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30 November 2009

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I'll go first! This is my first time participating though, so bear with me. :)

Ok, well I had to ILL The Borden Tragedy since my own library's copy had been lost, but unbeknowst to me my library was in the middle of switching ILL systems. So I think my request got lost, or at least delayed, because I have received it yet. :(

In Cold Blood was my first true crime book, and the only other I can think of reading off the top of my head was Cold Case by Philip Gourevitch. I didn't really enjoyed either of those books, despite loving other books by the authors, so the genre is definitely outside of my comfort zone. I've read The Restless Sleep, and I thought it was a bit more scattered than Cold Blood or Cold Case, which both focused on just one case. Personally, I think Restless Sleep would have been stronger if Horn had done a bit more organising before she began writing the book-the cases were presented in a kind of scattered and haphazard manner that made them less memorable. I can see an argument being made that she was trying to replicate how the detectives feel, where things aren't tied up in a neat little bundle like in fiction, but I don't think she completely succeeded.

For me, the bit that I will probably always remember from Restless Sleep was the little toddler who was killed by her mother and hidden in a wall. That resulted in tears streaming down my face, and I wasn't really sure why it's in the book since it just has that brief mention. Obviously, the emotional impact is why that one stood out to me; I love little kids and I've been a nanny to toddlers and my niece is 3 so I'm especially affected by stories dealing with them.

I'm hoping I get The Borden Tragedy in the next couple of days, but it hasn't shown up on my library's hold list, so it's not likely. Maybe I'll wander over to Barnes and Noble and see if they have it in stock then read it over a cup of chai.

Okay! I was going to wait until later but I can't hold it in.

Good on you, Eva, for going first, and thanks for participating! I'm so sad you couldn't get the Borden book yet; would your library purchase a new copy if you put in a "purchase suggestion"? (My library has a lovely link on their page to request purchases; I'm probably a little too obnoxious about using it, you know, all the time.)

I read a little bit at your site about what you thought about The Restless Sleep and its organization (or lack thereof), and when I started to re-read it, I thought, wow, I totally didn't notice it the first time around, but this book is structured a bit differently than most. It is not, you are correct, an entirely linear piece of nonfiction storytelling. And it takes a while to figure out that she will bring the stories together in their own way. First section: the crimes. Second section: the detecting process. Third section: the wrap-ups.

I would respectfully disagree with you; I do think the book is structured, and actually structured in a very unique way that probably took a long time to figure out and write. But you are right: that structure is not immediately apparent. Did this take away from other people's enjoyment of the book? Once I figured it out, I think it actually added to mine, because I felt it was a very complex and very neat piece of writing.

I will also be interested to see how many other readers found true crime to be outside their comfort area. Mostly it is also outside mine, but I did not find either of these books to be true true crime books, really. Geary's felt more like history and I'll admit it, I find Horn's writing much more beautiful than is most true crime writing.

The story about the little girl is crushing; I can see where it would stand out. Although I think Horn makes all of the victims (sadly, very) human, I also can't shake the image of "Baby Hope," the little girl found murdered in a trash bag. I hope you don't resent my asking you to read such sad books...

Hi,
I was really interested in both these books and, although neither of them made it onto my favorites lists, I did enjoy them both and I'm happy I read them.

I would agree that the structure of Horn's book was not immediately apparent and did take some getting used to. I think it would benefit by a second reading. I thought perhaps there were too many cases to keep straight with such a non-linear style and I did find myself getting lost more than once and having to refresh myself on who was who and which case was which. I really enjoyed also the parts of the book about the bureaucratic setup of the NYPD and the dectectives, but I did find that thread a bit distracting when it would keep popping up in the actual cases. I'm not sure if frontloading that material into an Intro or a first chapter that simply discussed the history of the squad and the internecine squabbles would have helped or not, but it might have made the cases easier to keep straight.

I found the parts about the bureaucracy very interesting - how the squad was formed, what political and internal pressure kept impinging, etc. As for the cases, I thought the parents who were murdered in front of their children was the most memorable. Also the cop who got beaten with the meat hook.

I'm not a big true crime fan, but I have read In Cold Blood, Under the Banner of Heaven, and a few others, which I really liked. It's not my favorite genre and, from what I understand, it has more than its fair share of hacks, but it's one I've grown increasingly interested in.

The Borden Tragedy was interesting, but it didn't really explore the nooks and crannies that make true crime so fascinating. It was too brief, in my opinion, but then I think I prefer my true crime intricately detailed and delving into the past of each character, ala Capote or Krakouer.

Ok, I've rambled enough (plus I have work to do!!) But I enjoyed these books and I'm glad I read them. I like sad, dark, depressing books - so no worries there!

Ah. So THAT was the structure in the Horn book. Would it have killed her to add some headings to the TOC? Now that I know the sense of the structure I kind of like it. Mainly I was just confused when I was reading it. The stories all started to blend after a bit; all the various police officers' identities began to merge, and honestly even some of the victims' stories began to sound the same. This is why I prefer UnTrue Crime, i.e., crime fiction; there's more room for the author to devote to character development. A fiction writer is free to make up dialogue and character traits that a nonfiction writer is not.

That said, I liked the book well enough, especially when it came to examining the minutia of inter-office politics and power issues; it was this insight into the banality and pettiness of the police working environment that stood out to me, not the crimes or the victims. Which means that I am an insensitive and heartless lout and a bad person generally.

Our copy of the Borden Tragedy is AWOL, so instead I read Geary's bio of Trotsky and his book called The Beast of Chicago, about America's first famous serial killer. With the Beast of Chicago, my same criticism applies: the characters started to blend after awhile. (Well, the serial killer didn't blend. Him I was able to keep distinct in my head.) At one point I couldn't even keep straight the three different women the killer was simultaneously married to. The super freaky castle of torture stood out nicely, however.

And the Trotsky bio isn't really true crime, though crimes-a'plenty happen throughout. This was the book I liked most: it offered a very succinct, readable account of Trotsky's life, told in tandem with the story of twentieth-century Soviet history. I had no problems keeping these characters straight in my head (but that's probably because I was already familiar with them. And here you thought a degree in Russian history was useless.)

I actually read a few other of the Geary Victorian murder graphic novels, as the library copy of Borden was never going to get to me in time (perhaps your influence CR?)

Anyway, there were a number of arresting images in these books. Like Eva, I found the walled up toddler to be just terrible to contemplate. I also thought the final departure of Bessie Jean from her family was well presented. Her fatal decision to return to New York and her nervous family made me so sad.

I particularly liked one of the Geary books I read called the Bloody Benders. It concerns a odd looking family that ran a store in post Civil War Kansas. They fed visitors dinner and then killed them as they ate. Once people clued in to them, they disappeared. There is striking image of the father standing behind a curtain about to pummel an unsuspecting diner to death. Very scary.

The question of true crime is tricky. I tend to associate a sense of lurid sensationalism with the words true crime. The Geary books lean towards this much more than the Horn book, although Geary has more emotional distance than a lot of these writers, who I think, make faces like Nancy Grace as they write their books.

Lesbrarian put it much more succinctly and clearly than I did - I really found this to be true for me too:
"That said, I liked the book well enough, especially when it came to examining the minutia of inter-office politics and power issues; it was this insight into the banality and pettiness of the police working environment that stood out to me, not the crimes or the victims. Which means that I am an insensitive and heartless lout and a bad person generally."

My true crime reading started with In Cold Blood, which I really liked. (Although some day we should take a survey on the reasons libraries choose to shelve this in fiction or nonfiction...I've seen both.) I've read Devil in the White City, though I was more interested in the World's Fair than the crime. Generally, I don't like gory stuff, but I do love detective stories and mysteries in general. Both books worked for me as part of the true crime nonfiction genre.

I liked the Lizze Borden book, but maybe that's because it was short. I appreciated that the black-and-white drawings didn't exagerate the blood. I learned about the other suspects in the case, which I hadn't known...learning something new is always a plus when reading nonfiction. It was just long enough to give me about as much information as I wanted on this case.

Wow, so much FABULOUS commentary already that it's hard to keep up with: thanks, everyone!!

Lesbrarian, Laura: I must say I'm really surprised (in an interested way) that the structure of the Horn book caused such, well, distraction is perhaps the best word. I remember reading this book the first time, and I know it didn't bother me then, because I was surprised when Eva brought it up (although it's a very pertinent point). I wonder if the fact that I don't often put "story" at the top of my list for what I like about books--a prime reason why I don't really love thrillers or suspense, for instance--is why the rather jumping-around nature of Horn's narrative seemed perfectly fine to me. We'll talk more about each book individually in the next couple of days, so I'll talk more there about what I LOVED about the Horn. (I am glad that several people have mentioned the descriptions of the police bureaucracy, which I also found fascinating.)

I am so sad that it seemed tough to get the Geary book. But reading his other graphic novels is also instructive. I think I agree with Laura that the Geary was almost too fast a read--and so based on someone else's memoir that I almost wanted to hear more of Geary's voice, or even some more speculation on what really went down there.

I am perhaps jaded but I also didn't find the Geary book (or really the Horn, either) as lurid as most "true" True Crime. Although perhaps it helped that he chose to illustrate the murders accurately, but from such a view as to obscure the worst details. Donna, I think you're right that the black and white aspect also helped keep the really disturbing imagery low.

Two points in Donna's comment interest me particularly--that these really did work as part of the true crime genre for you, and that learning something new is always a plus when reading NF. I may have too narrow a perception of true crime, but when thinking of it as a NF genre I tend to think of the lurid little paperbacks with photos on the cover, and black and red jackets, and neither of these books really fit that image for me. Of course the Horn has to be shelved with crime as a subject matter, but I think the writing really elevated it out of the TC genre. Anyone else have thoughts on that? I do totally agree, though, that learning something, anything, is a key part of the appeal of NF reading in general. Great point.

Speaking of truly icky true crime--Tripp, you have made the Bloody Benders book sound fascinating. I must get it. (Although I feel rather weird saying that.) Why is true crime so hard to talk about?

And I take the broadest meaning for "crime" in that I include all of the political corruption and other kinds of crimes. (I live near Chicago, we've got a lot of the corruption stuff here!) I really don't want to know any lurid, bloody details of murder, but I'm interested in the detection, the crime science, the organization of organized crime (the Mafia). I read many of the "OJ" books, but I was interested in the legal case, the sociological stuff (why African-Americans believed him innocent while European-Americans believed him guilty), etc.

If we're talking about true crime as limited to murders (or whatever is in those "lurid little paperbacks", then I think of it more like the horror genre which I don't read at all.

The Bender one is quite good, and I left out the detail of the unpleasant greasy spot on the curtain that gave some visitors enough pause. That concern probably saved them.

I also read the one about HH Holmes, the butcher of Chicago, but I felt like I got more out of the Devil and the White City. Not bad though, it emphasized how long he went.

Donna-
an excellent point about True Crime, and one I should know, as my book "The Real Story" includes many different types of books, and tons about mafia crime and other property (i.e., non-murder) crimes. D'oh!

But what do you think most people picture when they picture "true crime" books? Do you think most readers would expect books like either of these if taken to the "true crime" part of the stacks?

Laura-
Just re-reading comments, and wondered about this: why do you think TC is a genre you're becoming increasingly interested in? I'm just curious--I love learning how people's reading habits change over time, and why.

Revisting quickly: I did catch on to the structure Horn was going for, putting all the beginnings first then the middles then the ends. But it still felt messy to me; I never knew which crime was about to be discussed, or if there was going to be something about bureaucracy instead. I think what bothered me so much was the lack of chronological structure, if that makes sense. Horn jumps around in time, and I was often taken aback when I realised what year it was. Like, she'll be talking about post-9/11 stuff, then go back to the 90s. (I wish I hadn't had to return the library books, so I could actually reference this.) Like many others, I think Horn did a much better job of humanising the detectives and the bureaucratic infighting that she did the criminals and victims.

Well, I always avoided TC along with horror because 1) I'm easily freaked out and 2) I'm really easily grossed out. When I started teaching, though, I found that both these genres were a good way to reach students in lower level lit classes who didn't really enjoy reading all that much. I heard great stuff about how well In Cold Blood taught, so I gave it a try. And totally fell in love with it myself, even though it did freak me out the first few times I read it. I gave Under the Banner of Heaven a try because I liked Krakouer's other books. I think I had a bad perception of TC because I thought it was poorly written lurid trash, but I've been proven wrong. I'm still cautious about which titles in TC, but I'm much more open to it now that I was, along with horror in general. One of the best films I've seen based on TC was 2007 Zodiac, which I thought did justice to the long, frustrating investigation but which nevertheless managed to be creepy as hell.

So I'm definitely late popping in, because I got caught up in The Suicide Index over the holiday (hmmm, is that true crime?) and I actually haven't finished The Restless Sleep. To me, the first thing I noticed about TRS after the intro was how messy it was. It's repetitive in not a good way for me, and confusing, and I start to get involved in a story about a case and then suddenly we switch over to bureaucracy for 12 pages. It's very frustrating so far. I'm about a third of the way in, and I intend to finish it, but I hate to say I'm not loving it.
The Geary I loved, but I'm also very familiar with the story of the Borden's as I grew up in RI, very close to Fall River. I liked the structure of the book, the way the facts are presented. I seem to have a thing for Victorian-feeling things lately. Hmmm. And I've heard the Bloody Benders is fantastic, so I'll have to get that one. I got my copy of the Geary from Inter-Library Loan, but it helps that I work in a library, so I always have a bit of an advantage when searching for and requesting ILLs.
The first and only true crime book I can think of that I've read was In Cold Blood, which I love and have read a few times. I'm very looking forward to reading The Road Out Of Hell, a book about the Wineville murders that much of the film Changeling is based on. I enjoy the subject of true crime when it doesn't feel so much like sensationalized voyeurism (like so much of it is) and feels more like well researched investigative journalism (much like Under the Banner of Heaven, which I've always wanted to read).
Okay, I think I've rambled enough.

Looks like everyone has read In Cold Blood. That immediately comes to mind as one TC book that I have read but I can't think of any others, altho I'm sure I must have. (and I only picked up In Cold Blood because I'm from Kansas.) I thought Restless Sleep started with such a bang - her opener just grabs the reader, don't you think? I thought it got a bit bogged down by the stats later in the book but I didn't mind too much the jumping around. (I tend to think it is ME not the author's fault when I get lost in keeping track of stuff in a book that I'm enjoying overall.)

Laura--
I think you're quite right; true crime (like any genre) can vary quite widely in quality and style. I never thought of using it with people who aren't fond of reading, but it makes sense. Even if they are sad, or gross (or both), these books usually do feature very compelling stories. Are you one of the people who's read Mikal Gilmore's "Shot In the Heart"? You may want to consider it if you were interested in "In Cold Blood."

Ok, I confess to liking the true crime genre. I don't read much (it's always better hearing it come from Bill Kurtis on A&E), but I've read a few. I would probably consider The Executioner's Song, about Gary Gilmore, very close to true crime (technically fiction), and that's one of my favorites. Also love In Cold Blood.

I was a little nervous about the Horn book, as I was not fond of Waiting for my cats to die (too schizophrenic, like this one the narrative structure was difficult to follow). I only started this morning, but I'm enjoying it a great deal. The Geary book, on the other hand, is fascinating. It really explained the Borden tragedy very well (all I knew previously was the rhyme).

Sorry I'm late checking in! For some reason I thought we were starting on 12/1. Also I've been home sick. Anyway.

1. The most memorable part of the Geary book for me was the floor plan of the Borden house. For Horn, it was realizing that at least one case wasn't going to be solved. I suppose that would be necessary for a cold case book, but for some reason it didn't occur to me until the last minute.

I agree that the Horn book was a bit disjointed, but for me that impression was caused by a sense that some paragraphs were made up of non sequiturs.

2. I'm actually a rabid true crime fan. I've only reined myself in over the past couple of years, partly because I moved and changed libraries, and the new one isn't as densely stocked. I read horror, too, so I guess you could say I'm more or less immune to gore. (And after reading The Kindly Ones, I can read anything!) What I like about true crime is the focus on the victim's life, which probably seemed entirely mundane before. I used to like imagining how the author would portray my own life and make me look so sympathetic. Warped, huh? I also liked imagining I worked in a cop shop, solving real crimes. There's a very satisfying sense that hard-working people are doing their utmost to keep the baddies off the streets, and often winning.

Rachael,
I must confess that I read true crime too, although I tend to like true crime like "In Cold Blood" and Terri Jentz's fabulous "Strange Piece of Paradise." Although I have also read my share of pretty gory Harold Schechter books, too. I don't read a lot of horror, and I'm not sure what it is I "enjoy" about true crime. When it's done well--like I think it has been done well in both the Geary and Horn books--I think it makes you realize the luck you've had in avoiding crime, as well as thankful for the people who survive it and those who fight it. I'm explaining that poorly, but it can actually be quite eye-opening stuff, I think.

I hope you feel better soon!!!

Again, I don't read enough TC and wouldn't have realized it was a genre until I started blogging. and now that I'm blogging my reading is all over the map so I can't pinpoint what I do read or don't read much of. I want to say that the attraction for me is to find out what makes this sickos and murders do what they do. I do remember reading In Cold Blood as evidence that random horrible crimes DO happen in where nice people live and not just the big bad cities. And also 'in the past'. To fight that argument that crime is worse now than ever, etc. I don't know if that is true. (I also get annoyed with 'kids are awful these days... blah blah blah.' but I'm guilty of saying that now that I work in a High School!)

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