Review ~ Missoula

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Cover via Goodreads

Acquaintance rape is a crime like no other. Unlike burglary or embezzlement or any other felony, the victim often comes under more suspicion than the alleged perpetrator. This is especially true if the victim is sexually active; if she had been drinking prior to the assault — and if the man she accuses plays on a popular sports team. For a woman in this situation, the pain of being forced into sex against her will is only the beginning of her ordeal. If she decides to go to the police, undertrained officers sometimes ask if she has a boyfriend, implying that she is covering up infidelity. She is told rape is extremely difficult to prove, and repeatedly asked if she really wants to press charges. If she does want to charge her assailant, district attorneys frequently refuse to prosecute. If the assailant is indicted, even though victim’s name is supposed to be kept confidential, rumors start in the community and on social media, labeling her a slut, unbalanced, an attention-seeker. The vanishingly small but highly publicized incidents of false accusations are used to dismiss her claims in the press. If the case goes to trial, the woman’s entire personal life often becomes fair game for the defense attorneys.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, noncriminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.

Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken.(via Goodreads)

Actually, this isn’t a review. This is truly taking my tagline to heart: “opinions about books and other things.”


Recently, I read a review of this book by another blogger who commented that one of the thing she found semi-confusing about Missoula was its “Well, what *is* this thing called acquaintance rape?” attitude. As a book published in 2015, shouldn’t it be as aware of the phenomenon as its readers–that is to say, its female readers of a certain age and background who are fairly informed? A disturbing fact of the matter is that many people don’t understand and don’t necessarily want to pick through a situation that isn’t as unambiguous as some ski-masked rapist jumping out the bushes.


I wonder if some of my anxiousness in November was due to my listening material. While cleaning, I was listening to Missoula. While playing video games, I’ve been listening to Undisclosed, a follow-up podcast to last year’s season of Serial. Undisclosed combs through the investigation and conviction of Adnan Seyd. In both cases, it’s fairly obvious how flawed our justice system can be and how mistaken our assumptions about the behaviors of others often is.


The author of this book is male. It shouldn’t matter that the the author is male, but to be honest, it did matter to me. It mattered that a male nonfiction writer was willing to tell this story. The narrator of my audio book is female, which led to a dissonance, again perhaps only for me. I imagine the publishers decided that it was a better choice given the quotes by the women involved. How immediately different would my thoughts on Missoula be if the voice had been male?

Publishing info, my copy: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Library Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: Nonfiction

Deal Me In, Lunar Extra ~ “The Demon Lover”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen

Card picked: A King
From: A Women in Horror 2014 post by Paula Cappa

Thoughts: A little late with this Deal Me In extra. I blame November.

Kathleen, a woman in her mid 40s, married with children, visits her house in the city to gather some of her family’s belongings. The year is 1941 and her family has moved temporarily to the country to avoid the London blitz. She finds a letter on the hall table from a mysterious correspondent.

You will not have forgotten that today is our anniversary … I shall rely on you to keep your promise. … You may expect me, therefore, at the arranged hour.

Kathleen recalls her first engagement, twenty-five years earlier, to a soldier about to go off to war–then the first World War. Just a young girl of 19, she promised herself in marriage based on feelings that weren’t quite love. Her fiance is reported missing, presumed dead, several months later. While she is affected by his death for some months, she recovers and later marries another man.

Surely, this letter couldn’t have something to do with her first fiance?

Elizabeth Bowen is another in a very long line of female authors that I’m totally ignorant of, but am quite interested in. This tale begins with the domestic, the house eerily closed up, moves on to a story that I’d bet Kathleen’s husband doesn’t know about, and ends with Kathleen’s visitor. It’s a tight, provocative five pages.

Deal Me In, Week 44 ~ “The Case of the Nazi Canary”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Case of the Nazi Canary” by Michael Moorcock

Card picked: Seven of Spades
From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: This “short” story was on the long side and caught me on the wrong week. Therefore, this is a little late.

I’m not too familiar with Moorcock despite his being a founding father of the sword and sorcery genre. This story is not part of that genre. Instead, it is one of a series involving “metatemporal” detectives  Sir Seaton Begg and Dr. Taffy Sinclair. Metatemporal would seem to refer to Moorcock’s propensity to drop these characters into whatever time period or setting he wants. (This isn’t evident to someone whose only experience is this story. I kept waiting for something timey-wimey to happen…) In the case of “The Case of the Nazi Canary,” Begg and Sinclair are sent to investigate the death of Adolph Hitler’s half-niece, Geli Raubal, in an alternate history Nazi Germany.

Hitler is the prime suspect, though Geli’s death is initially called a suicide. It’s rumored that his relationship with Geli was not entirely familial and he was possessive enough of her to forbid her leaving to Vienna. (This is all based on historical fact. Geli Raubal, Hitler’s half-niece died by a self-inflicted shot to the lung, which seems to be an odd method of committing suicide.) Begg and Sinclair are charged with, incongruously, clearing Hitler’s name.

“The Case of the Nazi Canary” is sort of a detective story parody. Begg and Sinclair investigate all the leads, interview all the suspects, and then, of course, are led back to the crime scene by Begg’s arch-nemesis to find the only real clue in the case. It was entertaining, but felt a little forced.

Is This Your Card?

Speaking of forces…

Deal Me In, Week 47 ~ “Ghost Dance”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Ghost Dance” by Sherman Alexie

Card picked: Nine of Spades
From: Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: The unjust murder of two Indians by racist cops sets in motion the return of the 7th Cavalry from the grave. On the night of the murders, FBI Agent Edgar Smith dreams of the Battle of Little Big Horn and of Custers’ death at the hands of a Cheyenne woman. This gives Smith a sort of psychic connection to the victims and survivors of the 7th’s rampage.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this story. Alexie does not provide the symmetry I expect from a revenge tale. The inciting event leads to the zombie 7th killing, well, everyone in their path. And maybe *that* is Alexie’s point. The violence is only going to breed violence. Or maybe that’s the message I want to see in it today. The ending is left pretty open. Smith realizes how the 7th might be stopped (by appealing to their training as soldiers), but an FBI guy who is seeing visions isn’t exactly seen as a reliable source of information.

Review ~ The Witch of Lime Street

This book was provided to me by Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher

Cover via Goodreads

The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.

Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee.

David Jaher’s extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation’s most credible spirit medium. (via Goodreads)

This book covers a lot of ground.

It begins with Arthur Conan Doyle’s conversion to spiritualism after the deaths of several family members before, during, and after World War I. In a way, Jaher sees Doyle as a prototypical convert for the time: a previously semi-religious man who finds solace in a new belief system that emphasizes life after death. Doyle has a run-in with the prototype from the extreme other end of the spectrum, the zealous skeptic Harry Houdini, but remains unchanged. Houdini’s militant debunking, on the other hand, was due to the frauds he found in the wake of his mother’s death.

The second portion of The Witch of Lime Street is about the formation of the American Society for Psychical Research and Scientific American‘s contest. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, it seemed that spiritualism might provide scientific proof of the afterlife and Scientific American was covering some forms of mediumship under the guise of theory. Partly to put the issue to rest and partly as a publicity device, the magazine offered $2500 to any medium that could produce phenomena under controlled circumstances. Jaher details the members of SA‘s control and judging committee (which includes Houdini) and outlines the early contenders for the prize. We also meet Mina (or, later Margery) Crandon, a beautiful socialite who begins to channel her dead brother Walter after her husband takes an interest in spiritualism. It isn’t really until the halfway point of the book that we get to Mina’s tests and the committee’s experiences with her.

This is a very well researched book. I knew the basics of the Margery/Houdini kerfuffle, but few of the details. The Witch of Lime Street is full of details. There are in fact many, many names and many, many sittings with Margery. There are passages and phrases that seem repetitive. (Since I was reading an uncorrected proof, I wonder if some of that changed in the final publication.) While mostly presented chronologically, some details of certain people’s background are held back and only brought out when especially sensational in terms of the rest of the story. All in all, though, Jaher is fairly neutral in his treatment of all parties involved.

Publishing info, my copy: ARC/Uncorrected Proof, Crown Publishers, 2015
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: Nonfiction

Deal Me In, Week 46 ~ “The Queen of Spades”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin

Card picked: Ace of Hearts
From: Great Russian Stories, selected by Isai Kamen, Vintage Books, 1959

Thoughts: This tale begins, as many Russian short stories do, with a group of soldiers wrapping up a long night of card-playing. To cap off the evening, one of the men, Tomski, relates that his grandmother, the Countess X, knows of an unbeatable trio of cards to play. Why she doesn’t gamble more often, he doesn’t know. She’s only shared the secret with one other man, who won a fortune, but was sworn to only play the cards once. He died in poverty, but surely that happened because he was famously bad with money…

The Countess’s secret lodges in the mind of Herman, a Russified German who never gambles. While Herman has a nice fortune, he doesn’t feel he’s rich enough to “waste” money. He thinks that if he had the Countess’s secret, he could live more comfortably and loosen his purse strings. He hatches a plan to get into the Countess’s household by wooing her young ward, Lizaveta, and then forcing the secret from the old lady. He sends Liza a letter.

The letter contained a declaration of love; it was tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German novel.

Luckily (for Herman), Liza knows nothing of German novels. After some indecision, she sets up a tryst with Herman. Instead of meeting Liza in her room after a ball, Herman visits the Countess. She will not reveal her secret. He threatens her with a pistol, but the old woman’s heart gives out. Herman comes clean to Liza and she helps him sneak out of the house, even though he’s only sorry for the lost secret and his lost potential fortune.

The day after the Countess’s funeral, her ghost appears to Herman. She gives him her secret card combination in exchange for two things: he only plays one card a day and he marries Lizaveta. Herman has no problems with the first part of the promise. As to the second stipulation…

I really enjoyed “The Queen of Spades.” I’ve had a rough patch with the Russians lately. Obviously, you give me a ghost and I’m halfway to happy right there. Herman is a heel. As soon as we’re told he has a fortune (that he will not spend), but he wants the Countess’s secret, we pretty much know he’s going to get his just reward in the end. What that reward is going to be is the good part.

Is This Your Card?

I am amazed that no magician, on YouTube at least, has adapted this story into a narrative card trick.

Deal Me In, Week 45 ~ “The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers” by Aimee Bender

Card picked: Eight of Spades

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: An unnamed detective is called to the site of a double murder. The husband has been stabbed and the wife has been poisoned; their bodies found curled together like a yin and yang symbol. As the detective talks to family, friends, and the couple’s own private chef, curious facts are revealed. He always liked pepper and she always liked salt. They were, therefore, the perfect couple. Unfortunately, things change. He developed a sensitivity to spicy food and could no longer stand pepper. Hypertension caught up with her, disallowing salt from her diet. Could such a couple stand to have their identities stripped and, maybe worse, swapped? Or did their chef, tired of cooking such unbalanced foods, poison the wife and frame the husband?

This is a very low-key tale for a story with two dead bodies on the floor. In a sort of noir move, the detective really gets no lines. He’s mostly an observer, though a weirdly obsessed one. He goes as far as staying over night in the couple’s ranch-style house in order to better contemplate their salt and pepper shaker collection. In the end, he’s left wondering how he and his own girlfriend would fare if so individually changed. It’s a question many long-time couples deal with.

Is This Your Card?

Appropriately,  today’s magical bonus is from a duo: