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03 December 2009


Feeling rather brain dead today, so a short, hopefully-not-too-incoherent response. I would probably only recommend RS to die-hard TC fans (in fact I recommended it to my mom because she's fascinated by all those TC shows on TV) and BT to die-hard graphic novel fans. I definitely think there is material there to reward those interested in the subject matter or genre, but I wouldn't recommend either to novices. I enjoyed both but was blown away by neither. Likewise, I thought both covers were serviceable but neither really caught my eye.

Really must wake up.

I had the hardcover version of Restless Sleep from the library, and I liked the colours a lot. :)

It would take a lot to convince me to read another true crime book. (Oh! I just thought of another one I read-The Devil in the White City...I didn't enjoy that either, lol.) I mean, maybe if one of my very favourite authors wrote one (like Oliver Sacks-I will read anything he writes) I'd give it a go. But I just find it disturbing to read about real people who were really killed as a hobby. I do enjoy mystery books but not the hardboiled variety, and those are fiction so I'm not being entertained by actual murders. I don't want that to imply that I judge other people who read true crime-not at all! It's just too much for me; I have no interest in 'survival' type nonfiction either like The Perfect Storm or Into the Wild. Or any of the 'my childhood sucked' memoirs. No matter how well it's written, I just get too stressed out reading it. I tend to save my 'emotionally draining' nonfiction reads for things that are messed up around the globe, like Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell, which is an incredible book about genocide. Or memoirs by people from countries where sad things happened (which I guess is a variation on the 'my childhood sucked' theme, but with evil dictators instead of evil parents, you know?).

Have you read True Notebooks by Mark Salzman? It's about Salzman's experience teaching a creative writing course in a juvenile detention facility in LA so it's kind of on the 'true crime' theme. It's pretty incredible, and I'd highly recommend it.

I really enjoyed Restless Sleep, and I'm going to do a shelf-talker for it at my library (one of the fun parts of my job!). I don't read a ton of true crime, but I might be on a kick now (I've been browsing this morning) to get me to New Year's. I liked the different covers, actually, but prefer the Penguin paperback--it looks suitably hard-bitten and noir.

Hey, I feel pretty drowsy most days, so you're welcome to feel a bit brain-dead here. I hope if you do suggest RS to your Mom, that she finds it interesting. I thought your point about giving TBT to hard-core GN fans was interesting too; I think I'd give it to true crime readers myself, and perhaps even those with an interest in Victorian fiction or mysteries. I thought for illustrated true crime it was actually really tastefully done, even though it was still way more than creepy enough.

Yes, the paperback copy of RS kind of caught my eye (Rachael, you're right about it being very noir), but I originally read this book in hardcover and am kind of drawn to the cover--I really like the text floating up through the cover. And the colors are different and just right, too--thank you for saying that or I wouldn't have thought about it, but that is, I think, really what kind of sets it apart.

I read quite a bit of true crime, and history, but I HATED "Devil in the White City." I never understood, frankly, quite why it was so popular. I found the architecture chapters dull and the TC chapters sensationally gory, and the conjunction of the two just too unsettling to take. All of that said, in thinking about true crime, I'm not sure why I do read it. I know this, though: I vastly prefer it to thrillers, crime novels (I don't dark, really, or mysteries, but not hardcore crime), and horror. For me the fact that these cases are real makes me feel like less of a voyeur than reading crime novels where bodies you never really care about start piling up. Really good true crime actually makes me love people--not the criminals, of course--but the victims, who often (not always, sadly) find a way to keep living. It's unbelievable, and humbling. I always felt rather bad, actually, that it's somewhat hard to "recommend" true crime unless you know a reader really well, and they are prepared to take some chances with you.

I have been so thankful for this menage, and for all of your willing to take a chance with these true crime books, now that I think of it.

I've not read "True Notebooks" but will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!

I truly liked the Lizzie Borden book would recommend this and other Geary books especially to those middle school boys who never quite know how to make the jump to the adult section of the library. I think that goes for much of true crime as well...it's the kind of thing you can get many adolescent boys to read and the GN-type provides a good bridge.

TRS I could recommend to people interested in reading more true crime, but I don't think I would recommend it as a first TC book or as a transition book for readers coming from other genres. It's just a bit difficult structurally for that.

I would definitely read true crime again, understanding that I mean "crime" in its widest definition. I don't want to be filled with horror, but I do like a good investigation or a good legal drama.

Aw man!

I can't believe nobody has gotten into a discussion about whether Lizzie Borden did it or not! I'd talk to my man Rocket Scientist about it, but he gets all ooged out by creepy stuff like that.

1. I would definitely recommend the Geary to anyone who liked TC, graphic novels, or horror. Other than that, well, a lot of people are sensitive to 'dark matter' in their reading and they won't thank you for disturbing their sleep at night.

2. Of course I'll read TC again! In fact, in January (when my 500 books year is over) I might even go out and get more Lizzie Borden books. My interest is piqued.

3. I liked the paperback cover of Horn better - I had the hardcover. The Geary one was too perfect. I was glad the photograph he based it off was not better quality.

About "shelf talkers," I meant to comment earlier in the week but forgot. I'm also one of those people who runs in to the library, collects my holds, and leaves. I was a browser up to about two years ago, when it suddenly occurred to me that the best books were most likely checked out. I started requesting specific titles, and my enjoyment of my reading went up about 3x.

1. I would recommend the Horn book to people who wanted to better understand what it is that cops actually do and how long it can take to solve crimes. It is a nice counterweight to the solve it in five seconds stories on CSI.

The Gearys are great for people who want to learn more about a specific crime but don't want to read a lengthy book about it. Taken together, I think they might even give a sense of the brutality of the times and how we are not as debased as we might think.

2. I read a fair amount of true crime already. Not the more sensationalist stuff, but books like Shot in the Heart, which is one of my favorites of all time. Murder, with all of its injustice, pain, and import is one of the central stories of humanity. It is hard to avoid it so I find it hard to avoid reading about it.

3. I liked but didn't love the Horn cover. The text was nice and the broken glass implied the ruin caused by the deaths, but I think smiling photos of the deceased would have been even more impactful.

I too really enjoyed the Geary and think it's got a lot of appeal for a lot of readers, but I must say I loved the Horn. The Geary was a fascinating story, but Horn's book really got to me, and I always prefer reads that do that.
Have you read Terri Jentz's "Strange Piece of Paradise"? The pain and time that woman went through to try and find her attacker made for an unbelievable story (and although it was attempted, her attacker did not succeed at murder).

Maybe we're all being a bit coy with the Borden discussion, or it just seems too long ago and too fuzzy to really come to any conclusions. I myself would say I'm inclined to believe Lizzie Borden did it--it does smack of a very personal, family crime--but if I'd been on her jury I really don't think I could have voted for conviction "beyond a reasonable doubt." What do you think? Throw down!

Are you going to start with some of the Borden books Geary listed as his research materials? And--very interesting about requesting specific books. I think I'm going to write a separate post about that soon--I'm interested in how people are using their libraries (and bookstores).

You have summed up the appeal of true crime much better than I ever could have. Sadly, murder happens, and it really has an impact on everyone: murderer, victims, families of both, law enforcement personnel, society, etc. To avoid such stories does seem rather like skipping out on a big (if scary) part of the human experience.

Hm, pictures of the deceased. I hadn't thought of that. I think that would have made it even more heartbreaking. I think I needed the distance of the cool colors and the shattered glass.

I'll be recommending Horn's book in a coupla weeks on my library's book blog (bfgb.wordpress.com), especially to folks who enjoy police procedural novels. Part of the appeal of Jeffery Deaver's thrillers, for instance, is the level of forensic details and the insight into the politicking that goes on among different law enforcement groups.

I prefer fictional crime to true crime because I get more emotionally involved with the made-up characters. Isn't that sad? I won't bat an eye when I read about the gruesome slaying of real people, but put a pretend person in danger and I get all nervous. But I'm sure I'll read some more true crime at some point. I like it well enough (or at least the few titles I've read, though I don't know how they compare to the typical TC fare).

All right, I'm throwing down!

I'm definitely going to start with Geary's recommended research materials. Rule #1 is go as close to the source as you can get, so any book that contains reproductions of original documents is a good bet. I researched quite a bit on line, but it looks like there is a large volume of material associated with the Borden trial.

The dominant theories seem to be: Lizzie did it; the maid did it; an unidentified person did it, known or unknown to the family. I'm going to rule out any outsider, because to me it makes no sense for someone to sneak in and kill only selected members, leaving potential witnesses alive in the house. The multiple stab wounds would suggest either a disorganized killer - who would probably be easily caught and would certainly kill everyone in the house - or someone with intimate reasons for the murders.

I could see why the maid would be a good suspect, partly because the family called her by the old maid's name, and that would drive me over the edge, too. But if she did, why didn't she get Lizzie too? There also would not have been a financial motive; the family's deaths would result in job loss, while Lizzie stood to inherit.

The fact that only the father and stepmother were killed tends to convince me that Lizzie must have done it. Anyone else with a revenge motive would have wanted to eliminate witnesses and probably also would have wanted to act quickly or from a distance, i.e. clubbing Mr. Borden over the head from a dark alley. It doesn't make a lot of sense that this crime would be committed in broad daylight, and inside the family home.

Why would Lizzie flip her lid? It sounds like Mr. Borden had a lot of major control issues and was no picnic to live with. The stepmom was just an affront. At that time period, women didn't have many options, and for a woman of Lizzie's age to be stuck at home being told what to do would be frustrating. It was also well before the days of popular psychology, if you know what I mean. Once I saw that floor plan, with no privacy and no way to keep the rest of the family from walking through one's room at any time, I thought it must have been hell on earth to grow up there. No boundaries, no respect for privacy, and no personal freedom - would that be enough over the years to drive someone around the bend? Works for me.

Also, Lizzie and her sister inherited a lot of money and Lizzie at least wound up living on a large estate and partying pretty hard.

The main things, though, are that I think there was enough physical and circumstantial evidence to convict, and the fact that Lizzie's story kept changing over and over again is a classic tactic of both sociopaths and guilty criminals. She might not have been a sociopath, but the theory that she had a blackout or psychotic break of some kind seems plausible to me.

I wanted to believe she was innocent, but I just don't think I can swing that way on this one.

This makes me want to see the movie with Elizabeth Montgomery again. If I remember correctly, Lizzie came off very guilty in that but I was quite young and the song is convincing: "Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks..."

I loved the Geary cover and will seek out more of his work. I didn't really notice the cover of The Restless Sleep. I'm going to buy it for a friend who's son is an NYC cop.

I will read TC more. I've always wanted to read Devil in the White City but now I'm not so sure. I've also been curious about Helter Skelter but not sure. Sounds quite gruesome.

You are hardcore! I am very depressed at your research and level of deduction on this story. At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I have to say that, while you've pretty much convinced me (I never liked her washing of the dress, or the big fallout later between the sisters), I still couldn't confidently say one way or the other. I wonder what it would have been like to be on that jury; if one could have gotten a feel for Lizzie's demeanor.

That's the part that stood out almost the most to me in the book--they kept calling that poor maid by the previous maid's name! Ridiculous. That and the poor woman having to sleep in the steamy attic, and wash windows outdoors when she didn't feel well. Brutal.

I had no idea there was a movie...
I was remiss in saying it earlier, but I LOVE the Geary cover. Just the right note of totally creepy and disturbing without showing too much.

If it counts at all, I much preferred Helter Skelter to Devil in the White City. Vincent Bugliosis (author of HS) is a very smart attorney and person and he does an unbelievable job of laying out that horrific crime and the legal battle that followed it. It's almost too detailed. But way more interesting and surprisingly (to me, anyway) less horrific/gory than The DITWC.

Oh yes, how could the sweet smart lovable Bewitched star become a cold blooded killer?! The movie was on TV in 1975 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073273/
Apparently not available in video/DVD...

and how about eating the days old meat in that heat? The shocker to me is how little time passed between seeing the old guy and then finding him dead. Eleven minutes?! Were his shoes on or off? and how come they couldn't find that dress before she burned it? so many odd little details conflicted.

Thanks for the link! I will check it out.
The whole Geary book really made me think, God, chemicals and all, I think I'm glad I live in the twenty-first century. Just thinking about the labor it took to get through the day made me tired--and wearing all those dresses/clothes in all that heat. Uck. I don't know if she was a murderer, but I can see how Lizzie would have been cranky, I'll tell you that.

I'm glad we feel the same way about Devil in the White City! It left me feeling like I needed to take a hot shower. :( I loved your and Trip's explanations of why you read true crime. Perhaps in a a year or so I'll give the genre another shot!

Oh, I missed this yesterday! I don't know if Lizzie actually did the chopping, but I'm convinced she was in on it in some way. Those illustrations were so nuanced, they really conveyed a kind of cunning, almost smug, aspect to her personality. I confess they pushed me towards thinking she was complicit.

Take my opinion with a grain of salt. I haven't actually read the entire trial transcript, which is what I would really want. The truth is that it's still possible that a deranged stranger showed up and killed only select people in the house, like Ted Bundy did in his sorority house murders. We'll never know.

On the other hand, murderers who commit crimes of passion against family members usually don't go on to kill again or commit other types of crimes...

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