Fans of the Netflix series Narcos will be enthralled with this true-life story by the two Escobar Manhunters in their own words.
Working up the Drug Enforcement Agency’s power structure in the 1980s as an undercover agent in Austin and tracking illegal shipments of cocaine in Miami. Javier and Steve, respectively, are soon tasked with rooting out the Medellin Cartel chief, Pedro Escobar, from the depths of Columbia. With hefty bounties on their heads and only the Columbian National Police as their backup, they succeed in finding Escobar. However, what happens after Escobar is extradited to America to face charges?
If you are not that familiar with the Escobar story and especially with how the drug trade worked in the US in the 1980s, Manhunters will be a fascinating look at a completely different and violent world coexisting with the 80s “Greed is Good” philosophy. If, however, you were living through it, there is nothing “never-before-published” within this book. 3.5 stars!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Nov 12 2019, true crime
Psychological archetypes and crime fiction are melded in the true crime tales presented in Savage Appetites.
The four tales here describe the mother of forensic science, who did not have a formal scientific background. Another tale describes a person fascinated by the Manson cult’s murder of Sharon Tate. The third tale focuses on the love between a woman and a convicted killer. The final tale shows how online crime websites may encourage fans to kill others.
Fixation is the link between the stories in this book demonstrating the archetypes of detective, victim, attorney, and killer. However, for me, the best part was the book’s excellent beginning. It describes the author’s trip to CrimeCon, a convention for true crime addicts. I thought the Con sounded wonderful. As a minor true crime addict (just watching documentaries—not committing actual crimes), it sounded like fun. However, as I kept reading the book, the author’s point-of-view began to change. It piled all true crime addicts in one crazy boiling-over pot. I truly do not think that every person that views Making of a Murderer on Netflix will go as far as obsession and even murder. I also didn’t like the author inserting her feeling about the people in the book. An author should make her case by showing the facts—not by shoving the point down the reader’s throat.
Overall, Savage Appetites is a miss for me and will probably feel the same for most true crime fans. If you are thinking of emulating a true crime documentary, this might be a good choice. 2 stars.
Thanks to Scribner Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Aug 20 2019, psychology, true crime
“People read and watch and listen to true crime because it restores order from chaos.” Telling the real stories of searching for, and sometimes finding, murderers that eluded the police, Chase Darkness with Me is true crime at its best.
A crime reporter decides to use targeted Facebook ads and crowdsourcing to solve cold cases. Through hard work, he finds some killers along with his crime-solving partner, Michelle. When Michelle dies, he finishes her book about finding the Golden State Killer. He starts a podcast. He looks for more killers.
The completely new method of using crowdsourcing to solve crime is detailed here. The last chapter is a handbook on how to do what he has done—chase criminals. If you are a murderino or a true crime buff, Chase Darkness with Me is going to be your favorite book of 2019. For casual thriller or mystery readers, the stories showing how the author catches criminals are surprising and fascinating. 4.5 stars!
Thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Aug 20 2019, true crime
Unsolved Mysteries of World War II include missing treasures, murders, and bombs.
What group was responsible for the bombing at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York? How did Glenn Miller die? What happened to all the missing treasure of those victimized during World War II? Was the aircraft of Leslie Howard, “Ashley, oh Ashley” from Gone with the Wind, shot out of the sky because of his agent’s resemblance to Winston Churchill?
This book has many intriguing questions, some conspiracy theories, some contemporary responses but no definitive answers. This absence of answers is frustrating. I believe with some more research in fewer topics, the author could have suggested his own solution to these mysteries rather than letting them hang there in the air. Because of the lack of conclusions, I have to give Unsolved Mysteries of World War II only 3 stars. It is effective only if you are willing to spend additional time researching so you can draw your own conclusions.
Thanks to Arcturus Publishing and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Jul 15 2019, true crime
Kingdom of Lies is an eye-opening look into the shadowy world of cyber hacking. However, much of the story has already been told by other media.
Individual stories of hacking make for compelling reading. The stories are told from both the criminal and victim’s point-of-view. However, they never lead into a real conclusion. Also, while labeled as true stories, so many details were changed that is impossible to know what is true and what is fiction.
I was so excited to read this book. I love reading about both black and white hat hackers. Perhaps that is the reason this book didn’t work for me. This book didn’t go into enough detail for me. Each of the stories could have been expanded into their own full-blown books with beginnings, middles, and endings. Instead the stories within Kingdom of Lies, and even the entire book, just stopped with no conclusions drawn.
I realize the author is a journalist and so used to the inverted pyramid of most important to least important fact. However, none of the stories were related to some overall lesson or plot point. I read a lot of non-fiction and that is the point of most of it. Kingdom of Lies is just a slice of individual or company’s life. Also, there are many television shows and online articles that would be a better way to get the same information that can be gleaned from this book. Overall, I can’t give Kingdom of Lies more than 2.5 stars.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for granting my wish for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Jun 11 2019, true crime
Albert Hicks was both the Last Pirate of New York and its first gangster in this amazingly true story set in 1860 New York City.
A ghost ship was found drifting near NYC harbor. Its crew of four were missing. However, traces of them were left behind. Copious blood, chunks of blond hair, and several severed fingers were found on board along with signs of a struggle in the captain’s quarters. The police were called in to investigate.
The Last Pirate of New York reads like an episode of Law & Order. First, a crime is committed. Then, the police investigate and arrest a suspect. Finally, the courts try the suspect for the crime. But it is much more difficult to solve a crime in the large and wild NYC with no computers, forensic tests, or DNA. Plus the US Civil War is heating up stretching an already thin police force’s ability to investigate.
This book is highly recommended for fans of Gangs of New York as the location and time period are comparable. Also, this true tale would be an excellent reference for anyone writing a historical mystery in the same environment. Plus, for any reader, it is an enjoyable Columbo type mystery of how the police catch a clever criminal. 4 stars!
Thanks to Spiegel & Grau and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Mystery & Thrillers, New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: Jun 4 2019, Police procedural, true crime
Mastermind. Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. The title really tells the entire story in a nutshell.
Paul Le Roux started out small with online prescription drug sales in the United States. Marijuana dispensaries still use his “doctors prescribe without seeing the patient” methods. Like most legitimate CEOs, Paul expanded his product line; in his case to weapons, cocaine, and meth. Who knew a nerdy programmer could be so business-oriented? His programming skills allowed him to develop an “unbreakable” encryption to keep his identity and location hidden.
Mastermind. Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. is true crime that reads like a thriller. Kudos to the author’s investigative journalism abilities for uncovering the entire complex story. However, the complexity made it a difficult read. There are so many characters that the author provides a list of the main ones in the beginning of the book. For true crime fans, this book is highly recommended. However, for thriller fans, be warned it is much more complicated than the typical thriller. 3.5 stars.
Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: Jan 29 2019, true crime
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, 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