Fiona's True Crime Book Reviews: C by author

Truman Capote
In Cold Blood

"Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there." If all Truman Capote did was to invent a new genre--journalism written with the language and structure of literature--this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers. But Capote achieved more than that. He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction. The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise--and the blood on the walls--and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.

Philip Carlo
The Night Stalker

Research is the strong suit of this book about darkly handsome Richard Ramirez, who terrorized Los Angeles for 14 months in 1984-85 with his penchant for breaking into homes dressed all in black, where he fiercely assaulted, sodomized, robbed, and (in 13 cases) murdered his victims. Carlo spent over 100 hours interviewing Ramirez on death row, over a month in El Paso, Texas, talking to Ramirez's family and friends, and another month hanging out with the two detectives who solved the case. He made visits to all 19 crime scenes in the middle of the night. His narrative maintains a steady focus on Ramirez, drawing no conclusions about his Satanism or his mental pathology, simply letting his appalling deeds and words speak for themselves. The trial and post-trial sections are long but interesting, covering Ramirez's rage attacks and his many "groupies" (one of them a juror!)--especially Doreen Lloyd, whom he married in September, 1996. (Having read both books, this reviewer found Philip Carlo's book superior to Clifford L. Linedecker's Night Stalker.)

Lowell Cauffiel
Forever and Five Days

Cathy was the lively one--the bleached-blonde star of the nurses' aides' lunchroom--the one who thrilled to scripting an ever-changing soap opera from the lives of the nursing home staff. Gwen was the pug-nosed newcomer with a little girl's dependency and desire to please: she doted on Cathy, and was honored to be chosen as her lover. They made a respected Michigan nursing home into their playground for frivolous games and practical jokes. Then Cathy got worried that Gwen was cheating on her, so she suggested a love pact that would bind them together "forever and five days." Gwen carried out her wishes, and smothered five patients in their beds. It's a story with a large cast of characters--the employees of the nursing home, the individual patients and their loving families, the outsiders who wondered and worried. Lowell Cauffiel does a good job of letting us into their lives, and into the world of make-believe that allowed these murders to go unnoticed for so long.

Lowell Cauffiel
House of Secrets

"Eddie Lee Sexton is evil incarnate. Like Charles Manson, he exercised a cult-like mind control over others who did his dirty work. But unlike Manson, both Sexton's victims and his subjects were his very own flesh and blood." As strong as they are, these words from an Assistant D. A. barely hint at the depravity hidden for years within the Sexton family. Strange notions about "Futuretrons" and hand markings that convey absolute power, revelations of incest and physical abuse, bodies buried in the camping area of a Florida state park: this story has so many layers of weirdness, it will amaze even seasoned readers of true crime. Lowell Cauffiel is one of the best writers in this field. He has a rare talent for combining quotations from interviews and unembellished facts into prose that reads like a good novel. Two people are dead, and the children who suffered the cruel fate of being born into this family may never completely heal from their injuries; but at least their story has been told.

Cynthia L. Cooper, Sam Reese Sheppard
Mockery of Justice

In 1996 Sam Reese Sheppard spoke on "All Things Considered": "My mother and dad were very flamboyant people . . . They were out of step . . . in the Bible Belt of Ohio at that time, but, very quickly, and it happens today, a high-profile case spins out of control, and hatred and hysteria rise in the community. When a pregnant woman dies in an ugly way in our community, people are stricken with fear . . . the blame on my dad got pinpointed by the newspapers." Dr. Sheppard was convicted of the 1954 murder of his wife. In 1966 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that he'd been denied a fair trial. He was re-tried, found innocent, then died a few years later. This compelling book goes into all the details: Dr. Sheppard's own account of that night, the role of a powerful coroner, the media frenzy, the mysteries surrounding the case records, and the recent investigation of a likely suspect for the murder. The analysis of forensic riddles posed by the crime scene makes for especially fascinating reading. Includes map, timeline, footnotes, and index.

Miles Corwin
The Killing Season

In the summer of '94, while the rest of the U. S. was focused on the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, four hundred murders took place in another Los Angeles neighborhood. L. A. Times crime reporter Miles Corwin was there in the trenches. He became the third member of a team of South Central homicide cops--a veteran male detective who dresses and talks like a cowboy, and a young black female trainee who grew up right there in "the 'Hood." As the rookie detective learned the ropes, Corwin learned right along with her, keeping the same grueling 24-7 schedule. This isn't a book with evocative descriptions or philosophical musings: Corwin writes in the fluid, unembellished style of a skilled journalist, and is especially adept at reproducing conversations--wicked teasing between cops, difficult interviews with reluctant witnesses, and the patter of the streets.

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

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