Fiona's True Crime Book Reviews: B by author

Michael M. Baden (w/ Judith Adler Hennessee)
Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner

Forensic pathologist Michael Baden was a medical examiner in New York City for over 25 years. Now he works for the New York State Police and teaches forensic medicine. This engrossing book covers: 1) several famous cases, including Baden's personal re-examination of the autopsy findings for Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy; 2) unusual cases Baden had as medical examiner for NYC, such as an autopsy on a dining room table at the Plaza Hotel; 3) how means of death is decided on, with section on poisons; 4) history of coroners and medical examiners since 12th century England; 5) disturbing politics involved in the office of Chief Medical Examiner of NYC; 6) identification of the dead; 7) time of death; 8) multiple-murder cases; 9) an almost perfect murder; 10) close calls, including near deaths during sex; 11) cases of mistaken diagnosis; 12) autopsy findings that shed light on what happened in the Attica uprising.

Lindbergh: The Crime
Behn, Noel

Whereas Ludovic Kennedy's account of the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder case (Crime of the Century) strips the drama down to a few key players, Lindbergh: The Crime is just the opposite: an explosion of minor characters and a baffling array of subplots. Most Lindbergh books do not describe, for example, the multiple parties who met with Charles Lindbergh and his allies, were trusted with large sums of money, and made supposed negotiations with kidnappers. Noel Behn ambitiously tries to cram in as many details as he can about the events following the kidnapping, and to a large extent succeeds in convincing the reader that an elaborate subterfuge was engineered by the Lindbergh camp. His solution to the mystery is well-researched, cogent, and fascinating. Behn's writing style makes for slow reading, though, so his account is best read by someone who is already familiar with the case. Lindbergh: The Crime includes 50 pages of footnotes, bibliography, and index. It was a finalist for an Edgar Award in Fact Crime in 1994.

Jerry Bledsoe
Before He Wakes: A True Story of Money, Marriage, Sex, and Murder

Veteran true-crime readers are familiar with the cold murder committed by a sociopath, versus the hot murder committed in a moment of rage or jealousy. But what to make of someone who murders their spouse simply to keep them from finding out that they borrowed a few thousand from the bank? This story of a Durham, North Carolina, woman whose appearance was that of a devoted mother, meticulous housekeeper, loving wife, and church leader, is even more puzzling when we learn that what's beneath is not all that shocking: She lies, she's promiscuous, she's a perfectionist, and she spends too much money. The mystery is the motive, in this tale of a murderer both of whose husbands died, in bed, of "accidents with guns." Jerry Bledsoe has a crisp, unemotional prose style. His expertly paced courtroom cliffhangers kept this reviewer up reading long past midnight. Before He Wakes was a finalist for the 1995 Edgar Award in Fact Crime.

Dennis L. Breo, William J. Martin
The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murder of 8 Nurses

"They are all dead! My friends are all dead! Oh, God, I'm the only one alive!" Chicago, 1966: a drifter from Texas named Richard Speck broke into a small townhouse one hot summer night. He tied up 9 student nurses, then methodically raped and killed 8 of them, one after another. One of the roommates, a tiny Filipino woman, hid under a bed for hours, and survived to crawl out a window the next morning and scream for help. The Cook County coroner, having surveyed the carnage, said to a gathering crowd, "It's the crime of the century." After Speck died in jail, 25 years later, the prosecuting attorney for the case (Bill Martin) and the journalist who won an award for his coverage of the crime (Dennis Breo) teamed up to write this brilliantly crafted book. A bizarre murderer, a spunky heroine, a stormy period in U.S. history, fascinating legal maneuvers, a dramatic trial, and sensitive treatment of human suffering--The Crime of the Century brings it all together for a classic of true-crime reporting.

Vincent Bugliosi
And the Sea Will Tell

And The Sea Will Tell tells a riveting story--a story that could have been the backbone for a classic novel by Herman Melville or Joseph Conrad. Two couples--one wealthy and married, the other an ex-con and his hippie girlfriend--separately set sail for a remote South Pacific island, each hoping to play "Adam and Eve" in paradise. But tragically, instead of getting away from it all, they take it all with them--their personal pasts and prejudices, and the petty battles over status and material goods that arise from their different social classes. Only two people out of the original four live through the experience. One of them has the extraordinary good luck to be defended in court by master attorney Vincent Bugliosi (author of Helter Skelter). As the Los Angeles Times writes, "The book succeeds on all counts. The final pages are some of the most suspenseful in trial literature."

[All reviews copyright ©, Inc. 1997-8]

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