was actually friends with its subject: Ted Bundy. That's a bizarre and disturbing piece of kismet right there. And it lead to a true crime story that was psychologically complex because Rule was clearly trying so hard to understand how the man who was her friend could also be such a monster.
Rule, sadly, does not bring the same level of analysis to the story of fellow Washington State resident Gary Leon Ridgway, a.k.a.The Green River Killer, a.k.a. The Most Prolific Serial Killer in North American History (Possibly). Though she tries to stress her involvement in the case, it was comparatively minimal, so the personal connection present in the Stranger is absent here. Still, it would be interesting to see the psychological motivations of a guy like Ridgway, who--unusually for a serial killer--is not very bright, and--again highly unusual--managed multiple marriages and long-term relationships at the same time had a busy second career soliciting and murdering prostitutes. Instead of going into that, though, Rule just summarily concludes that it was somehow all his controlling mother's fault. Uh-huh.
The text of this very, very long book is therefore mostly taken up by the victims' stories--which are tragic, and do deserve to be told, but I didn't particularly care for Rule's method of cherry-picking the "juicy" ones and leaving other girls--equally deserving--with just a sentence or two. I really wish this book had had more focus--the story of the investigation gets kind of buried under so much other stuff, and the narrative doesn't seem to be organized terribly well. I read this book because I became fascinated with the portrait of the Green River Killings Neko Case paints in her song "Deep Red Bells"; it's less than four minutes long and I think it achieves something more vivid and poignant and terrible than this book does in over 500 pages....more