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Showing posts from December, 2011

CR3 #99: But I Trusted You: Ann Rule's Crime Files #14 by Ann Rule

I really wish I hadn't read three of these Ann Rule books in a row. They're a major pain to try and blog about, because frankly they are all basically the same. As with the others, this book includes one novella length story and then several very short cases.

The main story in this volume is about a man who was murdered by his estranged wife, mostly over money and child custody. She was under the impression that her rich boyfriend in Hawaii was going to take care of her, if only she could get her husband out of the way. Unfortunately, she wasn't nearly as clever as she thought she was and got caught. It's an all right story, but for some reason doesn't feel nearly as well fleshed out as much of her previous work.

The other shorter stories are all pretty good, though rather old. Two of them are unresolved, and remain mysterious to this day.  One of the unsolved cases involves a tragic family boat trip with not one but two mysterious deaths. The rest of the tales are…

CR3 #98: Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Bradford Matsen

This is the most recently written book I've read about Titanic, and it frankly blows up all previous theories of how and why the great ship sank.

In the mid-2000s, Richie Kohler and John Chatterton--known for their previous wreck diving work and their television show exploring underwater wrecks--were contacted by a man who had been on a recent journey to the Titanic's wreckage. He claimed that he had seen some interesting debris--"ribbons of steel" on the sea floor that might provide new information about how the ocean liner sank the way it did. The divers arranged for an expedition out to the remains with a Russian group of submersibles. What they found revolutionized the way that they thought about the way the sinking occurred.

Basically, they found large intact pieces from the bottom of the ship. When closely examined, the way these pieces were broken suggest that instead of the ship breaking in two because it was tilted 45 degrees up out of the water, it may have…

CR3 #97: The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist by Mary H. Manhein

Since nothing says "holiday season" like books about rotting skeletons and murder most foul, here's another about my latest obsession, forensic anthropology.

Mary Manhein has written a book similar to my last review, Dr. William Maples's Dead Men Do Tell Tales. It is part memoir, part collection of cases she has worked on. She discusses her work with identifying historic remains as well as assisting law enforcement with victims of violent crime. She also tells stories about how she entered her career, and how she handled it in the early days.

The book is mostly made up of short vignettes, many between two to three pages long. They are brief snippets from her past, all put together somewhat randomly. Frankly, while her mini-stories are all very interesting (some are funny, some sad, some spooky, some bizarre) they aren't organized in a particularly coherent fashion. She leaps around in time, neither using chronological nor thematic organization, which made this a …

CR3 #96: Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by Dr. William Maples

This book is partly case studies and partly a memoir of Dr. Maples's journey to becoming one of the world's preeminent forensic anthropologists. Maples gives history of both himself and of the field of forensic anthropology, explaining how and why it developed. He also explains how and why he became interested in it. He goes on to detail some of the cases he's worked on, including some famous ones like investigating whether President Zachary Taylor was actually poisoned, whether the bones in a chapel in South America really belonged to Francisco Pizarro, and whether the bones found in a mass grave in Russia did in fact belong to the assassinated Romanov family. He also discusses more mundane cases, using them to illustrate various aspects of the forensic anthropology field; burned bones, chopped bones, buried bones, and hidden bones--all have their own stories to tell if they're read properly.

This book reflects Dr. Maples's scholarly nature (his "day job"…

CR3 #95: The Cases That Haunt Us by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

John Douglas is widely recognized as one of the earliest criminal profilers. He worked for the FBI for years, and has had a great effect on both the world of crime solving and the world of pop culture. In this book, he collaborates with filmmaker Olshaker to analyze some of history's most puzzling crimes, using his modern methods of profiling. He's careful to point out that these are merely his own observations, based on whatever evidence he's been able to access along with his years of profiling experience.

Douglas goes through some of the best known crimes in recent history--Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, the Black Dahlia murder, the Zodiac Killer, up to the murder of JonBenet Ramsay. He lays out all the available evidence and then tries to understand what the killers might have been like. He makes his case for why he thinks Jack the Ripper never actually wrote the letters that gave him his famous name, why he believes no one but Lizzie Borden could have killed her fath…

CR3 #94: A Rage to Kill and Other True Cases by Ann Rule

I am a fiend for true crime. Particularly now, when I am a little burned out with CR3 and brainwork in general. True crime is an easy and quick read for me. It's fascinating to me what humans are capable of doing to one another. It's also fascinating to follow the path of those who solve these mysteries.

This is the sixth of Ann Rule's "Crime Files" series, and it consists of one longer story and several short ones. The main story is of Silas Cool, a man who climbed on a city bus in Seattle, shot the driver, and managed to send the bus careening off a bridge. The police who worked the case had little to go on because they couldn't figure out WHY this had happened. Through all their research, they still only have a few clues as to what might have gone wrong. It's fascinating to see how the detectives try to solve the case, and all the various avenues they travel to find information.

The rest of the stories in the collection are also for the most part about…

CR3 #93: A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross

Oh man, I am SO CLOSE to reaching my goal for the year, but I simply do NOT want to write these reviews. However, I am going to battle through it, just so I can say I managed to complete a double Cannonball in a year. (Also, speaking of, if any of you are interested in joining the Cannonball Read this year, you can find the information here. It's a lot of fun, and there are a lot of cool people involved.)

A Broken Vessel is the second book in Kate Moss's Julian Kestral series, and the British dandy once again finds himself embroiled in a mystery. This time, the action starts with Julian's valet Dipper's sister. Sally is a prostitute, and while stealing from her johns one evening, she discovers a letter from an anonymous woman begging for help. Unfortunately, it's impossible to know who the woman is, and Sally isn't sure which of the three men she saw that evening had been carrying the letter. When she runs into her brother Dipper, he gets Julian involved. Soon…

CR3 #92: Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters by John Waters

The works of John Waters are not for everyone. Most people can figure out whether they are fans or not after a mere ten minutes of one of his films. I find his gleeful devotion to raunch, camp, and blatant bad taste hilarious, but even I find it a bit overwhelming at times. I think the thing I most enjoy about John Waters is the sense that underneath the determinedly trashy exterior, he's actually a very sweet person. He can say things that--coming from anyone else--would probably be horrifying.

This book is a collection of essays he wrote over the years for various publications, and this particular edition has some extras that he wrote later on. He discusses his love for the National Enquirer, Baltimore public television, Christmas, and things that hates. My favorite essays were "Going to Jail", "John Waters's Tour of LA," and one he wrote about bringing "Hairspray!" to Broadway. "Going to Jail" is about time he spent teaching classes i…

CR3 #91: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This book happens to be one of those very, very rare cases in which the movie is actually better.

The basic story is that Miss Pettigrew--a middle-aged spinster--receives a new post as a governess in 1930s London. When she arrives, however, she finds no children. Instead, she meets beautiful young nightclub singer Delysia LaFosse. Delysia is trying to juggle three men and a burgeoning social calendar, and things are beginning to get too difficult. Decisions have to be made, and Delysia isn't sure she's up for it. Luckily, Miss Pettigrew finds that she can be of help.

The book is quite clearly a fantasy, something of a Cinderella story. Miss Pettigrew makes new friends, gets a makeover, and finds a happy ending. Nothing too difficult happens, and nearly everyone goes away better off. It's an adorable story, but frankly a bit light.

The movie, on the other hand, is stellar. Frances McDormand stars as Miss Pettigrew, and Amy Adams plays Delysia. They're supported by an ex…

CR3 #90: The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn

I was always a big fan of 'Cold Case Files' on Discovery (back when the Discovery channel wasn't entirely populated by strange reality shows about creepy diseases and truck drivers). It was fascinating to see what a determined detective could do with scientific advancement and sheer perseverance. Cases that seemed unsolvable were closed, and people who had spent years thinking they'd gotten away with murder found themselves behind bars.

This book by Stacy Horn illustrates that these cases can take years to solve, if they are ever solved at all. And all the while, the detectives have to fight both the public and their own administration, pinching every penny and defending their unit's existence to all-comers.

The author spent a few years checking in on several detectives in New York City's cold case squad. She follows the progress of four cold cases, the earliest committed in 1951, the most recent in 1996. As the detectives backtrack, retest, and rethink their c…