Sunday Salon, 4/20/19

Sunday Salon

Read

Finished the April 1896 issue of The Black Cat. I’ll have a review of that on Thursday-ish. Otherwise, I didn’t finish anything other than short stories this week.

I picked 5 for Deal Me In this week: “Call for Help” by Robert Arthur from Alfred Hitchcock prestents: More Stories Not for the Nervous. This is the type of story I was expecting from the Not for the Nervous anthologies. Martha Halsey, age 80, is sure that her niece, Ellen, and nephew-in-law, Roger, are plotting the early death of Martha and her younger sister Louisa (younger, but past age 75). The sisters aren’t in the best health, but that’s because Roger, a pharmacist, is poisoning them. One of the ladies’ cats has already turned up dead and the other is missing. They’ve been moved out of their old house, away from friends,  and into Ellen and Roger’s place, which has no phone. (This is the 1960s and Roger says the phone it too expensive(?)) Louisa is in a wheelchair and the weather has turned frigid, how are the sisters going to escape? Well, Martha has a plan… I enjoy stories with older protagonists, though in this case, you wonder if Martha is as lucid as she seems.

Random fact: I had an Aunt Martha. I don’t remember her well other than when I was young I took a trip to Minnesota with my grandparents to visit relatives. We stayed in her house, which she lived in alone, in rural Minnesota, and told jokes about what to do when bears showed up on the doorstep. Seems like she was a pretty cool lady.

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Reading

Part of the reason I didn’t finish any books this week is because I went to the library:

I’m still working on Love and Mr. Lewisham. Also started Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman.

Love and Mr. Lewisham Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don't Learn Them From Movies Any More)

Watching

College basketball is in the rear-view mirror which means it’s time for my “summer” sport to watch: ultimate frisbee. This year, in addition to club games and the AUDL (the pro league), there are two new pro women’s leagues. The Premier Ultimate League’s first games were Saturday. The league includes a team from Medellin, Columbia and they are fun to watch.

Did/Doing

Honestly, I’ve been a little out of it this week. It’s been hard mustering the enthusiasm to do much. I went to the library. I played some ultimate.

EverQuest 2: In these kinds of moods, the easiest thing is to play some video game or another. Right now, it’s EverQuest 2. It’s nice to hang out in a “world” where goals are easily defined and their difficulties are somewhat color-coded. (Writing lately is definitely ^^^ Heroic.)

Bullet Journaling: Also, when I get into these blah, sort of  aimless moods, I have a tendency to start a new task management app. I’ve been feeling sort of unmoored, so I decided to try bullet journaling again. I figure that maybe having things in a solid paper/pen form might help. Now, I’m not too worried about spreads and themes and such. This is a purely practical exercise right now; art can be done elsewhere. I’m using a composition notebook. If things go well and I stick with it, I might buy a dotted journal—Michael’s has a whole line of $5 journals.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Review ~ I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I'll Be Gone in the Dark cover

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer. (via Goodreads)

Common conversations between my husband and I over the last few years revolve around two true crime investigations/court cases. The first is the murder of Hae Min Lee and the incarceration of Adnan Syed, which was profiled in season one of the podcast Serial and more recently an HBO docu-series. The second is the  murder of Teresa Halbach and incarceration of  Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, the subject of the docu-series Making a Murderer. To me, both of these cases reflect the actions of a (at best) desperate and (at worst) corrupt justice system where putting someone in jail for a terrible crime takes precedence over discovering what truly happened.

A variation on this came up in The Man from the Train. When faced with the possibility of truly random murders, police and other investigators reached for whatever fall guy they could find even when evidence didn’t fit. In the case of the Man from the Train, not only were men and women falsely accused and imprisoned, but they ended up dead at the hands of lynch mobs.

We humans don’t like uncertainty. And we absolutely want closure.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is about the Golden State Killer, but it’s also about Michelle McNamara and a bevy of investigators who tenaciously pursued the truth in spite of uncertainty. They didn’t want “a” guy for the rapes and murders that occurred for over a decade in California, they wanted “the” guy. McNamara writes honestly about her obsession with this cluster of crimes that took place in the 70s and early 80s. She had no personal connection to those specific crimes; she grew up in Oak Park, Illinois and the murder of a girl in her neighborhood was the spark of her interest in the hows and whys of these types of crimes.

While McNamara’s narrative doesn’t shy away from details, it doesn’t revel in them either. To contrast, The Man from the Train was very specific about the details of each murder and how they overlapped, but there the author is laying out the case that murders were the work of one man. In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, we’re stepping into a investigation in progress. McNamara doesn’t need to supply each and every detail. Instead, she is freer to tell the story of the investigations; where they failed in the past and what hope there might be for catching a killer by combing over every piece of information.

Michelle McNamara died suddenly before finishing this book. While writer Paul Haynes and journalist Billy Jensen organized her prodigious notes, the chapters that aren’t written by McNamara (they are clearly noted) provide information, but lack her deft touch as a writer. The third part of the book includes several methods that were being used to find the Golden State Killer, including the use of online genealogy tools to match DNA markers. Shortly after the book’s publication, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested for the murders, tracked down using a similar technique.

McNamara wrote this book fueled by uncertainty and never got closure. Some of the police who originally worked the case retired before seeing this breakthrough. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for the victims and their families. But it seems strange to me that I should find their patience and their resistance to finding “a” guy for the crimes to be downright heroic.

Publishing info: Harper Perennial, 2018
My Copy: Kindle/Overdrive, Tempe Public Library
Genre: true crime, memoir


All the Details: 2019 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Sunday Salon, 4/14/19

Sunday Salon

For a while, I’ve been considering pivoting to a Sunday post. I’m usually in a more reflective mood on Sunday because that’s when I plan out my week. So, it makes more sense for me to do this kind of post  on Sundays. I’m also going to roll Deal Me In into my Sunday Salon. Lately, I’ve just had less to say about short stories.

Read

I finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. While I didn’t read it *right* after The Man from the Train, I will admit that the two have made me think about whether my door is locked at night. And during the day. I should have a review of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark on Thursday.

For Deal Me In this week, I pulled 10♣: “No Bath for the Browns” by Margot Bennett from Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories Not for the Nervous. Margot Bennett was crime/mystery a novelist and screenwriter. This slight three-page tale tells of the Browns who take out a ten year lease on a London fixer-upper. Mr. Smith, the previous tenant, disappeared abruptly leaving a rather curious bathroom project unfinished. It seems he moved the bathtub to the bottom of the stairs. And also the house has an odd smell. But everything is absolutely fine…


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Reading

I’m really bad about sticking to a to-be-read list. Actually, I did pretty well last year, but it seems that any discipline I had was completely used up. This year has been completely wild and wahoo. What book have I picked up to follow I’ll Be Gone in the Dark during this #SpringIntoHorror month? Love and Mr. Lewisham, one of H. G. Wells’ non-genre works.

Book cover of Love and Mr. Lewisham by H. G. Wells featuring an image of a man holding a woman's hand and leaning in close.

Watched

There is an explanation for this reading choice. I discovered last week that CW Seed streaming service had the remaining episodes of Time After Time.

Time After Time is not a great show. It’s plot is a bit of a mess and the writers seemed to have no notion of bodily harm or, well, time travel. But it does have very appealing leads, a great cast of supporting characters, and a surprising amount of nods to Wells’ body of work. The show only lasted five episodes on TV, but the whole first season lives on via the internet.

Did/Doing

Writing: I’m at the point with Deal with the Devil where I’m fairly sure my characters are the most boring to ever grace a page. Needless to say, April hasn’t been a bang-up writing month.

Ultimate Frisbee: My league team is doing alright. We’re all very chill and capable; the kind of team I like. We have another 4 weeks left to the season, but for some reason I decided it was time to get the finals bracket worked out for the website.

Spring/Early Summer Cleaning: I’m intending to give the apartment a good mucking out over the next couple months. I did the bedroom the week before last and started on the kitchen last week. More kitchen this week.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Mini Reviews, Vol. 16 ~ Audio Edition

Trust Me, I'm Lying cover Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

DNF. I listened to maybe an hour and a half of Trust Me, I’m Lying. The first 60 minutes were interesting and a little sickening as Holiday describes how he (and others) create buzz, hype, and news stories out of virtually nothing. But then, the stories/explanations of how and why got repetitive. The audio book was recorded by Holiday. While the quality wasn’t bad, there was a lack of pauses at what would be section/chapter headings in a book; it all ran together.

Accidental Thief cover Accidental Thief by C.J. Davis & Jamie Davis

DNF too. I wanted to check out the phenomenon of LitRPG, which if you are like me old and out of touch aren’t familiar is a narrative with heavy RPG conventions including things like character stats. First, maybe this works better in non-audio format. Listening to the main character check his stats over and over again (“Name: Hal Dix. Class: Rogue. Level: 2. Attributes. Brawn: 8. Wisdom: 8. Luck: 18+5. Speed: 10+1. Looks: 18. Health 16/16. Skills… “) was not scintillating. Second, the tropes that are used are especially and purposefully (?) not unique. The protagonist is a boring guy stuck in a office job (with nice wife and young child) who is sucked into a mysterious game where he framed for a murder and ends up fighting spiders in the sewer with a mysterious stranger who is obviously a girl. Apparently, the challenges will become increasingly more difficult. But I’d rather spend my time playing an RPG rather than reading/listening to one.

Tesla cover Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

Not a DNF! I read about half of this book and listened to about half of it. I had previously read W. Bernard Carlson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age which emphasized where Tesla’s innovations fit within the technologies of the time. Cheney’s  book takes a much more personal look at Tesla, without being overly sensational or speculative. There is still science, but also things like letter excerpts from friends and colleagues that give a more human aspect to Tesla.


All the Details: 2019 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Review ~ The Man from the Train

The Man from the Train cover

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.

When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
So, one of the things I like doing, as research for my historical fiction, is reading old  newspapers. In a 1915 issue of the Omaha Bee I came across a sensational story about an axe murder that had taken place in Omaha. I haven’t quite followed that story to its conclusion—they were still looking for the culprit months later—but I found it to be a compelling case, maybe something for later fiction. After all, axe murders are the things of Hollywood slasher movies, right?

Boy, was I wrong…

While researching another project, I was also looking at small towns in Iowa near railroad tracks. Which led me to the Villisca, IA axe murders in 1912. Oddly, I had never heard of Villisca. I wanted to know more. Among the shallow investigations of the murders was a full-length book about them: The Man from the Train.

What Worked
It turns out there were several spates of axe murders throughout the early 1900s. Villisca was particularly noticed: the whole family, plus a couple of neighbor girls who stayed over, were brutally murdered with the blunt side of an axe. The victims’ faces were covered. The house was found with all the shades drawn, mirrors covered, and locked up tight. Nothing was taken. The house was not far away from the railroad tracks. The things is, when Bill James started looking into this crime, he found that there were other instances of axe murders that occurred that had similar staging. There was a pattern. It was likely that the same man was responsible.

The Man from the Train is a feat of research. At some point in the process, James hired his daughter to help wade through the sources. The string of murders reached back much further in time than expected and led to a possible suspect, who was never caught. That’s only half the story though. How did the Man from the Train get away with this for so long? And what happened in the communities in the wake of such murders? The answers to those questions are often disheartening.

What Didn’t Work
James made a very specific choice on how he presented information. He sort of started with a cluster of information and then works backward and forward from it. In general, I liked this decision. It does give the book a mystery/thriller feel. But I feel like things could have been cleaned up and an reiterated more efficiently. There are a lot of names, places, and dates to keep up with. Maps would have been a big help since we’re dealing with actions over time.

James spends a lot of time trying to convince the readers of his theory. On one hand, a reason that the Man from the Train wasn’t caught was due to what James calls irrational skepticism. Police decided to focus on hastily found suspects instead of looking for patterns or even seeing patterns when presented with them. On the other hand, today’s reader lives in a post-profiling world. The notion that a killer might have a signature pattern is wildly accepted. James didn’t have to convince me. The pattern is there; I’ll buy that acre of land. Continuing with the hard sell was tedious.

Lastly, the tone was occasionally uneven. There were some fourth-wall-breaking comments that were unnecessary.

Overall
Man, history. The more I learn about history, the more I see how much things haven’t changed. There have always been serial killers. There have always been the want for tidy closed cases, especially when murder is involved. The Man from the Train wasn’t an easy read for a few reasons, but the detective work behind it is admirable and the story really is an interesting one.

There was one mistake within the book that I caught: David Abbott (the whole reason I was reading a 1915 newspaper in the first place) wasn’t from Oklahoma, he was from Omaha. I’m going to assume that since Abbott was only mentioned in passing, it was a mistake that isn’t indicative of others unseen.

Publishing info: Scribner, 2017
My Copy: hardback, Tempe Public Library
Genre:
nonfiction, crime


All the Details: 2019 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Deal Me In, Week 12 ~ “White Goddess”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“White Goddess” by Margaret St. Clair

Card picked: 4
Found at: More Stories Not for the Nervous

It was somehow less nerve-wracking to think of her as a young woman in disguise than an old woman who moved and spoke like somebody in her twenties.

Carson is a small-time con man and thief. His modus operandi is flattering little old ladies into getting them to take him home for tea-and-cakes and then stealing their silverware. But Miss Smith is not quite what she seems. And the baubles, that Carson wouldn’t even be able to pawn, might eventually be his prison.

I haven’t quite gotten my thumb on what these stories-not-for-the-nervous are supposed to be. Mysteries? Horror? Hard-boiled crime? So far, they’ve been all of the above. I’m not familiar with Margaret  St. Clair. Apparently, she is a pioneer of science fiction, which would explain why this little dark fantasy story was originally published under the pseudonym, Idris Seabright.

#DealMeIn2019 Week 10 ~ “Evil Opposite”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Evil Opposite” by Naomi Kritzer

Card picked: 6
Found at: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September-October 2017

There is a theory that each choice, each chance, each throw of a die creates a separate parallel universe; that there are infinite universes layered like filo dough in baklava or stacked like an unsteady pile of papers on a desk.

The Story
The “what if” of this story is, what if you could peek at your other layers. Our unnamed narrator, a handy physics post-grad, builds a device posited by his graduate advisor and is able to see other versions of himself in those other universes. In some he’s still a Ph.D. student studying physics, or mathematics, or political science, or business, or law. In some he’s single, in some he’s still with his ex-fiance, in some he’s living in a different state as a new father. In some, he’s murdered his annoying Ph.D. program nemesis Shane…

Playing the alternate lives game is always fun. What if I had pursued an MFA instead of diving into writing? What if I had taken that anatomy class instead of physiology and never met Eric? What is I took the ROTC scholarship and ended up at Creighton? Would I have ended up at as a Bluejays fan??? Okay, maybe the alternate lives game isn’t always fun.

The Author
This is the second story I’ve read by Naomi Kritzer (I believe). The first was the excellent Hugo award-winning “Cat Pictures Please”. I really enjoy her style and I should really read more of her work.