Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Innocent Killer – Michael Griesbach

Non-Fiction
2*s

I’m not going to lie this book was requested from NetGalley some time ago, in fact it was published in February 2016! So why did it take me so long to get around to reading it? Well this book is strongly linked to the Netflix True Crime sensation which was  Making A Murderer, and I thought I would watch it but not being a great watcher of TV didn’t actually ever get around to it.  And then at the tail end of 2018 I did, and remembered The Innocent Killer!

True crime is always somewhat difficult to review, after all are we concentrating on the crime itself and how interesting/entertaining that is? You see what I mean? If you look at any true crime from that dimension it can seem at best completely heartless but to be blunt without the crime having some aspect to set it apart, its hard to see how you generate the interest. I’m hoping that the following review will indicate some of the areas that true crime writers need to consider when writing a book, it turns out true crime isn’t all about the crime after all.

The killer in this book is about Steven Avery, a man who lived in Manitowac County, Wisconsin, and this book concentrates for the most part on the crime he was convicted of the rape of a local woman back in the 1985 and went on to serve eighteen years in prison for the crime. Then in 2003 he was exonerated, the advances in DNA testing proving that another man was guilty of that crime. Then in a massive twist in the tale, just as Steven Avery’s civil suit was being played out in court for damages owed to him for the wrongful conviction, he was accused of the murder of a young woman photographer Teresa Halbach and in 2007 was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Michael Griesbach it should be noted is a prosecuting attorney for the Manitowac County Prosecutor’s Office and with the majority of the book going into the background, trial and the ultimate work carried out by the innocence project that led to Steven Avery’s exoneration in relation to the rape charge. This is done in far more depth than the TV series whose focus is on the murder and subsequent imprisonment with a particular focus on how sound or otherwise the conviction for that crime is believed to be.

I really did appreciate the additional details provided in this book on the original prison charge although perhaps the author’s lack of experience in writing a novel is apparent especially with the repetition, and surprisingly for a lawyer, the unusual narrative structure in places.

However once we are at the point when Steven is released from prison the book fell down for me because the author is unable to write the second part from anything like an independent perspective. He’s name-dropping his friends, piling on the absolute outrage he feels at the nasty television producers for even daring to question the integrity of the officers who serve Manitowac County, and in doing so lost any credibility from this reader. In fact it was at that point I began to seriously question why he even wrote this book. A sceptical person might say he saw an opportunity and decided to cash in on it, someone less harsh might say he was standing up for his friends, who lets not forget, very nearly had to part with a small fortune had they been deemed liable for the incorrect incarceration of Steven on the original rape charge. It was therefore with no surprise that I learnt on finishing the book that Michael Griesbach acts as an attorney for one of the Police Officers whose actions in both investigations and trials are highlighted by the TV programme.

So in conclusion, if like me you are so late to the party that it is a distant and somewhat hazy memory for everyone else, you may find the additional information on the first charge informative however I’d save yourself some rage and close the book once that part is over.

I’d like to say a belated thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Innocent Killer albeit over three years ago, better late than never?

First Published UK: 21 January 2016
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

31 Bond Street – Ellen Horan

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

Last year I was seeking out books covering true crime either as a non-fiction read or those that have used a real crime as a starting point for a fictional novel. Well all the time I’d had this book sitting on my kindle, overlooked! Happily that has now been remedied and this sensational crime set in New York in 1857 has its place in my own spotlight.

Dr Harvey Burdell, a dentist was murdered at 31 Bond Street in the early hours of 31 January 1857, yes over 160 years ago, and yet there is still sufficient interest in the case for writers to hold the interest of their readers. The dentist was found with his throat slit and stab wounds, the fatal blow being one to his heart in his office. He was found later that morning by a servant who raised the alarm. The coroner’s office was called and the entire household were placed under house arrest with no access to legal representation. Before too long there was a forerunner for the role of the murderer and that was the beautiful Emma Cunningham, a widow who claimed the pair had married just two weeks previously but no-one knew because the union was to remain a secret until the spring. Hmm…

The coroner has a vested political interest in declaring the perpetrator and in our fictional tale a brave and principled defense lawyer Henry Clinton comes to Emma Cunningham’s aid. It may or may not surprise you to find with the law and politics having so much in common that the prosecutor at Emma Cunningham’s trial, Abraham Oakley Hall, became the Mayor of New York later on although he had his own political downfall to contend with too!

Ellen Horan plays completely fair with her fictionalised tale clearly indicating the characters who were ‘real’ and also interestingly those characters who played a key part in the trial and are not featured in her fictional account. I say interestingly because when I read up on the crime afterwards, there were some details and characters which seem to have added to the media frenzy which are omitted in the book. Perhaps those didn’t fit the narrative the author was trying to portray which doesn’t just consist of the household but the roots of the Civil War and slavery too. This is as much about the political landscape in New York as it is about this particular murder.

The trial of Emma Cunningham

What is or isn’t true is technically irrelevant when you accept that you are reading a fiction even if they do depict elements of real events, and I’m glad to confirm that the author had me captivated by Emma’s determination to make sure her life, and that of her children, continued as it had before she was widowed at such a young age especially as Dr Harvey Burdell wasn’t quite the upstanding gentleman you’d hope for in a man who probes around in other people’s mouths.

The reader gets an insight into her character by reading about the pair’s early meetings in the fashionable resort of Saratoga Springs and how Emma outwardly acted compared to her inner thoughts – she wanted the best marriage possible in part to ensure her eldest daughter also could make a good marriage and for that she needed a dowry – and so the book flicks backwards to enable us to see the Emma before she was accused of the heinous crime.

31 Bond Street is a great example of a story woven around a group of characters and I was totally absorbed by both Emma’s story and the less morally blurred one of her defense attorney, Henry Clinton. The author really bought the time and place to life with details such as clothing and decoration lending an authenticity to the scenes she created.

31 Bond Street is the seventh book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in March 2011 so I gain another third of a book token!


First Published UK: 4 May 2010
Publisher: Borough Press
No of Pages: 372
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

The Ripper of Waterloo Road – Jan Bondeson #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction
4*s


In 1838 a high-class prostitute, Eliza Grimwood, took a French-speaking gentleman home to her shared lodgings. The following morning Eliza was found with her throat cut and her abdomen slashed. Her fellow housemates, who included her boyfriend William Hubbard had not heard a sound except a single yap from her pet dog.

Jon Bondeson is a crime historian with more than twenty books to his name and he starts by setting the stage, describing London at the early time of Queen Victoria’s reign. He gives special attention to the Waterloo Bridge and the perception of prostitute demonstrating the prurient interest from the public and the different classes of ‘working women.’ We also get a whistle-stop tour of the most notable murder of the time including the Ratcliffe murder and that of Hannah Brown by James Greenacre and Sarah Gale. This is a book packed full of information with references to sources and lots of pictures of the subjects and not confined to those in the penny dreadfuls of the time. In fact the illustrations that are present on many of the pages bring to life the points the author is making with perfect placement, something I much prefer to those books that confine these to the centre pages.


As Eliza and the mysterious French speaker had arranged to meet at The Strand we are treated to some of the plays that may have been showing on that fateful night of Friday 26 May 1838, sadly it is not possible to know what was on the bill of this small but packed theatre that night. Eliza and her ‘guest’ alighted a Hansom cab which took them back to Waterloo Road but who the man was has never quite been established.

Inspector Charles Frederick Field was called to the scene, a former actor he had been one of the first officers of the New Police when it formed in 1829. Jon Bondeson takes a pause to enlighten his readers to other crimes that this, probably the best-known Policeman in London encountered over the course of his career. There is no doubt that life in the force at that time was hard but the crime were not investigated in quite the isolation as I perhaps thought. First came the inquest.

 

Waterloo Road – 3 June 1838

In true melodramatic fashion the inquest was given the run-around by local characters either not giving the information they held or alternatively throwing suspicion in all direction so that even the most trivial of facts became obscured. All of which kept the news flowing with Charles Dickens taking such a keen interest Nancy of Oliver Twist fame is believed to have been inspired by poor Eliza Grimwood.

Of course a true-crime begs to be solved even all these years later and with the help of Inspector Field’s diary, which is perfectly preserved, along with newspaper articles and other contemporary offerings, Jon Bondeson is sure he has found the culprit and it seems to me that he provides a very compelling argument for his case. Of course as in the case with all these types of crime, despite even the most in-depth, and the author studied this crime over a decade prior to this book being written, can’t ever give us a conclusive answer and sadly no court of law will pronounce its judgement.

For lovers of Victorian true crime The Ripper of Waterloo Road gives a comprehensive examination not only of the crimes committed but wider commentary on the life and times without allowing itself to get into too wide a discourse which would make the book far too unwieldy.

The Ripper of Waterloo Road was my twelfth read in my 20 Books of Summer 2017 Challenge.

First Published UK: 13 January 2017
Publisher: The History Press
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Non-Fiction
5*s


The Fact of a Body
is one of the most compelling investigations into a true-crime that I have read, perhaps because that isn’t all it is. It is how one crime can have parallels into another, entirely different life. That is how Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich feels and what she sets out to show us with this mix of true-crime and a memoir.

When Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich joins a law firm in New Orleans as an intern, whose work is based on having death sentences overturned, she feels she is about to start the career she is supposed to have. The daughter of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti the death penalty. But all that turns when she watches a video of Rick Langley who has been convicted of killing a six year old boy, Jeremy Guillory. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the crime is awful but what shocks the author most is that she feels so strongly that Rick Langley should die for the crime he committed. She no longer believes what she thought she did and that has consequences on her life.

The real question she asks is why has she changed one of her core beliefs and within this book she carries out a painstaking investigation of not only Rick Langley’s life but also that of Jeremy who was the son of a single mother, pregnant with her second son at the time of the murder. Alongside this we learn more about her own life, growing up with not so much secrets as known facts left unsaid and unexamined. In this book they are thoroughly examined. It is quite clear that the crime or more accurately where the truth lies, is something of an obsession for the author. What she bravely examines within the text is why she feels that way

All three strands of the book are equally hard to read in parts but the writing is both accessible and intelligent. The author’s own story is far from being a misery memoir where the author begs us to feel her pain, instead she shows us how her family chose to deal with the blows life dealt them and the consequences, as she sees them, of those decisions. When she examines Jeremy’s life it is with tenderness for both him and his mother. Given that we know her visceral reaction to hearing Rick Langley’s voice the author writes with care about the man himself. Not to lessen his crime in any way but by delving deeper into his story and the various explanations given to the fateful evening when Jeremy was killed, tries to find the beginning of this man’s story.

Adding to the intelligent feel are some of the points of law as she was taught complete with examples that are relevant to the criminal case which was incredibly useful for those of us less familiar with the US law. Ricky Langley had gone through three separate trials by the time Alexandria was investigating, she had three different trial transcripts and three different videotaped confessions along with DNA evidence, and masses of reports written by different experts. The author herself has to decide which of these truths is the real truth at the same time she dredges her memories from early childhood and tells her truth, which may or may not differ from those of her siblings.

I actually started reading this book after using it as one of my Tuesday Opening Paragraph posts and couldn’t put it aside which I think is testament to just how compelling, if difficult, a read this is.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of publication on 18 May 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages:  336
Genre: Non-Fiction True Crime 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Historical Crime Fiction 5*s
Historical Crime Fiction
5*s

I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at this book which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 when I realised that it made a neat fit with my recent historical crime reads, both factual and fictionalised.

I have to admit I was slightly confused when I opened the first page to a realistic looking statements from the residents of Culduie, I was sure this was a work of fiction but apart from the smattering of Scottish dialect this could have been lifted from my recent non-fiction read, The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane by Jane Housham, which was set only three years prior to His Bloody Project. So we are in August 1869 and the residents of Culduie are giving their views of Roderick Macrae, who is accused of three murders.

The book is structured as if it were a work of non-fiction with the longest section given over to Roderick’s only statement, written at the behest of his advocate Mr Andrew Sinclair while he was awaiting trial at Inverness Castle, having been swiftly detained after the bodies had been found. The account of Roderick Macrae is surprisingly well crafted considering the boy was just seventeen, a crofter who had grown up in a small village and one whose boundaries he had rarely crossed. This discrepancy however had already been covered within Graeme Macrae Burnet’s foreword to the book, if you are going to pick up this book, don’t skip this section!

This was a book that kept my interest on so many different levels. I didn’t know much about the life of a crofter, I know far more now. Life in a small Scottish village was tough, ruled by the Laird through his minions, the crofters pretty much lived from hand to mouth, hoping for a good harvest to keep them in food throughout the black months. Roddy was one of four children living with their father following the death of their mother a year earlier. Jette, Rodderick’s sister acting as mother to the two youngest children, kept house and looked after their strict, morose father. In short a grim life that is hard to imagine. When a new Constable is elected to look after the Laird’s interest in Culduie, life takes a turn for the worse.The most I will say about the section containing Roderick’s account is that it raises a few questions and I’m sure each reader will have a slightly different take on the information. It also introduces us to a range of characters, some of which we naturally met within the statements, others only appear through Rodderick’s eyes.

I loved the structure of the books, I was continually reminding myself that this was a work of fiction, and following the preface, the statements and Roderick’s account we finally get to the trial itself. Here, if you didn’t already have enough questions, you will have plenty more to add to the pile! What is brilliant is that I still have questions, I still want to know more about a few of the characters – yes this is a book I want to read again, knowing what I now know to see what else the pages will give me in the way of certainty. For me the mark of a cracking good read.

Although this book isn’t a crime thriller read in the normal sense of the word, there is very little doubt who committed the murders, it more than makes up for it with the whys. For those readers who enjoy something that challenges the norm, and definitely one that makes you think, you really don’t want to miss out!

First Published UK: 6 November 2015
Publisher: Contraband
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

This historical true crime happened in 1871 in the Greenwich are of Victorian London. Poor Jane Coulson had been found in a terrible state with her face bashed in on a footpath by a policeman following his beat in the area. The girl was at last unidentified so extreme were her facial injuries and in the week or so that it took to discover who she was a few other girls, sadly of disrepute, were named as the victim. Eventually the truth was discovered but Jane Coulson didn’t, couldn’t, survive her injuries.

This is a well-researched book of a crime that I hadn’t come across before and doesn’t just concentrate on the police’s investigation into the murder but also the three trials the suspect underwent with the accompanying views of both the media and the local population at the time. With a sense of the place impeccably reconstructed for the reader as well as a detailed look at the various stages of the investigation and the trial I was absorbed by this reconstruction. With enough doubt to whether the right person had been arrested from the outset the author has pieced together the details including those that didn’t appear at the trial. Of course, after such a long period of time, there is little hard evidence to re-examine but that didn’t stop the author applying principles known today that were not at this time, being used to make a reasonable assessment of the case.

The author also captures the characters who make up the background to the story. From the reluctant witness of the shop-keeper who was unable to identify the man who bought the hammer which was the alleged weapon to the righteous Mr Henry Pook who defended the alleged perpetrator Edmund Pook, no relative. Edmund Pook was supported by his father a grandly named Ebenezer Pook along with his brother and other family members. The victim, Jane Coulson had worked as a maid of all work for this middle-class family and as a result we get to see how the Victorian class system operated at that time. Maids of all work were by far the most common servants of the time with middle-class families keeping one to do long hours as a status symbol as much as anything. The Pooks were not so well-off that Jane even had a pokey attic for a room, she actually shared with the victim’s cousin!

All in all a fascinating and immensely readable account of the crime, its investigation both into the identity of the victim and the murderer, the trials that followed and just as intriguingly the reaction of the public both on the streets and through the media of the day. In some ways this reaction was split along class lines but not entirely which in itself was interesting.

In the end my conclusion ties in with the authors but read the book yourself, you may well think that another scenario is equally as likely as to who did kill Jane Coulson.

I’d like to thank the publishers Head of Zeus who allowed me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages 352
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US – Not Available

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Dark Meadow – Andrea Maria Schenkel

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

This slim novel packs a mighty punch which is going to linger in this reader’s mind with some powerful issues covered under the guise of a murder mystery.

The story is told eighteen years after the death of Afra and her young son in a small German village when a stranger turns up in a tavern, drunk he has an old cutting from a newspaper about the crime provoking memories of what happened on that day when the storm clouds rolled in on the washing hanging in the cottager’s yard.

Afra had returned to her catholic parent’s home in post-war Germany years after she left as a 14 year old girl, she had no choice, her employer’s had thrown her out for having relations with a Frenchman and so with she returns to a house which slowly fills with anger. When her pregnancy becomes apparent her father, Johann, is resentful of the shame she has bought on him and his wife Theres and suspects both his daughter and his wife of hiding things from him as his dementia takes hold. When the police are called, Johann confesses and the case is closed.

So what is the book about? Where is the mystery? The story is told by recreating the day of the murder from different viewpoints, including Afra’s to build layer upon layer until the whole picture is clear. These multiple narratives range from Police Officers who visited the scene of crime remembering the events of years before, to Afra’s unwanted suitor, to the itinerant salesmen who passed through the village and the shame that Afra’s parents felt about their illegitimate grandson Albert and the ever pressing need for money to cover the cost of two extra mouths to feed. As the day is reconstructed piece by piece despite the evidence being provided as fact with no excitable emotions or race to find the killer that our crime fiction is usually full of, this incredibly powerful novel that made this reader think about the crime committed in terms of the lives it affected and sheer pointlessness far more than those action-packed thrillers ever do.

This is a nuanced and dark tale, based upon a real story in Andrea Maria Schenkel’s native Germany. If the names hadn’t been foreign I would have forgotten that this wasn’t originally written in English so seamless was Andrea Bell’s translation. It is unsurprising given the depth of this novel that Shenkel has won critical acclaim of a literary nature in Germany for this book. I’m pleased to hear that this is her fourth novel and I will be seeking out her earlier work to see if that packs as mighty a punch as this one does.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Quercus for allowing me to have a copy of this book to read in return for this honest review and to Liz Loves Books whose interview with the author led me to seek this fantastic read out.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Bridesmaid – Jenny Scotti

Crime Fiction 3.5*
Crime Fiction
3.5*

Kelly a sixteen year old girl is found dead in the woods by her neighbour, Joyce Tennant, who was walking her dog Brandy. Kelly had been a beautiful young girl, and she knew it, but she was only sixteen. The whole of the village of Haddley, in Worcestershire, should have been falling over themselves to disclose all they knew to the police but that isn’t what happens.

The inhabitants of Haddley seem to be mainly made up of women of a certain age who like nothing better than to make snide remarks about each other and to each other! The men consist of the doctor, the vicar, the gardener along with an assortment of husbands. After her body is found, the book jumps back to the week before Kelly’s death where soon becomes clear that she had probably made a few enemies in her short life.

With the police investigations severely held up by a lack clues, due to the intransigence of the locals to give up their secrets, they have to resort to chipping away at the little they know about the villagers. Fortunately, but slowly, the jealousy between the villagers begin to give up some of the truth and the whole sorry tale comes out with quite lot of collateral damage.

I really enjoyed this English murder, there are mysterious links to a twenty year old murder of an elderly film star which gives the reader not one but two mysteries to solve. I did find the number of characters, particularly the coven of spiteful women, was difficult to follow at the start but all soon became clear as their roles in the village became more defined. The ending was inspired and I wasn’t even close to discovering who the murderer was.

This book has something to everyone including some ghostly goings on, a missing locket and adultery, but at its very heart, is a village beset by jealousy and distrust.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for this honest review.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Light in a Dark House – Jan Costin Wagner

Light in a Dark House

Blurb
Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to the local hospital in which his young wife died several years before. An unidentified woman in a coma has been murdered by someone who wept over the body, their tears staining the sheets around her. The death marks the start of a series of killings, with the unknown patient at their centre.

As you can see for a lover of serial killer crime fiction this seemed like the perfect read. I found the start of this book quite slow, there are quite a few characters all of whom initially seem unconnected.
The book starts with an excerpt from a diary written in August 1985 about a woman sat at a piano, the writer of the diary is a complete mystery. We then skip to autumn in Finland where policeman

‘Kimmo Joentaa was living with a woman with no name. The anticyclone keeping the weather fine had been christened Magdalena. The woman told people to call her Larissa.’

This style of writing took some getting used to and maybe if I hadn’t been given this book in return for a review that I may not have persevered. I am glad that I did if only to experience a different kind of crime fiction. Once the strands of the story begin to come together the links between the unknown woman in the hospital and other murders in public places become clear. The excerpts from the diary from 1985 and the present time really helped to move the plot along and bring clarity to the story.

The underlying themes are sadness and casual violence. There aren’t massive descriptions of horrific deaths, these almost happen off-stage but the feeling of menace is there on every single page. It is quite an unsettling book with all the policemen involved in hunting the hunter having sub-plots with characters that didn’t always seem to entirely to fit into the story but increased the feeling of sadness, it felt like there wasn’t one uncomplicated moment in the whole book.

If you like dark novels with a twist in the tale then this may be the one for you.

About the author

Jan Costin Wagner is a German crime fiction writer. His novels are set in Finland and feature detective Kimmo Joentaa.