Warning! If you have not yet read the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, then you will not want to read this book before doing so--unlessWarning! If you have not yet read the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, then you will not want to read this book before doing so--unless you want the plots spoiled. Robert Kuhn McGregor and Ethan Lewis have no compunction about giving away virtually every clue and unmasking every villain in the novels and (most) short stories of the well-known mystery writer while expounding the Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey. They assume (rightly, I believe) that anyone plunging into their literary critique will be well-acquainted with the ins and outs of Sayers's works.
MacGregor and Lewis fully examine the plots of the Wimsey novels, tying them firmly to both the events in Britain and the world during the "Long Week-End"--the period between the two World Wars--and to the life of Dorothy L. Sayers. They find themes and events in the fictional life of Lord Peter, and later Harriet, and use them to understand Sayers's views on love, marriage, the evolving place of women, and the social changes which are rapidly shaping Sayers's world. They also reveal how each of the Wimsey novels play upon different mystery conventions--from the thriller to the time-table focused crime to the how-dunnit. Sayers worked hard at her craft and used it consciously to explore her own views as well as to comment on (and sometimes criticize) the methods and conventions of other Golden Age mystery practitioners.
For readers of Sayers's work, there may be little to surprise in the examination of the novels themselves, but the historical groundwork, social critique, and background on Sayers herself is interesting and useful for anyone who wants to understand her work better or see it in a different light.
Contrary to expectations from the title, this is not a how-to book on the disposal of all those extra, annoying, moneyed people (w 3.5 stars, actually
Contrary to expectations from the title, this is not a how-to book on the disposal of all those extra, annoying, moneyed people (who have willed you their goodies) in your life. The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder & the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum is a detailed examination of the development of forensic science and the growing importance of the chief medical examiner in the early twentieth century. Until Charles Norris took over the position, corruption ran rampant in the coroner's offices--obvious violent deaths were often written up as "heart failure" or "natural causes" or even multiple choice causes of death such as death due to "either assault or diabetes" or "diabetes, tuberculosis or nervous indigestion." Norris, with the help of toxicologist Alexander Gettler, set about cleaning up New York's forensic examination system as well as making trailblazing discoveries in within the science itself--from the development of a new scale to determine alcoholic intoxication (based on brain saturation) to more and more precise tests for various poisons in the body. Gettler very often had to create a test where none existed before.
The basic premise is a very interesting one. The book is divided up into chapters based on various poisons with each poison characterized through a newsworthy event featuring the potent substance. Not limited to murders--though there are plenty of those here--we also have the systemic poisoning of the drinking crowd of the Roaring Twenties (and 30s) by none other than the government Prohibition enforcers. Prohibition did nothing to make "moral" men and women out of persistent tipplers. Those who craved the buzz of alcohol were willing to drink absolutely anything--no matter what toxic substance the regulators insisted be added to any liquid containing alcohol. Bootleggers made their money out of people who were quite literally dying for drinks. Also included is the famous case of the "Radium Girls"--women who earned their living painting watch dials with luminous paint containing radium. Women who began dying because they sharpened the points of their brushes with their tongues.
The stories of murder and other deaths by poison were intriguing. My main complaint about the book is that there are only so many times I needed to be told how Gettler ran his tests. Once you've read about how he gathered up all the major organs in the body, pulverized bits of them in various substances, and distilled the resulting ooze in order to measure the amount of thallium, arsenic, cyanide, [insert your favorite poison here], you really don't need to be told the process again. Honest, I'm not the most scientific person in the world, but I got it the first time. It would have been far more interesting to have had greater detail on each of the cases and about the relationship between Norris and Gettler...and they with with their forensic team than to have spent so much of the book on chemistry lectures. At ★★★ and a half, it is still a fascinating book. It revealed a lot of details about the effects of Prohibition that I had not previously heard.
American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of the 'It' Girl, and the 'Crime of the Century' by Paula Uruburu (2008) tells the story of [FloAmerican Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of the 'It' Girl, and the 'Crime of the Century' by Paula Uruburu (2008) tells the story of [Florence] Evelyn Nesbit who was a beautiful, popluar chorus girl, artist's model, and budding actress at turn of the century (19th to 20th) whose long-term liaison with renowned architect Stanford White led to her identification as "The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing" as well as her involvement in one of the early 20th Century's most notorious murder trials. She rose from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to a model whose face and figure were used in newspaper and magazine advertisements, on postcards and calendars. Her celebrity hit before she was 18 years old. Once she started in the chorus, she found herself the object of many men's fantasies and the recipient of the attentions of "Stage Door Johnnies." Among her admirers were several millionaires, but she ignored them until Stanford White came along. He showered presents on her and her family and introduced her to a side life she only dreamed of. Then he seduced her. But his support--both financially and in the theatre world continued and she kept in touch with him.
When Harry Kendall Thaw, son of the very wealthy Thaw family of Philadelphia family, became interested in Evelyn, she had no idea that he had another agenda in mind other than making her his own through marriage. He had heard of White's association with her and he hated White with a passion. Thaw had no compunction about using the beautiful young woman to wreak havoc on the evil man he believed White to be. He married Evelyn in April of 1905 and just over a year later he took her to the Madison Square Garden rooftop theatre--the playground of her former lover--and shot White to death. White thought he was a hero for revenging his wife's innocence. Given his treatment of her and his behavior leading up to the murder, I'd say he was a bit crazy.
************* I have to say that I was disappointed in this. When I was looking for a true crime novel to read to fulfill a couple of challenges, the name Stanford White caught my eye. In 2012, I read a book of White's letters to his family and my comment at the end of that review was that "I think I would have been far more intrigued by one of the books which covered this high-profile murder than I was by the collection of letters." And here one of those books is. And I remain fairly un-intrigued. For all the billing on the cover about the "Crime of the Century"--less than one-third of the book is devoted to writing about the crime, trial, and aftermath (very brief info on the aftermath) combined. The rest of the book takes a very long and rambling (particularly for a non-fiction book) trip through Evelyn's early life and journey to become Thaw's wife. Uruburu is repetitive in descriptions and, most noticeably in the first half, given to writing sentences in which it sounds like she's producing the most adjectives with the most of syllables possible. Throwing $10 words around as my relatives used to say. All to no purpose.
She gives us a fair overview of the time period and attempts to represent Evelyn as a young woman misrepresented by history. But she never made Evelyn a real person to me and she never made me really care about her story. I was horrified by what she went through--but horrified on principal and because the events were, indeed, horrifying. Not because I made any real connection with Evelyn Nesbit as a person. ★★
In 1872 four Americans devised a daring plot to milk the heretofore impregnable Bank of England of 100,000. Four months previous, the brothers GeorgeIn 1872 four Americans devised a daring plot to milk the heretofore impregnable Bank of England of £100,000. Four months previous, the brothers George and Austin Bidwell and their associate George Macdonnell landed in England without references, influence or introductions. By carefully learning the ways of business in and around the Bank, they were able to build Austin into privileged customer status through the recommendation of his tailor. MacDonnell was the master forger in the fraud syndicate and provided flawless forged bills of exchange purporting to be from the leading financial institutions of Europe. Edwin Noyes was brought in late in the game to provide a way of moving the money about from bank account to bank account. The audacious group had achieved their criminal dreams and had packed their bags in preparation to leave the country when a small error in the matter of dating the last bundle of bills was questioned. Their elaborate house of cards collapsed and the chase was on--with arrests in France and Cuba and George Bidwell leading the authorities all over the British Isles before capture.
Ann Huxley's Four Against the Bank of England (1969) is meticulously researched and provides all the details of an almost-forgotten masterpiece of crime. She reconstructs all the details while vividly portraying the Americans and bringing them to life. This is no dry and dusty historical record, but a high-speed true crime story that has all the excitement of classic suspense thriller. It seems incredible that these four men could have pulled off such an audacious crime, but the details in the story provide the proof and logic behind the plot. If not for that small dating error, it certainly seems possible that they might have successfully managed one of the greatest frauds in British history. An interesting study of both the period and the crime. ★★★ and 3/4.
In The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw brings to life the stories of a generation of people who taught America what courage really is--from the front-In The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw brings to life the stories of a generation of people who taught America what courage really is--from the front-line heroes and heroines to the workers and loved ones at home. Each teaching us about sacrifice, honor, and bravery in their own way. Brokaw brings us profiles of the ordinary men and women who answered their nation's call and who returned home to continue their quiet lives with dignity and a sense of community spirit. He also highlights the lives of more prominent veterans whose service to their country didn't end when the war was over--men and women who served in high levels of government and the armed forces even after the peace treaties were signed.
The stories are poignant and and touching--revealing the depths of sacrifice behind each profile. They are stories of loss and love, friendship and valor. They touch on the challenges that the women who served (or worked at home in place of the absent men) faced when the war was over. The difficulties in being forced to return to pre-war expectations. They also highlight the discrimination that all Americans of color faced even as they volunteered to put their lives on the line for their country.
This is a very moving account that brought tears to my eyes at times and made me proud of the generation who came together for a common cause in the name freedom. How very different our world might be if the men and women of the 30s and 40s had been less dedicated, less resolute in their determination to serve their country (and the Allies) in a time of great need. My only quibble with the book is that it seems so very formulaic--introduce the hero/heroine, give a brief history pre-war, give another brief synopsis of their war-time assignment, and then tell what productive lives they had afterward. A bit more personal attention and a feeling of story-telling, rather than rote recital would bring this up to five stars....as it is: four stars.
This short volume, published very soon after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, captures the immediacy and horror of the event after giving the rThis short volume, published very soon after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, captures the immediacy and horror of the event after giving the reader a brief biography of RFK's roots and the years leading to his brief run towards the presidency. It is full of photos--including well-known photographs as well a pictures that I hadn't seen published in other books about Kennedy. It also includes an eyewitness account of his final hours from a member of the American Heritage staff assigned to cover the Indiana and California primaries.
America, I believe, lost something very important in June of 1968. Kennedy's detractors tried to say that he had suddenly changed his image in order to make his bid for the highest office--that he had to increase his appeal to minorities, the young, and the poor in order to make a campaign viable. But he didn't "suddenly" change. He had been fighting in small ways for the marginalized and under-represented for years. The earliest mention in this book comes in the 1950s while he was attending law school at the U of Virginia. At the time, Kennedy was president of the Student Legal Forum and responsible for inviting many dignitaries to speak at student events. Dr. Ralph Bunche had been invited and Bunche accepted with the proviso that the audience be integrated.
Bobby, according to a Forum committee member, "blew his stack" at the Southern students who rebelled against signing a resolution favoring the integration they approved in principle...."He had a lack of understanding of the problems these people faced; to him it seemed illogical to support something but be unable to sign for it." Bobby carried his fight to the president of the university after rejecting a compromise solution, and Bunche spoke to an integrated audience. It had been Bobby's first fight on a matter of principle and he had won. (p. 53)
When Kennedy was killed and his body was sent by train back to the Capitol, the tracks were lined with those who saw a dream ended. A dream represented in part by a speech Kennedy made after another dreamer, Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed:
What we need in the United States...is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our own country, whether they be white or they be black.
It was true then and it remains true now.
I will admit to being a bit dazzled by the glow of the dream that never was. Who can say what changes might have come from a Bob Kennedy presidency? (Yes, Bob. He never liked "Bobby.") I first became interested in Robert F Kennedy in high school history class when we covered this period of American History. When we were assigned an in-depth research paper I was drawn to the figure of RFK. At that time, I read from many biographies and other histories of the time...both those pro-Kennedy and those against. I soon became one of many who believe that Bob Kennedy could have made a difference. This book reminded me of that research and reminded me of what might have been.
Into the Valley by John Hersey is a reporter's on-the-spot report of a battle which took place on October 8, 1942 on Guadalcanal. Hersey was a correspInto the Valley by John Hersey is a reporter's on-the-spot report of a battle which took place on October 8, 1942 on Guadalcanal. Hersey was a correspondent with Time-Life and was attached to Company H of the Marine Corps under the command of Captain Charles Rigaud. The heavy machine gun company was ordered into the valley at the Matanikau River with the goal of forcing the enemy back beyond the river.
As Hersey moves with the company and watches the men under fire, he realizes how much these Marines go through, how many of them deserve citations for their bravery, and how few of them will receive the recognition they deserve--from the runners who carry messages when radio and field telephones won't work to the men who carry the wire spools through the jungle (unable to defend themselves because you can't carry a rifle and a spool at the same time) to the medics who treat and rescue the wounded.
He gets to know the men very quickly in his short time with them and he asks them the one question he truly wants to know. What are they fighting for? When it comes down to it...out there in the unfamiliar jungles, when it seems like your company is the only one doing its job...what are you fighting for? The answer surprises him until he recognizes it for what it is:
They did not answer for a long time.
Then one of them spoke, but not to me...and for a second I thought he was changing the subject or making fun of me, but of course he was not. He was answering my question very specifically.
He whispered: "Jesus, what I'd give for a piece of blueberry pie." Another whispered: "Personally I prefer mince." A third whispered: "Make mine apple with a few raisins in it and lots of cinnamon: you know, Southern style."
Fighting for pie. Of course that is not exactly what they meant. Here, in a place where they lived for several weeks mostly on captured Japanese rice, then finally had gone on to such delicacies as canned corned beef and Navy beans, where they were usually hungry and never given a treat--here pie was their symbol of home.
Hersey's book is a fine piece of war reporting. He gives us the feel of battle with all the sights and sounds, with all the fears and acts of bravery. We see the men digging shallow grave-like holes to bed down in at night, fording streams, and carrying their fallen comrades from the field of battle. We hear the underlying homesickness and worry that they might not see that home again--but we also see the courage that drives their Captain to make them hold their ground until they can retreat in good order. An interesting peek into the history of World War II. ★★★ and a half, actually.
The author, a Union general at both Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg, was purported to be the inventor of baseball--this has been debunkeThe author, a Union general at both Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg, was purported to be the inventor of baseball--this has been debunked by almost all sports historians--although Doubleday himself never made such a claim. The book was initially published about 20 years after the Civil War ended. Doubleday's convictions permeate the book. As a commanding office in both battles, his perspective is essentially that of a military professional, yet is strongly flavored by personal feeling. In revisiting these campaigns, he rekindles old political hostilities that had lain dormant for almost 20 years.
My take: The 20 years theme is kind of interesting. Doubleday wrote this account about 20 years after the war had ended. I've had this reprint edition for almost 20 years. Back in 1996 when my parents wanted a suggestion for a birthday present, I gave them this title (among other present options) and it wound up on my shelf. Life and other interests have gotten in the way and I just now have gotten around to reading it. And, let me tell you, a gripping story-teller Doubleday ain't. This is a very dry-as-dust blow-by-blow rattling off of every little military move of the two campaigns. "General So-and-So had a brigade (division...regiment...insert suitable military unit) of Umpity-Thousand men. It was decided to move them over the XYZ Gap to try and hold off the enemy--Rebel General Whosiwhatsit's brigade (division... regiment...you get the idea) of Hmm-Hmm Thousand men." The only time Doubleday gets passionate or injects any interesting bits into his narrative is when he is talking about how General So-and-So disobeyed this order or that OR when various generals disagreed with one another or jockeyed for position.
Give me Michael Shaara's account of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels any day. 2 stars--very informative, but better as a sleep aid than as a riveting tale of the Civil War.
Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century by Mike Dash does exactly what you'd expect that long title to doSatan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century by Mike Dash does exactly what you'd expect that long title to do....try to cover way too much material in one book. Er, wait, no. That's not what I expected the book to do, actually--although that's what I got. When I picked it up and read the book flap, I expected the book to tell the story of Charley Becker, a NY cop at the turn of the century (turn of last century, that is). Charley Becker was a handsome lieutenant who had been decorated as a hero, had led the department's vice-busting Special Squad, and who wound up on trial for his life--accused of arranging the murder of one of the members of Manhattan's underworld. Becker was also, at the time of the writing of this book, the only police officer in the United State to be executed for murder.
It does tell that story. But Dash doesn't just stick to that story. He's gives great detail on the history of the police department and the history of vice in the city--everything from prostitution to gambling to gang warfare. It tells us all about Tammany Hall and Teddy Roosevelt's efforts to clean it up. It, in fact, tells way too many stories in one book. By the time we get to the "Trial of the Century" we're pretty weary. We've slogged through so much information that working our way through the ins-and-outs of the evidence and the DA's all-out determination to send Becker to the chair, we're kind of over-whelmed.
Dash had a great central story. Was Becker a good cop gone bad? Was he just a normal guy--normal by the standards of the times he grew up in--who had taken advantage of the same opportunities for graft that his fellow policeman had taken and somehow become the fall guy for an overly ambitious DA? That is a story worth telling. If I stick to just that story--then this is a very interesting book. Having finished it, I can't tell you if Becker was guilty or not. He, like so many public officials at the time, was definitely on the take. So, he was no saint. But a murderer--or the man behind the murder? I just don't know. What I can say is, given the evidence and details that Dash recounts, Becker did not get a fair trial. It becomes obvious that the DA, who was a publicity-seeker looking for a way to rise in politics, was absolutely intent on getting a conviction and didn't much care how he got it. Witnesses were allowed free rein to collaborate on stories. The judge, who was very anti-police, put every obstruction possible in the way of the defense.
This could have been a great book. I wish that Dash had stayed more closely tied to his central story. And I wish that, rather than rattling off fact after fact--especially when it came to the trial--he had given us more human interest. By the end of the book, I felt like I should be feeling a lot more invested in some of these people. I should feel more when Helen Becker, Charley's wife, pleads for the Governor (who just happens to have been the prosecuting DA at the time of the trial) to issue a stay of execution for her husband. But I didn't. My first thought was "Hurray, I'm done!" Three stars for the story itself and detailed information. Better execution, please pardon the pun, would have put it in the four- or maybe even five-star range....more
A delightful book full of pictures and information about the Oxford circle that included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. Very interesting! Three and a haA delightful book full of pictures and information about the Oxford circle that included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. Very interesting! Three and a half stars....more