Book Review: The Man from the Train

the-man-from-the-train-9781476796277_hrTitle: The Man from the Train
Author: Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James
Genre: True Crime
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Pages: 464
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: May 20, 2019

Goodreads Description: Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.

When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.

Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.

My Review: As an avid true crime reader, I was intrigued to hear about this book on an episode of the My Favorite Murder podcast. However, this book did not at all come close to meeting my expectations. The details about why it is believed that all these murders were connected is fascinating. The authors did a good job of mentioning all the similarities in the crime scenes, but that is really the only credit I can give this book. It was poorly written and disorganized.

One paragraph in the book that represented why I disliked this book so much is when the author stated that he was going to hold off on telling a story until later and for now was going to give that story the back of his hand. What???!!! First of all, if a book is well organized, an author or authors should never have to put stories on the back burner. I care about that story at that moment not 15 chapters later. Second, who says that they are going to give a story “the back of my hand.” I am not even sure what the authors were implying by using this phrase, but I found this phrase offensive, and it had no place being in this true crime story. When I read nonfiction, I want facts put intellectually. I don’t want silly comments or phrases. Those just take away from point of the story and the seriousness of the murders. It almost felt disrespectful.

Along the same lines as the disorganization of this story, it dragged on and on. It felt like I was reading about the Wilkerson character for a decade. There should not have been more than 10 pages dedicated to that horrible character. So much of this book was a struggle to get through. After so much pain and effort, you finally read about the man from the train, but you can’t help but feel like it wasn’t worth the reading time invested.

So many people were brutally murdered by the man on the train. So many innocent people were put to death for these murders. The authors did not do all those people justice.

I just want all true crime to be as intelligently told as in the writings of Ann Rule and Michelle McNamara. Is that too much to ask? So just in case it wasn’t clear, I do NOT recommend this book.

My Rating: ♦ ½

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ARC Book Review: The Last Stone

61DmO-G5h5L._AC_UL160_SR109,160_Title: The Last Stone
Author: Mark Bowden
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 304
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading: March 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: On March 29, 1975, sisters Katherine and Sheila Lyons, age 10 and 12, vanished from a shopping mall in suburban Washington, D.C. As shock spread, then grief, a massive police effort found nothing. The investigation was shelved, and mystery endured. Then, in 2013, a cold case squad detective found something he and a generation of detectives had missed. It pointed them toward a man named Lloyd Welch, then serving time for child molestation in Delaware.

As a cub reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, Mark Bowden covered the frantic first weeks of the story. In The Last Stone, he returns to write its ending. Over months of intense questioning and extensive investigation of Welch’s sprawling, sinister Appalachian clan, five skilled detectives learned to sift truth from determined lies. How do you get a compulsive liar with every reason in the world to lie to tell the truth? The Last Stone recounts a masterpiece of criminal interrogation, and delivers a chilling and unprecedented look inside a disturbing criminal mind.

My Review: {This review may contain spoilers} Much thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for allowing me to read an ARC of The Last Stone. I love true crime and am normally far removed from the crimes that I read about. However, this one hit close to home….literally. I lived off of Route 1 (Baltimore Avenue) for a few years and then moved just north of Wheaton, MD, where I frequently shopped at Wheaton Plaza which is now Westfield Wheaton mall. One of my roommates grew up just a couple of blocks from the Welch home in Hyattsville. I can’t imagine some of the sick and twisted incidents happening so close.

If you are a true-crimer like me, you get excited when you find a book that discusses a cold case, because it is always a bit of a miracle when a cold case is solved. However, this does not have as much of a satisfying ending. I didn’t love this book, but I don’t think it is the author’s fault as much as it is just that the man investigated, Lloyd Welch, really irritated me, and frankly so did his entire family.

I liked how the author focused solely on the re-investigation more than 30 years after the disappearance of the Lyons sisters. I don’t always like when an author focuses on the victims’ families. I prefer to learn about the investigation process. The author displays the many interrogations the police had with Lloyd Welch, and after the third one, you can’t help but feel that you get the point: he is going to lie and change his story every time. However, the author still discussed more interrogations, because every one of them revealed something new and different in the case. The patience of those detectives in search for justice was remarkable. It must have been so frustrating to have so many people lying to them on a regular basis and not be able to find solid proof (like DNA).

However, I will reiterate that this does not really have a satisfying ending, which is why I could not give this a 5-star rating. It was a frustrating read. Frankly, I feel that many members of the Welch family probably deserve to be in jail for either direct crimes against the Lyons sisters, other crimes that they seem to have committed based on interviews with them, or for obstruction of justice.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Review: The Trial of Lizzie Borden

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Title: The Trial of Lizzie Borden
Author: Cara Robertson
Genre: Nonfiction True Crime
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 12, 2019
Pages: 400
Format Read: Ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading:  March 12, 2019

Goodreads Description: The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology—the trial of Lizzie Borden—based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.

My Review: I received an ARC copy of The Trial of Lizzie Borden through NetGalley. It becomes publicly available today! Lizzie Borden is an infamous character in history, and yet somehow I never knew the true story, or as much of it as one can possibly know, of the murders and her trial until now. All I knew was the children’s poem about her taking and ax and giving 40 wacks, etc. Also, I have never seen any of movies or television series about Lizzie Borden (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, Lizzie, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, etc.).

Cara Robertson decides to focus a majority of this Lizzie Borden story on the trial itself. Lizzie Borden is being tried for the murders of her father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby Borden. Trigger warning: graphic details are given of the vicious crime. First of all, Robertson draws such a clear picture of the atmosphere of the courtroom and the interactions between the prosecutor and defense council that you feel like you are experiencing all of it in real time. She utilizes passages from journalists who were present, primarily Elizabeth Jordan (New York World) and Joe Howard (Boston Globe). On a side note, I am now officially obsessed with Elizabeth Jordan, whom I had never heard of before reading this book. On another side note, I had no idea that the Boston Globe was around in the 1800s, but it was in fact founded in 1872.

Second, this trial gained such a following of intrigued spectators. They could not fathom that a woman could commit such a violent crime. The blows that killed Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were numerous and excessive. Those in the courtroom could not reconcile the image of this hideous crime (the Andrew & Abby’s skulls were literally on display) with the gentle image of Lizzie Borden. Also, she was criticized for her demeanor, which seemed unsuitable for a woman, because she didn’t show emotion (cry) after the murders and very little in the courtroom. She was simply still and composed and that, to many spectators, meant guilty.

Last of all, Robertson did a fantastic job reliving both the case against Lizzie Borden and her defense. Since Lizzie Borden’s testimony and the interviews from pharmacists, stating that she tried to buy prussic acid (a poison) just a few days prior to the murder of Andrew & Abby Borden, were not permissible in court, there was not much evidence that Lizzie Borden committed the murders. There were no witnesses and not much if any evidence that tied her to the murders. There was just suspicion and a whole lot of it.

Because I didn’t know much about Lizzie Borden, the trial was a rollercoaster ride of emotions that all led up to a final climatic verdict. However, the story does not conclude with the verdict, so maybe that is the author’s way of saying she too is unsettle by the conclusion. We may never know what truly happened the day that Andrew and Abby Borden were hacked to death, but there will always be theories.

This is a well-written piece of true crime!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Book Review: Bad Blood

bad-bloodTitle: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Author: John Carreyrou
Genre: Business, True Crime
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication Date: May 21, 2018
Pages: 299
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby App
Date finished reading: March 3, 2019

Goodreads Description: The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

My Review: Bad Blood is the fascinating story of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her startup company Theranos. This book is basically a manual on what not do when starting a company. Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t start a company just because you want to become a billionaire.
  2. Start a company in a field you have expertise. If you are creating medical tools, you might need more than two years of science classes at a university.
  3. Using scare tactics is not a great way to win loyalty in your fellow employees.
  4. Don’t believe just any science data – look specifically for peer-review publications that outline extensive research and testing.
  5. Lying about your product is not only morally wrong but could lead to fatalities.
  6. Even if you serve on the board of a fraudulent company and advocate fake technology, you can still get a job as President Trump’s Secretary of Defense.

Journalist John Carreyrou’s research finally led to the closing of Theranos, criminal charges against Elizabeth Holmes, and justice for the individuals and families who suffered because of Holmes and her fake technology. It is still shocking that it took more than a decade to do so. I really wanted the book to include a “where are they now” section. The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking that it would make a fantastic Hollywood movie. Guest what? It is in fact going to be a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. YES!!!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Book Review: Say Nothing

40163119Title: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Author: Patrick Radden Keefe
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Pages: 464
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading: February 27, 2019

Goodreads Description: In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, McConville always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists–or volunteers, depending on which side one was on–such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace and denied his I.R.A. past, betraying his hardcore comrades–Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

My Review: This was not what I thought it would be, but it was great in a whole different way. It was an intensely dramatic way to tell the story of true crime, war and conflict in Northern Ireland.

When the book starts it introduces Jean McConville, a 38-year-old single mother of 10, who was abducted from her home in December of 1972. She disappears and is never heard from again. Then the book randomly switches to introduce another character, Dolours Price. I kept thinking, “why am I reading about Dolours? What does she have to do with the Jean McConville’s abduction?” However, as the story continues and Price’s story continues, I found myself being pulled in. The author goes into the details of Price’s activism and her need to fight for rights in Northern Ireland, which led to her involvement in the peaceful protest march from Belfast to Derry. This peaceful march did not have a peaceful conclusion as the marchers were beaten and brutalized by loyalists as they reached Derry. This event really changed Dolours Price’s life forever and led her to become one of the most infamous IRA (Irish Republican Army) members in its history. The incident at Burntollet Bridge was so incredibly moving that I had to know how her story ends.

It turns out that to understand Jean McConville’s disappearance, you really have to understand the Troubles between England and Northern Ireland. You really get to experience the result of when peaceful marches are not enough and how violence changes people. This story lets you see inside the lives of multiple IRA members, including Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price, Marian Price and others.  You also get to experience what life was life in Northern Ireland – “routine bombings could make life impossible.” The author, Patrick Radden Keefe, sums up this story very eloquently:

“I saw an opportunity to tell a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals – and a whole society – make sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect.”

This book was so horrifying, and yet I could not put it down. I needed to know what happened to each and every one of the characters involved, including Jean McConville, and without giving any spoilers, there was indeed a connection between her and the IRA. I just hope Jean McConville’s children can find some peace, and that there will be peace in Northern Ireland.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

WWW Wednesdays – February 27, 2019

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

I am making some progress on my Winter Reading List my Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads. (See my 2019 A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge).

Currently Reading

I am really close to finishing Americanah, so I should have my Adichie review up in the next couple of days!

Finished Reading

The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam – audiobook & book =
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Say Nothing by Patrick Raddon Keefe – ebook = ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson – audiobook = ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

*Click on the titles for my review.*

Reading Next

I’ve really enjoyed reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie this month and highly recommend reading her! What are y’all reading now? Please post your WWW links below in the comments if I haven’t already visited them.

HAPPY READING!!!

Book Review: Green River, Running Red

9780743460507_p0_v1_s260x420Title: The Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer
Author: Ann Rule
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: September 28, 2004
Pages: 448
Format Read: Audiobook through Libby app
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library
Date finished reading: January 23, 2019

Goodreads Description: In the most extraordinary book Ann Rule has ever undertaken, America’s master of true crime has spent more than two decades researching the story of the Green River Killer, who murdered more than forty-nine young women. The quest to discover the most prolific serial killer in American history has been an intimate part of Ann Rule’s life, with some of the corpses found only a mile or so from where she lived and raised her own daughters. She did not know the killer, but he apparently knew her and attended many of her book signings.For twenty-one years, the killer carried out his self-described “career” as a killing machine, ridding the world of women he considered evil. His eerie ability to lure his victims to their deaths and hide their bodies made him far more dangerous than any infamous multiple murderer in the annals of crime.

A few men — including a law student, a truck painter, and a taxi driver — eventually emerged as the prime suspects among an unprecedented forty thousand scrutinized by the Green River Task Force. Still, there was no physical evidence linking any of them to the murders until 2001, when investigators used a new DNA process on a saliva sample they had preserved since 1987, with stunning results.

Ann Rule has followed the case since July 1982, when the first body — that of teenager Wendy Lee Coffield — was found in the Green River, snagged on pilings under a bridge. Rule has compiled voluminous files, working through an incredible 95,000 pages of official police records, transcripts, photographs, and maps, winnowing out the chaff and identifying what is truly important. Over the years, she gained unparalleled access to all the key players — from KingCounty Sheriff Dave Reichert to those close to the killer and his victims.

When finally apprehended and convicted, the killer made a detailed confession — of his twisted sexual obsessions — that will shock even the most jaded reader. “Green River, Running Red” is a harrowing account of a modern monster, a killer who walked among us undetected. It is also the story of his quarry — of who these young girls were, and who they might have become. A chilling look at the darkest side of human nature, this is the most important and most personal book of Ann Rule’s long career.

My Review: I can never say enough how much I adore Ann Rule! I wish I would have read her years ago, when I was a bit embarrassed about my fascination with true crime. All these years later, I realize that I am far from alone, and Ann Rule was the queen of true crime writing.

A few months back I read a different book about the Green River Killer, who was convicted of killing dozens of sex workers and other women over the span of two decades, called Chasing the Devil by Sheriff David Reichert. This book helped me familiarize myself with Green River Killer case, but that was about all I got from it. I felt that the point of that book was to defend the actions of the police force. I understand doing that, but what I love and admire about Ann Rule is that she focuses on humanizing the victims and then introducing the villain (aka the serial killer). If there is any finger pointing or blame, it is primarily directed at the killer, where it should be.

During the first half of Green River, Running Red, Ann Rule gives little blurbs about all the victims. It is hard not to be slightly overwhelmed by all the names – all the victims, but that is what I believe Ann Rule wanted you to feel. She wanted you to understand the sheer amount of lives this killer affected. Gary Ridgway, the convicted Green River killer, said to the police “I thought I was doing you guys a favor, killing prostitutes. Here you guys can’t control them, but I can.” However, his victims had families – husbands, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, etc. Ann Rule makes you feel the loss the families felt.

The second half of Green River, Running Red focuses on the hunt for the Green River Killer by the police, their suspects, and eventually the arrest of Gary Ridgway. She describes Gary Ridgway’s double life. The one where he was violent and a murderer, and the one where he had a steady job and a relationship/marriage (his third marriage) with Judith Lynch for almost 20 years. Ann Rule includes the police interviewing Judith, which was just jaw dropping. She just had no idea who she was married to and continued to profess her love for Gary Ridgway.

Ann Rules ability to write a dramatic story with factual details makes her the best true crime writer. This was definitely a fascinating read. I also highly recommend Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me and The I-5 Killer.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦