Louise Penny has a new fan! I'll write more details on my review of Penny's Bury Your Dead, but I'll say this now: this series is wonderful. It has evLouise Penny has a new fan! I'll write more details on my review of Penny's Bury Your Dead, but I'll say this now: this series is wonderful. It has everything I love about literature--sympathetic and complex characters, beautiful language, serious thought--wrapped up in an intriguing, multi-layered story that is so much more than a plot chart from Point A (the murder) to Point B (the revelation of the murderer). It sets a high bar for all other mysteries I read. ...more
"'They'll want him to be mad, of course,' Lazlo mused, not hearing me. 'The doctors here, the newspapers, the judges; they'd like to think that only a"'They'll want him to be mad, of course,' Lazlo mused, not hearing me. 'The doctors here, the newspapers, the judges; they'd like to think that only a madman would shoot a five-year-old girl in the head. It creates certain . . . difficulties, if we are forced to accept that our society can produce sane men who commit such acts.'" (from The Alienist, page 33)
This passage resonates with me and seems relevant, not only for the book's major themes, but for our time, as well. How many times is a terrible crime committed and the immediate response is: oh, that person must be crazy, insane, mentally ill! No one likes to think that someone who is sane could do something that heinous, because that implies that the criminal is one of us, like us, and that creates the possibility that we could become like him, capable of doing the heinous act we've just condemned. That means we're capable of doing anything. Disturbing, indeed.
Lazlo is the alienist of the title, a psychiatrist in a time when psychiatry was viewed with suspicion, a non-scientific, disreputable profession. He is called in to investigate a horrific murder of a young male prostitute. Along with a ragtag assortment of other people, he works to create a profile of the murderer from the details of the murder victim's body and circumstances.
Back when I was starting to write fiction (in high school), I heard about this novel. It was praised and I was mildly interested, but I never got around to it until now.
I'm torn on how to rate this book.
On the one hand, it held my attention for the two days I spent reading it. I enjoyed the historical details, as well as the exploration of contemporary ideas about criminal behavior, mental illness, and the intersection of the two. The young victims are male child prostitutes, and I found the contemporary attitudes toward sex trafficking interesting to read about. It's tragic that the United States preferred to ignore both child prostitution and the poverty that drove many kids to sell themselves. What was once some flat, impersonal facts in a history book came alive for me in Carr's novel.
On the other, I disliked the detailed description of the murder victims' bodies. It was disturbing, as it was obviously intended and needed to be. It was also necessary, given that the entire premise revolved around Lazlo & company's attempt to profile the murderer based on the details of the murders (including the mutilated bodies).
But here's my question regarding this book and other murder mysteries: Does using something as horrible as a murder for entertainment a good thing? (I could apply the question to any terrible thing, such as rape, suicide, war, etc.) Does it desensitize the reader to the horrible nature of ending another person's life, leading to a callous attitude when confronted with this in real life? Or is there a benefit to fictionalizing crimes? Does it depend upon the author's attitude or motivation? I'm not sure. It's a question I've been bothered by since junior high school, and for many years I stopped reading mysteries because of it.
Add to that the very detailed nature of the victims' bodies in this book, and I'm disturbed even more. Many of the victims are first seen after their death. They exist only as victims, not as full-fledged characters (fictionalized humans). It's standard practice in this genre, but it has the effect of dehumanizing the victims and making me almost indifferent to their (fictional) deaths. Is this good? What benefit can there be in this? I really don't know.
In a word: horrifying. For several years, Jenkins delved into the underworld of the child porn community online. Readers learn how child porn has thriIn a word: horrifying. For several years, Jenkins delved into the underworld of the child porn community online. Readers learn how child porn has thrived on the internet, despite being one of the most universally reviled evils imagined, despite being illegal in many countries, despite all the obstacles thrown in the path of those who exploit children. And it’s all free and available to anyone who knows how to find it.
Because viewing child porn is illegal in America, he blocked all images on his computer and researched through the Internet chat rooms devoted to promotion of child pornography. That’s problematic from a research standpoint, and he can’t provide data (stats or numbers or anything provable), but he admits that, given the laws of this country, he couldn’t do otherwise.
The excerpts from the chat rooms are graphic, though. The offenders describe the contents of the images they’ve downloaded and tell their fellow offenders about. So it’s not hard to imagine what horrible abuses are shown.
Jenkins details the problem facing law enforcement agencies: how to catch the offenders and take down the images but maintain internet freedom and individual privacy. It’s a complex issue.
At the end, he offers several ideas to help combat child porn. The one I found most intriguing was this: make it legal for journalists and social scientists to access child porn for research purposes. Obviously, this would be problematic; the privilege would be abused, and it would be almost impossible to convince lawmakers to loosen the laws around child porn rather than tighten them. But if research could be done, we’d know what we’re dealing with. We wouldn’t be relying on law enforcement agencies for information. More solid research could be performed, with quantifiable data to back up the conclusions (rather than random numbers guessed at by child porn opponents, etc.). It’s an idea worth considering.
Quick warning. This is not a book for everyone. Jenkins includes transcripts and snippets of conversation from child porn chat rooms, and they are often graphic and always revolting. I had to read this book slowly and put it down often, and frequently my stomach was churning. If you can’t handle that because of past abuse, don’t read this book. Everyone else, wake up and realize that ignoring evil doesn’t eradicate it. You may not agree with Jenkins’ ideas or libertarian stance, but it’s worth the effort to look beyond surface differences and consider what should be done to stop child porn. ...more
I got started reading James a little late in the Adam Dalgliesh series, and while I enjoyed the novel, I got the feeling that this wasn't her best ADI got started reading James a little late in the Adam Dalgliesh series, and while I enjoyed the novel, I got the feeling that this wasn't her best AD mystery. Still, I'll cut the author some slack; she's in her 80s, I believe, and can play this mystery-novel-writing game better than some people much, much younger. Good book. ...more
One rainy night, elderly widow Martha answers a knock at the farmhouse door to find an unusual couple there: a deaf African-American man and a beautifOne rainy night, elderly widow Martha answers a knock at the farmhouse door to find an unusual couple there: a deaf African-American man and a beautiful, mentally handicapped young woman. The woman has a newborn in her arms. The pair, Martha realizes, have come from the nearby institution for the developmentally disabled. The institution is a brutal, secretive place: many staff members are abusive or neglectful, the facilities are squalid, families don’t visit, and once a young woman like Lynnie is placed at this “school”, they receive very little educational opportunities to develop their skills. Even without knowing much about the institution, Martha is filled with compassion and takes in the couple.
School officials find the couple and take them back, but not before the young mother tells Martha to hide the baby. Martha does, and the lives of all four people—and others—are changed forever. It follows the widow and baby, the young mother, and the deaf man over several decades, as each seeks to survive and thrive in difficult circumstances, including their own limitations.
The book reminded me a bit of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (by Kim Edwards) because of the subject matter of the treatment of the mentally disabled, but the tone and ending are very different. There was a lot of darkness in this book, but also hope and joy and love. It moved me in a way that few books do. I read this in September and have since read several dozen more books, yet I still think about Simon’s characters and remember more about them than some in more recently-read novels. For that reason, I'm giving a rare 5 star review. ...more