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The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases

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Thrilling, true tales from the Vidocq Society, a team of the world's finest forensic investigators whose monthly gourmet lunches lead to justice in ice-cold murders

Three of the greatest detectives in the world--a renowned FBI agent turned private eye, a sculptor and lothario who speaks to the dead, and an eccentric profiler known as "the living Sherlock Holmes"-were heartsick over the growing tide of unsolved murders. Good friends and sometime rivals William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter decided one day over lunch that something had to be done, and pledged themselves to a grand quest for justice. The three men invited the greatest collection of forensic investigators ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to the Downtown Club in Philadelphia to begin an audacious quest: to bring the coldest killers in the world to an accounting. Named for the first modern detective, the Parisian eugène François Vidocq-the flamboyant Napoleonic real-life sleuth who inspired Sherlock Holmes-the Vidocq Society meets monthly in its secretive chambers to solve a cold murder over a gourmet lunch.

The Murder Room draws the reader into a chilling, darkly humorous, awe-inspiring world as the three partners travel far from their Victorian dining room to hunt the ruthless killers of a millionaire's son, a serial killer who carves off faces, and a child killer enjoying fifty years of freedom and dark fantasy.

Acclaimed bestselling author Michael Capuzzo's brilliant storytelling brings true crime to life more realistically and vividly than it has ever been portrayed before. It is a world of dazzlingly bright forensic science; true evil as old as the Bible and dark as the pages of Dostoevsky; and a group of flawed, passionate men and women, inspired by their own wounded hearts to make a stand for truth, goodness, and justice in a world gone mad.

426 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

Michael Capuzzo

13 books40 followers
Michael Capuzzo is a syndicated animal columnist and author of "Wild Things". Formerly a feature writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Miami Herald, Capuzzo has written for Esquire, Life, and Sports Illustrated. His numerous awards include the National Headliner Award and his animal stories have been honored by the ASPCA and American Humane Association. He lives in Wenonah, New Jersey.

A four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, his recent bestseller, "Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence", tells the blood-curdling truth about the deranged great white shark that became the prototype for the villian of Peter Benchley's "Jaws".

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 709 reviews
Profile Image for Dorothea.
227 reviews66 followers
October 29, 2012
I was very excited about The Murder Room -- before I began reading it. It purports to be nonfiction, describing the efforts of the Vidocq Society to solve interesting "cold cases" -- crimes which the officials have given up on. The Vidocq Society, founded in 1990, is not a club for amateur detectives; its members are required to have well-regarded professional experience in criminal investigation.

I had just read Connie Fletcher's Every Contact Leaves a Trace, which collects real crime-scene experts' descriptions of their work. This fascinated me, especially in contrast to the fictional detective stories I've read in which one clever amateur solves the case with a brilliant insight. In reality, it seems, most mystery-solving is done through strict procedure, in which all details of a crime pass under the observation of maybe dozens of people. I hoped that unsolved cases re-investigated in the 1990s and 2000s by a large group of experts would combine the realism of CSI procedure with the exciting deductions of fictional detectives. I expected that The Murder Room would be a paean to group effort, to the value of new science, new methods of documentation and analysis, and the combined knowledge of specialists working for a common purpose.

I thought that, surely, an author who chose to write about this subject would be a person who aspires to mental organization, clarity, and accuracy.


Of course, a person who writes about this subject could instead value sensationalism, cliffhangers, atmosphere. This person might believe that the best way to interest an audience in the work of a group is to select three members of it to be the Protagonists whose dominant and unusual (read: hackneyed) characters drive all the action. This person might be so attracted by the idea of mythical archetypes being built into the human psyche that he forces allusions to King Arthur into his narrative. This person might be so addicted to adjectives, adverbs, and epithets as a way to impress sophistication and dramatic urgency on the reader that he chooses not to refrain from describing things as "sartorial" and "penultimate" even when it is perfectly clear that he has no idea what those words mean. This person might find that blondeness is a trait that enhances a murder victim's pathos, and that gazing appreciatively at a waitress's legs is a behavior that raises a protagonist in the reader's esteem.

This person, it seems, is Michael Capuzzo.

I am not in his target audience.
Profile Image for Diane in Australia.
668 reviews790 followers
August 29, 2018
I really enjoyed this book. It's about a team of forensic investigators, called the Vidocq Society, whose monthly meetings seek to bring justice to cold-case murders. Leading this group are 3 dynamic men - forensic sculptor, Frank Bender; FBI and U.S. Customs agent, William Fleisher; and forensic psychologist/profiler, Richard Walter. The 82 members of the Vidocq Society are chosen from the best minds worldwide.

I found each of the founding members to be VERY interesting individuals. You get a chance to learn a bit about them, on a personal level, and how they got involved in creating the Vidocq Society. Frank Bender is especially intriguing.

I know a lot of the other reviewers are complaining about purple prose, lack of editing, etc. ... but I'd wade through all that, just to read about these men, and their drive to solve cases. I didn't find any of the above mentioned faults to be a distraction. I was too immersed in the topic.

4 Stars = It touched my heart, and/or gave me much food for thought.
Profile Image for Brian.
646 reviews250 followers
March 17, 2011
(3.0) Very interesting subject, could use a little more editing and reorganizing

I heard about this book on the radio (probably Fresh Air, safe bet) and was immediately intrigued. The best of the world of investigation and forensics coming together to solve the toughest (or just covered-up) murders around.

The book mostly lives up to this so was enjoyable, but has some flaws that could've been improved with editorial input. First, there are many instances of quotations recycled a couple of times throughout the book. I had many feelings of deja vu as I encountered the same sentiment 30 pages apart. The first instance of this was a comment that Frank Bender (forensic sculptor extraordinaire) made about how well his wife and girlfriend get along, and that he doesn't want to upset them so he doesn't bring home any women that they don't approve of. There were then many more, usually quoting the speaker in one case, then paraphrase in another, but the effect is still sloppy.

More significant though was the organization. I didn't like the structure; in fact, I was about 100 pages in and still wondering what the structure was. It turns out to be a few vignettes of crime to establish the motivation for the sleuths, some biographical narrative of the three founding members, then the history of the establishment of the Vidocq Society intertwined with cold cases they work on and usually solve. Soon the history of the Society wanes and cold cases dominate the narrative, but they still intertwine. The cold cases come and go, leaving you hanging (not in a good suspenslike way, more of a wait-is-this-a-new-case-or-an-old-case-I'm-not-really-following way). I'm sure he's trying to "recreate for the reader the effect of being haunted by unsolved cases"...something the law enforcement all say they've experienced. But it didn't enhance the reading, just meant it was difficult to juggle all of the corpses and psychopaths at once and was, again, sloppy.

I was also a bit disappointed not to see any of the Vidocq Society's failures. We hear about the amazing breaks in cases that seem to imply psychic powers belonging to some of the sleuths. It became a little fantastic because every mystery is solved, and usually by Richard Walters (forensic psychologist) within a minute or so of hearing the case background. It all became a lot less believable when we don't see them hit dead ends.

Still quite entertaining though, so I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Davie.
162 reviews
September 21, 2010
Wow -- if I had even read one page of this thing in the bookstore before buying it, I would still have my $$$. This book is truly horrifying.

"A tear of hatred slowly trilled down his cheek"
"Walter was unsurpassed in his understanding of the darkest regions of the heart"
"After four courses served hot, Antoine LeHavre was ready for revenge, served ice cold" and then on the next page, "As strong as his feelings were, [LeHavre] didn't want revenge, only justice."

Ass-kissing abounds. If a detective once sang in their elementary school glee club, they have the voice of an angel. If they ever glanced at a picture of a soccer ball, then they could have been in the Olympics if only they weren't too busy fake-solving crimes. Capuzzo 100%, unquestioningly ascribes to the Great Man Theory of history/crime solving, and seems to think the idea of questioning or verifying whatever his Great Men say would be no less than a slur on their honor. One of the first chapters is titled, "The Man Who Got Away With Murder", and it concludes with one of the renowned detectives accusing the *very person* seeking justice for the crime of being the murderer (twist!). The accused "murderer" walks away, and the accusing detective gloats: "another murder solved". This is an awesome definition of solving a murder, because it means that I solve a hundred murders every year when I watch Law & Order and make random guesses about the killer.

There is a small chance this whole thing is a parody, in which case, BRAVO. The book is almost worth reading in the same way that a D- horror movie can be mesmerizing -- but in the case of the godawful horror movie, no one is pretending to make a real contribution to an actual, horrendous crime that people want help with, and no one is profiting from someone else's authentic suffering.

This book makes the world a worse place to live in.

But really, shame on me. Malcolm Gladwell already called bullshit on FBI criminal profilers three years ago: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20...

Negative 5 stars.
Profile Image for Carol.
835 reviews500 followers
August 15, 2010
I feel creepy saying I loved this book that deals with murder. Maybe a better word would be fascinated but even that sounds crude in light of the subject matter. I know I'm not alone in wanting to know what makes someone who can kill, tick. I also have a thing for cold cases in both fiction and non-fiction so when I heard about The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo, I knew it would be on my list. I had read Capuzzo's Close to Shore about a series of shark attacks in 1916 on the Jersey shore. Having read that I felt he had the credentials to pull this one off.

The subtitle of The Murder Room, The Heirs of Sherlock Homes Gather to Solve the world's Most Perplexing Cold Cases is an excellent description of the premise of this look into the sleuths of The Vidocq Society. The society was the dream of three men, William Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender, possibly the best of the world's crime solvers. Named for Eugène François Vidocq, the ground-breaking nineteenth century French detective who helped police by using the psychology of the criminal to solve "cold case" homicides, NPR calls this a dedicated group who solve mysteries over soup. Part one of The Murder Room invites you to a luncheon like no other. After a 5 course meal including such gourmet food as pork and mallard duck sausage hosted in an elegant hall with glittering eighteenth century chandeliers, coffee is served to backdrop images of the battered remains of a blond young man cast aside in a restaurant alley. I'm hooked.

Capuzzo's style here, give the reader a teaser in each chapter, leave em' hanging for the outcome, and then providing closure somewhere down the road, if known, can be a bit frustrating at times. But liken this to the "not knowing"that the families of cold case victims live each and every day, sometimes forever, and I decided Capuzzo's method was fitting, if not a dead on perfect way to format this book.

The Murder Room outlines many gut wrenching cases with many being solved but not all. What hits home loud and clear is the dedication and drive of the men and women who make up The Vidocq Society; professionals who will not rest until the case is closed, justice is done and the families know the victims have not been forgotten. Fascinating reading it is!
Profile Image for Christine.
6,675 reviews489 followers
May 13, 2012
I found this book intersting because I live in Philly so I knew about some of the cases. Yet, some of the writing is all over the place, and the book loses steam. It need more of a coherent over-arcing something. It is too wide in scope and needs more focus.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,320 reviews439 followers
December 6, 2015
This is the story of the founding of the Vidocq Society and some of its success in solving cold cases. The Vidocq Society is named after Eugène François Vidocq. Vidocq is considered to be the father of modern criminology and of the French police department. He is also regarded as the first private detective.
But it was Vidocq's remarkable story of redemption and his belief in the redemption of others that touched Fleisher most deeply. The chief cop of Paris was a great friend of the poor and said he would never arrest a man for stealing bread to feed his family. Vidocq was Hugo's model for Javert, the relentless detective in Les Misérables, as well as for Valjean, the ex-con who reforms and seeks redemption for his deeds.
The Vidocq Society deals only with murder cases. In The Murder Room, you can expect the telling of these cases to be rather graphic. The book includes, in layman's language, the psychological makeup of some murderer types. The personalities of three of the founding detectives is also revealed in more detail than a few of the others whose work is also included.

Some GR reviews have complained of the personalities and the telling of some of the private lives of the founding detectives themselves. Two of the founders, in particular, were not especially likeable. Frank Bender acted upon a very active sex drive, Richard Walter was especially confrontational in his use of language. In answer to a question about whether a police chief was satisfied with the Society, he replied "He was as happy as a pervert with two dicks." Thus, it can be expected that this book will have the reader engaging with the underside of life.

Some have complained about what seems to be a haphazard organization and I admit that at first the book seemed to wander, but I came to understand it and realize any other presentation would have been chaotic. The timeline is a difficult one. There is the founding of the Society (in 1990), together with the background of the three founders, how they knew each other and how they worked with each other. Then there are the cold cases, which obviously happened in the past. The difficulty with this is that the Society encounters the cases in an entirely non-linear order. Cases but a few years cold might be presented before a case 20 or 30 years cold. Some cases were not solved in the first presentation, though the detectives continued to work on them and make progress. This progress is told to the reader in chronological order as Society members had new/better ideas or evidence.

I rarely read true crime, but I was glad to have picked this up.
Author 17 books9 followers
June 20, 2011
I have to put in a warning here – I was unable to finish this book. Heck, I was unable to take it seriously enough to barely start it.

The Vidocq Society is a real group of law enforcement professionals who get together informally to see if they can provide insight into cold crime cases. I'd heard of the society and occasionally read true crime books, so I decided to give it a try. The first chapter begins ….

“The great hall was filled with the lingering aroma of pork and mallard duck sausage as black-vested waiters appeared, shouldering cups of vanilla bean blancmange …. the image of the corpse …. materialized in the center of the room.”

Okay, Mr. Capuzzo, how do you know about the lingering aromas? Is the ventilation in the room that poor? As for the waiters 'shouldering cups of .. blancmange,' how large were these cups? Is it possible they were shouldering trays containing the cups? Is the image in the middle of the room a Star Wars 3D image, or did they project it on a screen? If it was in the middle of the room, how did the people on the other side see it?

We go from there to 'eccentric, moody geniuses,' that one of the 'experts' is a psychic and another 'used the polygraph to … peer into the hearts of men … to redeem them.'

That's who I want working on a murder case, psychics and polygraph experts, a technology that's so good it isn't allowed to be used in most legal cases. I wonder why they included these people; couldn't they find a reader of chicken entrails? Wouldn't the accused submit to trial by ordeal?

I soldiered on for a few more pages, then dropped into the book at random, finally admitting defeat and giving up.

In a true crime story, I expect the author to provide evidence. Capuzzo gives the reader dialogue I doubt happened (how many people these day use the word 'whilst?'), ascribes emotions to people, and frames it in language more suited to Victorian romance than non-fiction (baleful glares and flashing eyes). My b*llsh*t detector was pegging the needle. With writing like this, I find Capuzzo's evidence unconvincing.

The Vidocq Society may do good work, but I was unwilling to scrape away Capuzzo's frosting to look underneath. 1 and a half stars.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,482 reviews104 followers
January 5, 2013
I almost gave this book five stars but was put off by some of the over the top purple prose that was totally unnecessary in a book of this type (or in any book for that matter). The book is the biography of the Vidocq Society, an organization made up of the world's greatest crime experts.....psychologists, police, FBI, medical examiners, polygraph operators, lawyers, etc. Membership is by invitation only and this group of international sleuths study cold cases and offer their assistance and advice to the local authorities. The author pays particular attention to the founders of the group, William Fleisher from law enforcement and an expert interrogator; Frank Bender a sculptor who "saw dead people" and sculpted their faces; and Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist known as the "living Sherlock Holmes". They are fascinating and quirky individuals who put their heart and soul into their work and who, along with the other Society members, solve 90% of the cases presented to them. Some of the cases may be familiar to the reader although the Vidocq Society may not be since they do not take credit for their work. A fascinating book.
Profile Image for Kate.
265 reviews
October 16, 2010
I did enjoy reading this book. Its three main characters are fascinating guys, and the cases they work on are also fascinating. The book is useful to me in my own work, and there's a modest but solid selected bibiliography at the end that I'm glad to have.


This book reads like a first draft rushed through to press. The lack of editing — and the dire need for editing — scream from every page. A couple hundred pages in, Capuzzo is reintroducing main characters as if they were brand new. That kind of repetition is all over the place, as is prose so purple that you'll crave Hemingway — or the phone book — for a breather.

For example: "'A tear of hatred slowly trilled down the man's cheek,' the thin man noted. 'It was lovely.'"


There is a tightly organized, breathtaking narrative buried in there somewhere. Once I sighed and realized I had to read it like a manuscript, it was okay. But what the hell, Gotham Books?
Profile Image for Kate.
392 reviews53 followers
December 18, 2010
I listened to this on audiobook in the car, and for the first few hours I thought I had found the Best Audiobook Ever. I enjoyed the purple prose, and the characters and situations were so interesting and dramatic I thought it HAD to be fiction. In fact, I kept picking up the audiobook case (unsafe driving) and double-checking that it was, in fact, nonfiction. But pretty soon, I was picking up that case to confirm that my version wasn't abridged, because the story was so frustratingly jumpy that it was hard to follow -- and increasingly hard to care about. And by the end, I was picking up the case to see how many more CDs I had to get through, because the meandering, repetitive, gruesome and choppy story had worn me down to the point where I was finishing it out of obligation.

Another reviewer said this felt like a rough draft, and I think that's right on. Generally, I loved all the parts with one of the real life characters, Richard Walter. And the narrator did a great job. I would say, pick this up and read/listen to the first half, and then move on. That's what I should have done.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
633 reviews43 followers
August 19, 2010
I sat down to read the first chapter of this book and never put it down again. There are three crime experts at the heart of the book. They formed a club that they named after the famous French criminal, Vidocq, turned crime fighter in 1833. The club has 82 members to coincide with Vidocq's age. Most interesting to me were the parts based on Richard Walter's criminal profiling. He's so precise with his profiles which are based on seemingly little information. He's able to pin point either who might have committed the murder and sometimes even finger the exact person. It's so hopeful to know there are people who use their skills to put old cases to bed and I imagine this helps give victim's family members peace. This is a nonfiction book that reads like a grim thriller. There are even literary references old and new.

Profile Image for Kristen.
2,256 reviews54 followers
February 1, 2013
This is an utterly fascinating, mesmerizing, but deeply disturbing book. Once again, a true story that reads like fiction nobody could possibly dream up.

The murder room of the title is a location - which has changed through the years - in which the Vidoque Society meets on a monthly basis to discuss, and solve cold murder cases. The Society was created in 1990 by three undisputably brilliant criminal investigators: William Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender. Although they have been dubbed - as the book's title notes - the heirs to Sherlock Holmes, the men felt more kinship with Eugène François Vidocq, a former criminal who ultimately turned to solving crimes and is considered the father of modern criminology.

The book follows the Society as it grows from just the three founding members discussing their fury at the number of murders unsolved every year, and their righteous indignation at the lack of justice for the victims or their families. Ultimately, the Society grew to 82 members - the number of years in Vidoque's life, and became legendary at solving - although not always obtaining convictions - 90% of the cases they took on. They always worked pro bono, and never took on a case unless it was at least two years old, out of respect to the police forces in the case. They also rarely received any public credit for the many crimes they were instrumental in solving so it's hard not to admire what they accomplish.

The real murders the book discusses are heinous to say the least, and I found myself wishing this WAS a work of fiction rather than a true story, because as Walter reminds us [quoting Nietzche] "If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." If you are squeamish, this is probably not the book for you, because the examinations of the various murders the group investigates, and the amount of detail about the murders and the murderers are detailed, however, if you are a true crime fan, then you will probably not mind this, and will find the manner in which the three main characters profile and identify the killers fascinating.

The additional interesting aspect to the book, is a biographical profile of the three men behind the Vidoque Society. Each of them, in addition to being brilliant investigators, also have abuse and drama in their formative years, but it allowed them to grow into men who were passionately, obssessively determined to obtain justice for murder victims who had never received it. Each of them are very odd individuals, with some serious quirks, but they are each likeable in their own unique way and I enjoyed learning about each of them, and tagging along in their lives, as much - maybe even a bit more - as I was intrigued following the murders they solved.

The book is very detailed, and the author was given unprecedented access to the inner workings of the society so this is a comprehensive perspective on this very impressive society of crime fighters. I really enjoyed the book, despite the disturbing subject matter. If you are a true crime, or psychology fan, you may enjoy this book
8 reviews9 followers
April 15, 2014
What can I say? I don't intend to write a real review here, but I'd like to add a few comments.

The Murder Room's subject matter makes it interesting, but complaints that the majority of other readers have about this book, here and on Amazon, are valid. Capuzzo tries to make his prose evocative, moving, and lyrical, but the result is just purple. Details about the personal lives of the protagonists are repeated too many times, as if he wasn't sure exactly where in the book to place them.

On the good side, Capuzzo excels at creating character portraits. I saw a photo of Fleisher, Bender, and Walter after I had read most of the book, and they each looked almost exactly as I had imagined them based on the way he described them. The dialogue is engaging; each is an interesting figure. In some chapters, the breathless prose still succeeds at creating a suspenseful atmosphere, and some moments in the book are genuinely chilling (for me, none more so than the description of a suspected killer's drawing of a murder, but a lot of the information about the Boy in the Box case was also unsettling).

However, there are some really obvious issues of factual accuracy and consistency. Leisha Hamilton becomes "tall" (in the chapter where Walter visits her at work to confront her) after Capuzzo has described her several times as "petite and charming." At another point, Capuzzo describes an ancient Greek tragedy focusing on events around the Trojan War as having been written or taking place "seven centuries ago"; the Trojan War took place circa 1250 BCE and the play in question was first performed around 458 BCE. Richard Walter is described as visiting "from Pennsylvania" when the narrative strand that focuses on him has not yet covered his move to that area, and the reader should still be assuming that he's coming from Michigan. And when he's introduced, Walter is described in a way that makes him sound like he's British, so it's jarring to learn a few chapters later that he's actually originally from Washington State.

The problem is that mixing up details like this, or presenting them this clumsily, casts doubt on anything Capuzzo says that I can't confirm with personal knowledge (or, if I'm really curious about it, research). Where else did he make assumptions or mix up his papers or lose part of the sense of his story by moving chapters around? This book was created with good intentions, has an interesting narrative, and is probably worth reading if it sounds interesting to you, but the editing is some of the shoddiest I've seen in a while.

A final nitpick: Capuzzo misused the word "penultimate," which is one of those things that's on so many "frequently misused words" lists that it's depressing to see it get by any professional writer or editor. It doesn't mean "even more ultimate than ultimate," guys, it means "second to last."
Profile Image for Lamadia.
576 reviews24 followers
November 27, 2015
I found this book strangely put together. Every single time a chapter finished at the end of the page, I was surprised to turn the page and find that the chapter had ended. None of the chapters felt like they were done. They felt like they were put in haphazardly and without order. There were a couple chapters in the middle that were really short and seemed to reintroduce the people you had already spent a lot of time reading about. Some of the phrases were even repeated in their entirety like the chapter wasn't meant to stay in and was overlooked during editing.

The style was overly florid and ridiculous. The fact that it was supposed to be fact made it even worse. I'm sorry, but you cannot get from an interview the details of what the person thought the scenery was looking like in florid prose during something that happened years ago. None of these guys are going to be talking like this, so clearly some of the details were enhanced by what the author thought would set the scene. It was written as if it was fiction with internal thoughts of people he couldn't possibly have spoken to and the most annoying descriptions of people. Every new chapter would reintroduce the same people through description to an annoying degree. When you've spent hundreds of pages with these people, you don't need to start each chapter calling him "the thin man". We know his name already.

I know that often real people are too ridiculous to be believable. It's the old saw "truth is stranger than fiction", but the manner in which they were described and presented made them seem beyond ridiculous. He should be tamping down the amount of "best" and "most amazing" types of descriptions. It just makes everyone in the book seem like an arrogant prick.

The chapters needed to be reorganized and not so choppy, the style needed to be less florid and over the top. There needed to be less about how awesome these people were so that it doesn't seem like he's blowing smoke up their asses.

The true crime parts were very interesting and is the only thing that made this book worth finishing. If only it had been written in a completely different style that wasn't amazingly frustrating.

He also misuses "penultimate".
Profile Image for Wayne McCoy.
3,957 reviews25 followers
February 20, 2011
Have you ever read a book that was written in a way that drove you crazy, and yet you slogged through it because the subject matter was so compelling? The Murder Room is one of those books.

This is a non-fiction book about the Vidocq Society, a group of amazing crime fighting minds, who gather monthly for a sumptuous meal and the chance to solve a cold case brought to them by a police agency or private individual. The Society has 3 founding members, a forensic artist, a criminal psychologist and a man referred to as "the living Sherlock Holmes." The Society is named after Eugène François Vidocq a crook turned cop from the 18th century who is considered to be the inspiration for Poe's character Inspector Daupin and influential on the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

The book details how the society was formed, gives good biographical details about the three founding members and deals with some of the cases they have worked on over the years.

Fascinating stuff, right?


Within 20 pages of starting this book, I wanted to throw it down in disgust. The author deploys a pulp writing style that seems a bit disrespectful of it's subject matter. I actually almost counted the number of times I encountered the word 'buxom' within the first 100 pages. The chapters all start in a way that makes many of them feel like individual short stories. How many times do we need to be introduced to the 3 main characters of the book that we've read about for the past 300 pages? The cases presented are, I assume, in chronological order. This means that complete case histories are scattered amongst chapters, leading you to follow multiple threads at the same time. Really poor structure.

I did stick it out, and I am glad I did. The case that overshadows the whole book is about a young boy found in a box in a field in 1957. To this day, that case has never been solved, and it provides much of the impetus for the book and what drives these men. The Society is a fascinating idea. They do solve many cases, but some are merely academic as there may not be enough inherent evidence to convict. This book gets a 2 for writing and a 5 for subject matter. I would like to read a much better book about this subject matter.
Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 17 books2,931 followers
December 31, 2020
This is not a very good book. The prose is frequently purple, the mood is hagiographic, and Capuzzo expects his readers to find Frank Bender---portrayed as a kind of wild priapic psychic man-child---as charming as he does.

Reader, I did not.

There's also this completely weird-ass thing with King Arthur and Capuzzo burbling about Joseph Campbell and the archetype (sorry, I think I need that in quotes, the "archetype") of the king, the knight, and the wizard, as if it maps onto the 3 founders of the Vidocq Society. It's a painful stretch, and as far as I'm concerned, he would have done better to check the mysticism at the door.

So this is a history of the Vidocq Society, which is a social club for elite detectives. They get together once a month for a gourmet lunch and a cold case, and in general help victims' families try to get justice. It's also a partial biography of the three men, Frank Bender, William Fleisher, and Richard Walter, who founded the Society. I found Capuzzo's attempts to bring his three principals to life annoying and would have preferred a far tighter focus on the cases and a less fancy, more chronological approach. He does a fine job of recounting the cold cases and the process by which the Society do or do not succeed in convicting the various murderers.

This book also felt, not necessarily misogynistic, but very man-focused. There ARE female members of the Vidocq Society, and a few of them even get speaking roles. Maybe it's just because he's focused so hard on Fleisher, Bender, and Walter, but I felt excluded from the text in a way that I don't usually, even in books with all, or almost all male casts. (I'm not saying that there should be more women in the book. I'm saying that it's possible to write about one gender without making the other genders feel unwelcome.) Maybe it's the archetype he's chosen, which certainly has no room for women in it.
Profile Image for Michelle.
811 reviews76 followers
May 30, 2014
Dear Slow and Horrible Computer,

Thank you for deleting my review. I effing hate you.

I wrote three whole paragraphs of feelings that included:

how fascinating William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter are, but how uneven the author was in covering our three main characters (need more cool Fleisher stories, yo)

how compelling/disturbing these cases are, especially for me, a person that might watch crazy L&O sh*t, but generally stays away from real cases because I know they will scare the bejeesus out of me. Mission accomplished. I will never forget the words of a cannibal to the victim's mother.

how we needed to conclude things better with the Boy in the Box case/maybe not feature it in the book so much since it's STILL not solved. I understand this is nonfiction, we can't have our pretty bows sometimes, but c'mon, even Capote took some liberties with the ending of In Cold Blood (to be reviewed soon, I just finished it yesterday).

how I hate that Katy Perry song that mentions Jeffrey Dahmer. Katy Perry and Guy Rapping Whose Name I Will Never Bother to Figure Out, do you know what Dahmer did to his victims? Have some damn respect for the victims and their families, you jerks. Read this book if you need just a little more info.

how intrigued I am to learn more about Capuzzo's research methods. And did he like Richard Walter best of all? Because that man got the best one-liners and comes across as the most fascinating and intelligent of the bunch. I keep thinking about his perspectives on psychopaths and serial killers...He probably loathes this sort of fangirling.

Hmm. I ended up writing more the second time around. Count yourself lucky, Slow and Horrible Computer from Hell. Love,

Profile Image for Melinda Elizabeth.
1,136 reviews11 followers
June 19, 2011
I really wanted to give this book more credit. However the three stars provided was for the idea of the book moreso than the actual execution of it.

I agree with many other readers who have mentioned that the book is all over the place, and with the right finesse, this wouldn't have been an issue, but with the various murders being spoken about throughout the book it makes it hard to recall which one is which. You started in the present, then it jumped to the three main characters as kids, then to the future, then to this priest, then back to the boy in the box, and on and on.

The most frustrating part of the book for me was its ending, which really wasn't an ending at all. Had I been reading this book on the kindle, rather than in paper format, I truly would have felt that I had a corrupted file and was missing the last few chapters. Considering the build up to the boy in the box (and is significance was repeated somewhat annoyingly throughout the book) to leave it as the book did felt like a bit of an insult.

And why did the book keep on referring to RIchard Walter as "the thin man"? why not just call him by his freaking name? I think a good third of the book was spent descibing "the thin man" smoking "kool's" and "scowling". If that was the way they wanted to describe the characters, perhaps a little more about Bender being the "Sex maniac psychic" would have been called for.

If you want an educated understanding of the Vidocq Society, this book is not for you. If you would like to read about the "thin man", and are looking for a present day equivalent to Sherlock Holmes (and I assume this is a large selling point for the author as again, it is mentioned plenty) then you may enjoy the book.
Profile Image for Anita Dalton.
Author 2 books159 followers
February 22, 2012
If you read just one tiresome, unorganized true crime book that reveals little while saying a lot, don't make it this one. Crappy books are crappy books but I'm sure even with these negative qualifiers, you could still do better than this. This book is so poorly arranged and utterly forgettable that a couple of weeks later all I can remember is Frank Bender making that bust of John List and I knew that before I read this book so really, it wasn't worth the time I spent trying to make sense of the disjointed timeline as Capuzzo discusses several cases at one, sliding into a new one without any real attempt to allow the reader to keep up with him.

And nothing is better than pages and pages and pages about the infamous Boy in the Box case wherein the author does the literary version of the movie High Tension, not once, but twice. He gives us two relatively intensive profiles of who may have killed the boy, including a creepy discussion of a foster mother who kept the boy in the basement for her own amusement only to go all YOINKS! Just kidding, this is what may have happened, pay no attention to that strange, sickening, intense profile I just gave you.

Really, this book is a turd. Polish it if you want, but ultimately, Capuzzo did the Vidocq society no favors with this hot mess.
Profile Image for Melissa Bond.
Author 13 books22 followers
January 17, 2011
Some of the best detectives in the world have enough stories to tell to keep readers gripping the pages, turning to the next one to see what happens next. However, this book was attempted to be told in literary fashion, but unfortunately in dealing with real life, there is a delicate balance to keep it tightly woven to flow nicely. This book was a mess, with the events going back and forth, miles apart from each other, taking the reader away from what was most wanted, the facts. It read like fiction, and too many times I found myself frustrated, wanting the author to "get on with it" and reveal the history of the Vidocq Society, their most compelling cases and how they worked in a world full of uncertainty and evil.

Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied, even questioning if I was reading true history or some made up fascination of notable crime solvers. This made me suspect that Capuzzo did not have all the facts or full insight to accurately recount the cases mentioned, because on some, I have heard more about them from television specials alone.
Profile Image for Emmy.
63 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2018
The book deals with formation of the Vidoq Society in Philadelphia by three dedicated participants:
• Frank Bender: Forensics sculptor: talented, ex-boxer, questionable sex-drive, funny, hedonistic
• William Fleisher: the Founder if the society. FBI, gifted networker, genial
• Richard Walter: Psychologist and profiler: very serious, no fun, cynic

The narrative is alternating between three main themes:
1- the cold cases/crimes
2- the main characters and their backstories
3- the Vidoq Society and its history

The presentation of the cases were many a time interrupted by another theme and were not picked up until a few chapters later. This broke the continuity and Some if the cases were not brought to an end. However I found the book to be a great read. It was the start to read more about the Vidoq Society and its principals.
Profile Image for Ellen Laverdure.
15 reviews
September 18, 2015
So, I REALLY wanted to like this book. But it was sort of crazy, like a B movie in black and white, where the tough guys and all the cops speak out the sides of their mouths. Made it pretty well through - this was on audio. Did a lot of cooking to it. But like old gum, I finally had to rip it out and toss it. Phew. Feel much better now!
Profile Image for Stacia.
852 reviews110 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
May 11, 2020
This is a non-fiction book, but it reminded me of Jeannette Walls' book Half Broke Horses in that it may be a mix of fact & fiction. Walls did that type of writing skillfully & (as I remember) said that was what she was doing in the beginning of the book. Capuzzo did not say that but there's no way he would know some of the details or quotes he puts (imo), so I feel like he's elaborating on fact to make the story better. I don't necessarily mind that but it feels disingenuous since there's no acknowledgement of it (from what I've seen so far). It's about the Vidocq Society & that part is quite fascinating. I've now spent some time reading Wikipedia & the group's own webpage about who they are, what they do, etc. The writing is not great & the mix of fact & fiction takes away from it, imo. I've seen similar comments on Goodreads. Where was the editor?
Profile Image for Mike.
511 reviews132 followers
April 29, 2011
This is an excellent book about an amazing group of people and well-written to boot. I must confess that I snagged it off the shelf because it is a "detection"-themed book, but never looked closer than the title/subtitle; as a result it took me a while to figure out that it was not fiction! But, in my defense, I thought that the author was just doing a superb job of story-telling, which, of course, he was.

The key figures in this book are probably better known to the average person who watches news magazine shows or "America's Most Wanted" (which I don't). As there are several examples of their interaction with that TV show in the pages. The author spent a lot of time (over several years) getting knowledge and history out of several of the members of the organization. His effort has clearly paid off.

I don't want to put any spoilers in this review, but forget what fiction TV shows or books have taught you about criminals, profiling, and solving crimes - this book will set you straight. It's part biography, part criminology, part history and all public service. The people involved are not part of any "Sherlock Holmes" group, instead they formed their own organization, honoring the first real-world detective. Taking inspiration both from his life and his methods, they began with a "fraternity", but evolved into a force for good and justice.

The people and their accomplishments seem larger-than-life, yet it is all true. There are some nasty details, but for the most part such things are described or alluded to more than pushed into your face.

If for no other reason than to enjoy a well-crafted book, pick this one up, read it, and decide for yourself.
Profile Image for Christine.
941 reviews34 followers
December 31, 2012
Frank Bender, a forensic sculptor, Richard Walter, criminal profiler and U.S. Customs Agent William Fleischer are as different as three individuals can be, yet they share one thing in common; an unwavering desire to find the truth about crimes. Together they formed the Vidocq society. Named after the French “father of criminology” they invite law enforcement specialists from all over the world to their monthly luncheon meetings in Philadelphia, where along with the meal the society is served cold cases. They have rules and standards and never get involved with ongoing investigations. They must be invited by the local authorities where the case took place and do not involve themselves in cases such as gang related activities.

The Vidocq society has been featured on television shows such as America’s Most Wanted and ABC’s Dateline and 48 Hours. If you are a fan of either of those shows or find yourself watching CSI or Criminal Minds this is a book you want to pick up. Well written and well documented the only complaint I have is that the book is a little disjointed. The reader is introduced immediately to the case of the “Boy in the Box” yet must wait until the final pages of the book to discover the murderer. The thread is carried throughout the book, interspersed with biographies of the criminologists and other cases. Despite that one flaw (in my humble opinion) this book is truly fascinating. A must read for true crime enthusiasts.
Profile Image for Pattie O'Donnell.
317 reviews29 followers
October 6, 2010
It could have been SO much better. I heard the author interviewed on a local NPR show, and he made me want to go right out and get the book.

But it wasn't what I expected, based on hearing the author. We could have done with a lot less about Walter and Bender, and more about the other members, as well as more details about how the Vidoq Society solved (or were unable to solve) the crimes that they analyzed. If there had been a drinking game where you had to take a sip of beer every time the author mentioned or described Frank Bender's libido, you'd be on the way to the ER with alcohol poisoning before you were half-finished - so OK - we get it - the guy is a brilliant horndog. Good for him. Now let's hear a little more about that trailblazing forensic dentist you mentioned in passing, or what exactly Walter was teaching his state-police protoge....

And the "Boy in the Box" case description was a just a mess.
Profile Image for Stacy.
208 reviews18 followers
May 19, 2023
Really nice book about the Vidocq Society, a symposium of law enforcement and forensic specialists who got (get?) together to solve cold cases. Frank Bender was a founding member, and his bust of John List resulted in List's capture and prosecution. His partner-in-solving-crime was Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist. The book explores several of the many cases they and the Vidocq Society helped solve. No idea if the Society is still active, but its very existence should give crime and comic writers some great story ideas. And these guys did a lot of good. Read it.

EDIT: Welp, it turns out Richard Walter is a fraud who made up many of his credentials, and got some innocent people put in prison from his "expert-fu." And now Capuzzo blogs about conspiracy theories. I've changed the rating to one star and would encourage everyone to AVOID this book. It's bullshit.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
543 reviews36 followers
November 20, 2018
It took me a while to get into this book. There were times that I found it repetitive and aimless. But I think that was due, in part, to the author’s attempt to write the story in an historical timeline. The result was that an investigation started in one chapter and wasn’t revisited until several chapters later, at which point, I had all but forgotten the thread of the story. However, this method seemed to illustrated the challenges Vidocq Society members faced when conducting their inquiries. Their undertakings weren’t for the faint of heart and could take years, even decades, to solve. The investigations were always quite disturbing, and although not every perpetrator was brought to justice, just about every crime was solved. If you can make it to the middle of the book and ignore those parts that needed additional editing, this proves to be an interesting read.
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 76 books16.9k followers
April 5, 2014
This was an interesting book about a society/group of experts who get together and solve cold murder cases. It focused more on the 3 founding members and while I enjoyed reading about them, I was a little frustrated by the choppy style of going from one man to the next. Also the cases were revealed in various chapters, so you didn't get a full start to finish on any of them in one chapter - just bits and pieces until the end.

While the organization of the cases and biography was annoying, the content was fascinating. If I wasn't a writer, I'd like to be a criminal or forensic psychologist like the one character, Richard Walter.

It was worth reading and I think the 3 main men in the book may already have full biographies, if not, they should!
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