Fiona's True Crime Book Reviews: P by author

Patricia Pearson
When She Was Bad

"Women commit the majority of child homicides in the United States; more than 80 percent of neonaticides; an equal or greater share of severe physical child abuse; an equal rate of spousal assault; about a quarter of child sexual molestations; and a large proportion of elder abuse ... The rate at which infants are murdered by women in the U.S. is higher than the rate at which women are murdered by men." With carefully researched facts, fascinating case histories, and incisive argument, Patricia Pearson succeeds in demolishing the myth that women are not naturally violent. When She Was Bad looks at two different issues: (1) how we see violent women--that we either excuse their behavior with a "syndrome defense" such as "Battered Woman Syndrome," or else see them as the passive partners of violent men; (2) how we see aggression itself--that we perceive it as physical and blatant, thus missing the ways in which women more commonly use verbal assaults and indirect strategies. Ultimately, Pearson argues, the failure of women to take responsibility for their violent behavior undermines the good that can come from aggression, and sabotages the credibility of female cops and soldiers.

Richard T. Pienciak
Murder at 75 Birch: A True Story of Family Betrayal

Glen telephoned his brother Neil: "Help! Come over to my house!" Neil rushed over, saw Glen lying semi-conscious on his living room floor, and called the cops. The cops found Glen's wife Betty upstairs, strangled in her bed. Circumstantial evidence pointed to adulterous Glen as the killer, but some were suspicious of Neil because he didn't check on Betty himself. (One moral of this well-told story is how maddening it can be when your behavior isn't exactly what the police consider to be normal.) Richard Pienciak has a pleasing, meticulous style that reassures the reader they're being told everything he knows, without speculation or dramatization. As Andrew Vachss writes in the New York Times, "This is a reporter's book, and for those who consider journalism a true art form it is a real find. As multilayered as any novel, but handicapped by the lack of a manipulable ending, Murder at 75 Birch tells this fundamental truth: So-called facts are always secondary to interpretation."

Jerry Allen Potter, Fred Bost
Fatal Justice: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders

Finally, many years after Joe McGinniss' famous Fatal Vision, we have a well-documented argument for the other side of the Jeffrey MacDonald case -- an argument that the prosecution mishandled key crime-scene evidence, withheld potentially exculpatory material, and even discounted confessions from other suspects. Whether or not you change your mind about whether MacDonald was guilty of murdering his family, you will learn much about the case that puts it in a new light. For example, the army narrowed in on MacDonald as their prime suspect very early in the investigation, and discouraged the FBI from developing alternate theories. And the judge in the case, Franklin Dupree, Jr., appeared to have been biased in favor of the prosecution. Janet Malcolm, the New Yorker writer who wrote The Journalist and the Murderer about MacDonald's relationship with McGinnis, called this book "quietly convincing."

Margaret Press, Joan Noble Pinkham
A Scream on the Water

Murder on a sailboat, on the waters off Salem, Massachusetts--it's hard to imagine a more picturesque scenario for a novel, let alone a true crime book. Margaret Press is a mystery writer who lives in Salem, so she knew a good thing when she saw it. After a little opening confusion about the timeline, she settles down to spin a satisfying yarn about a spineless jerk who lies about his supposed grief over a dead wife, the several women (some more naive than others) who go sailing with him, the stricken family of one woman who disappears, a handsome lobsterman who finds the body, the competent cops who bring the guy to justice, the infuriated wife of the killer, and even a minor role played by Salem's "official witch," Laurie Cabot. Press is at her best in evoking local color: men of the sea hanging out in bars, the gruesome image of a naked body consumed by lobsters and crabs, a historic courtroom lit by candles. (Note: this book was previously published as Counterpoint: A Murder in Massachusetts Bay.)

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

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