A long-dead body is found in the captivating, and true, Lady in the Cellar.
In London in 1879, many people were looking to make their fortune by living together in boarding houses. In one, at Number 4 Euston Square, a well-to-do older woman’s body is found in the coal cellar. Her putrefied skeletal remains are clothed partially in silk along with a clothesline tied roughly around her neck. Though her time of death is years before, the London constabulary discovers through extremely thorough detective work her identity. The victim was Matilda Hacker. She was a wealthy heiress that never married. Despite being in her sixties, she dressed as a young girl. When her sister died, she seemed to have increasing mental issues. Convinced people were stalking her, she frequently used assumed names and moved around England. One such place she moved was Number 4 Euston Square.
I loved the great descriptions of how police work was done in England in 1879. Victorian England was a time of significant change in policing. Investigations were beginning to use the scientific method rather than intuition to solve crimes. The setting in London is vivid and makes the reader feel that they are there. However, the plot takes many wrong turns following what the police probably did at the time. It is disconcerting to spend fifty pages on a potential suspect only to have him eliminated in a few paragraphs. Also, the resolution was not what I expected. Some of my hesitancy in recommending Lady in the Cellar for its plot is perhaps my issue with being used to clear conclusions in fiction. I do recommend this book for writers setting their story in the same location and time. 3 stars!
Thanks to White Lion Publishing and NetGalley for granting my wish for an advance copy.
Posted in Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Oct 30 2018, true crime, Victorian
A true crime memoir that reads like a thriller! The takedown of the notorious street gang, MS-13, is described in Operation Devil Horns.
“A special agent is never—ever—off duty.”
MS-13 expanded from El Salvador throughout Central America to Los Angeles and finally San Francisco’s Mission District. Local cops were unable to stop the gang’s crime and violence. The city’s sanctuary status ties their hands. Sanctuary cities vow not to deport illegal aliens or help the federal government to do so, which takes away a significant law enforcement tool. The San Francisco Police Department was unable to deport illegals to break up the gang. Enter the feds.
Santini, a federal special agent, finds two gang members, Diego and Casper, to report on the gang’s activities. By threatening them with deportation and offering the carrot of legality and witness protection, he was able to turn two hardcore gang bangers into rats. His goal was to use the federal RICO statute, already used to break up mafia families, against the 20th Street MS-13 gang.
Operation Devil Horns is a superb book. It is perfect for true crime and mafia fans. However, it is also highly recommended for thriller readers. I loved getting a behind the scenes story about how gangs work and how law enforcement brings them down. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, Non-fiction Tagged with: memoir, Oct 9 2018, true crime
Sons of Cain is the story of real serial killers from the stone age to now.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I contains definitions, Earth’s history and man’s place in it, and psychological diseases that may be causing serial killers to be more frequent now. Part II and III are the meat of the book focusing on pre-Industrial society and from Jack the Ripper forward, respectively.
You can skip Part I and just look up anything for which you need additional information later. It’s written like a textbook—informative but bone dry. In addition, if you are not a fan of Darwin’s evolution, it goes down that rabbit hole for a bit too.
The remaining parts are a mixed bag of pedantic, interesting and fascinating. My favorites were the 1874 Bostonian 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy, Jack the Ripper and the extensive analysis of why serial killers began to be more prevalent in 1960s to peaking in the 1990s.
Sons of Cain is an interesting true tale of serial killers. It is recommended for readers or viewers of thrillers containing serial killers like Silence of the Lambs and Dexter. It is highly recommended to writers of stories involving serial killers. And, of course, current, past or future serial killers (you know who you are) should pick up this book to avoid making the same mistakes as their predecessors (just kidding). 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Berkeley, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Aug 14 2018, serial killer, true crime
Immerse yourself in the world of New York mafia kingpin, Frank Costello, labeled a Top Hoodlum by FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover.
Prohibition was a marvelous time for organized crime in 1920s New York City. Bringing in liquor from Canada, Frank and all his cronies became millionaires supplying the addictions of both rich and poor. After it ends, Frank puts his money into legitimate businesses and works to negotiate truces between mob families as far away as Chicago.
The names within Top Hoodlum are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Hollywood mafia production such as the Godfather or Boardwalk Empire. Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky are all here. The famous restaurant assassination scene in the Godfather was real and meticulous detailed here. Readers who like mafia movies will be engrossed by the well-researched Top Hoodlum. 3 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Citadel, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Jun 26 2018, mobster, true crime
Scattershot book about a real 1948 double murder.
Supposedly about a double murder in 1948 in a small town in Illinois, this book diverges from its topic about 2/3 of the time. The author is obviously trying to make the fourteen newspaper articles that he wrote in the Chicago Tribune on the murders into a full size book. The side issues are usually other newspaper stories the author wrote that share geographic similarities but little else with the main topic. They include the history of various statues in nearby small towns and the results of accidentally allowing Asian Carp to infest various rivers that feed the Great Lakes. The statues side issue occupied at least 50 pages of this short book and may be interesting to someone from Illinois but it didn’t relate to the murder plot at all. The Asian Carp issue was actually interesting but again was not connected to the main plot.
The murder plot is fascinating. One person, a former mayor of the small town of Oregon Illinois, is obsessed about who killed Mary Jane Reed and Stanley Skridla. Stanley and Mary Jane were sitting in his car on a lover’s lane following a cruise of the local nightclubs. Stanley was shot multiple times in the chest and abdomen while standing outside his car. However, Mary Jane was not found until several days later after a countywide search. She was located by a trucker in a roadside ditch about two miles away shot once in the head. Contemporaneous investigators never discover the killer’s identity. Can the former mayor solve the crime seventy years later? He is willing to spend the money, a reported $100,000, to try over seventeen years. Could the murderer have been a local deputy sheriff reportedly thrown over by Mary Jane? Could the murder just be a case of a robbery gone horribly wrong? There are many theories discussed in this book but the ending is rather disappointing.
If Mary Jane’s Ghost was a 80 page novella, it would rate 4 stars. As it is, the amount of skim reading that must be used to get to each portion of the murder plot makes it a 2 star read.
Thanks to the publisher, University of Iowa Press, and netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for my honest review. Mary Jane’s Ghost will be published on October 1, 2017.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, Non-fiction Tagged with: Oct 1 2017, true crime