Fiona's True Crime Book Reviews: K by author

Ludovic Henry Kennedy
Crime of the Century

"At a trial events are often seen in a distorted perspective. A violent event has taken place, and we work backwards from it, considering primarily the evidence bearing on that event. If we work forwards in a natural sequence, from a natural starting point, this evidence may wear a very different appearance." These words from mystery writer Julian Symons are the inspiration for this even-handed chronological approach to the stories of Charles Lindbergh, whose child was kidnapped and murdered in 1932, and Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime. In a quietly affecting style, Ludovic Kennedy (author of 10 Rillington Place) acquaints us with the characters of Lindbergh and Hauptmann in the years before their fates intertwined. Then he outlines the chain of events that led to this textbook case in how to frame a innocent person for a crime. Kennedy wisely sidesteps the vexing question of who did kill the Lindbergh baby to focus on the unforgettable story of the kind and hardworking German carpenter who became a scapegoat for a country's guilt.

Note: this book was first published in 1985 as The Airman and the Carpenter, and has a new (1996) introduction by the author.


Brian King
Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers

"Even the most imaginative writers of fiction cannot equal the stark intensity and demented enthusiasm evident in the authentic writings of murderers." Thus Brian King introduces this collection of the writings and artwork of 37 men and women who expressed themselves primarily through the act of killing for pleasure (in German, Lustmord). The material includes diary entries, letters, scribblings found on walls or scraps of paper, poems, short stories, confessions, manifestoes, autobiographical statements, instructions on technique, maps, diagrams, drawings, photographs, and black-and-white photos of paintings and sculpture. John List, for example, uses words of eerie banality to explain why he killed his whole family: "I didn't want them to experience poverty." Charlie Starkweather, by contrast, evokes deep emotion: He says his heart has "a wildcatten hatred burned into it ... turning dark black with hate of rages." All in all, Lustmord is testimony to the bizarre workings of the murderous mind.

Barbara R. Kirwin, Catherine Crawford (Editor)
The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent

"Americans are frightened and outraged by violent crime and their frustration at not being able to stop it. Bashing the insanity defense is universally seen as a way of getting tough on crime. Ironically, as we all seem to abdicate responsibility for own lives, we seem to assert that everyone else, even the mentally impaired, is responsible for his." Barbara Kirwin is a forensic psychologist most often employed by prosecuting attorneys to distinguish the bona fide mental cases from the fakers. In The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent she delivers a stinging critique of the legal system's abuse of the insanity defense--both what she calls "designer defenses" that put violent psychopaths in mental hospitals, and the equally deplorable practice of sending schizophrenics to jail. Her writing style is on the whole engaging, but she does lapse occasionally into a self-dramatizing mode that undercuts the seriousness of her concerns. The strength of this book is in the examples: dozens of fascinating case histories illustrate better than any mere argument could, the complex issues involved in deciding who is sick, and who is evil.

Edward W. Knappman (Editor)
Great American Trials

If you're fascinated by crime, interested in American history or politics, trying to be an informed citizen, or simply in need of a fun reference for casual browsing and settling arguments, you shouldn'tt pass up this bargain of a book. A sturdy large-format paperback nearly 900 pages long, Great American Trials covers 200 trials from 1637 to 1993 that encompass every facet of American life that has come under scrutiny in courtrooms: civil rights, freedom of speech and religion, child and family issues, business, medicine, labor, organized crime, murder, kidnapping, politics, privacy, taxes, etc. The design is clear and elegant: for each trial there's a box summarizing the dramatis personae, location, date(s), verdict(s), sentences(s), and historical/legal significance, followed by an engaging narrative with quotations from transcripts, photos, and suggestions for further reading. Also included are three tables of contents (chronological, alphabetical, by subject), a legal glossary, and an extensive index. The next time you forget what happened with Alger Hiss or Patty Hearst or Claus von Bülow, this is the book to reach for.

Edward W. Knappman
Great World Trials

"The very concept of what constitutes a trial--much less a fair trial--differs radically from one society to another. ... Yet there is a common denominator among all the trials in these pages... Each trial, however rigged, venal, or tyrannical, was intended to provide a cloak of legitimacy for the punishment of a real or imagined infraction of the rules of the contemporary social order." Religious movements, ideological clashes, revolutions, wars, nationalist uprisings, decolonization, changing social mores--they all have generated famous trials the consequences of which are still felt today. Edward Knappmann, author of the excellent Great American Trials, has selected 100 important trials from around the world (two-thirds from the 20th century) for this useful reference. The design is clear and elegant: for each trial there's a box summarizing the dramatis personae, location, date(s), verdict(s), sentences(s), and historical/legal significance, followed by an engaging narrative with photos, quotations from transcripts, and suggestions for further reading. Also included are four tables of contents (chronological, alphabetical, by subject, and by country) and an extensive index.

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

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