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

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”

DealMeIn

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.

Review ~ The Infamous Harry Hayward

This book was provided to me by University of Minnesota Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads: Infamous Harry Hayward

The Infamous Harry Hayward: A True Account of Murder and Mesmerism in Gilded Age Minneapolis by Shawn Francis Peters

On a winter night in 1894, a young woman’s body was found in the middle of a road near Lake Calhoun on the outskirts of Minneapolis. She had been shot through the head. The murder of Kittie Ging, a twenty-nine-year-old dressmaker, was the final act in a melodrama of seduction and betrayal, petty crimes and monstrous deeds that would obsess reporters and their readers across the nation when the man who likely arranged her killing came to trial the following spring. Shawn Francis Peters unravels that sordid, spellbinding story in his account of the trial of Harry Hayward, a serial seducer and schemer whom some deemed a “Svengali,” others a “Machiavelli,” and others a “lunatic” and “man without a soul.”

Dubbed “one of the greatest criminals the world has ever seen” by the famed detective William Pinkerton, Harry Hayward was an inveterate and cunning plotter of crimes large and small, dabbling in arson, insurance fraud, counterfeiting, and illegal gambling. His life story, told in full for the first time here, takes us into shadowy corners of the nineteenth century, including mesmerism, psychopathy, spiritualism, yellow journalism, and capital punishment. From the horrible fate of an independent young businesswoman who challenged Victorian mores to the shocking confession of Hayward on the eve of his execution (which, if true, would have made him a serial killer), The Infamous Harry Hayward unfolds a transfixing tale of one of the most notorious criminals in America during the Gilded Age. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
19th century crime! In the Midwest! In a city that isn’t Chicago! (Not that I have anything against Chicago, but it gets a lot of attention. There are plenty of interesting cities between the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains in the 19th century. Or in this case, on the Mississippi River.)

What Worked
This is a nice look into Minneapolis at the end of the 19th century. It was, like many Midwestern/Heart Land cities, on the rise full of hustle, bustle, excitement, and vice. Harry Hayward dabbled in many areas of crime and Peters gives each a good deal of background of their own. I especially enjoyed learning about the counterfeiting and money laundering schemes.

Another crime-adjacent subject important to the story is yellow journalism. Much of Hayward’s reputation as a “master criminal” was made in the press. Dueling newspapers didn’t entirely fabricate stories, but they certainly latched on to the juiciest, most lurid tidbits of the police’s initial investigation and Hayward’s trial. To an extent, the “Murder and Mesmerism” subtitle of this book has similar sensationalism. The mesmerism aspect of Hayward is really very minor. I hoped that this would be the story of an out-and-out charlatan performer, a hypnotist using his abilities to bilk and murder! Alas, not the case, though it seems strange that I should be disappointed by a charismatic con man and the murder of a young woman.

What Didn’t Work
A very minor thing: There was some repetition of details between the telling of what happened to Kitty Ging and Hayward’s eventual trial. This is a slight stumbling block with true crime: to tell about the crime accurately, an author ends up using facts based on the testimony of those involved.

Overall
Good telling of a historical true crime. Peters has a light touch with his presentation of details and keeps the narrative rolling.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, University of Minnesota Press, April 3, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, Feb. 2018
Genre: nonfiction, crime

hosted by Doing Dewey

Deal Me In, Week 49 ~ “A Winning Combination”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“A Winning Combination” by Brendan DuBois

Card picked: Four of Diamonds
From: Murder on the Ropes, ed. Otto Penzler

Thoughts: Jerry Hughes is a life-style writer for the Sentinal. He covers arts festivals, volunteer events, and down-on-their-luck artists. In the opinion of his editor, “losers.” Jerry’s next assignment is to cover a local boxer, a young man with a rough background, on the eve of his first big bout, a fight that he’s probably going to lose.

Jerry isn’t happy about having to do the story, and Sonny, the boxer, isn’t thrilled by the reporter who obviously looks down on the sport. That changes when Jerry is attacked by a group of thugs on his way back uptown from the gym. Sonny recuses him and reluctantly agrees to tell Jerry his story.

The newspaper story ends up being good, maybe the best that Jerry has ever written, highlighting Sonny’s determination despite being the extreme underdog. Unfortunately, since the mugging Jerry feels an incredible amount of anxiety and hasn’t been able to enjoy his success. He’s shocked when he finds out that Sonny won his bout, easily. Sonny swears the fight wasn’t fixed, but Jerry thinks differently…

I really liked about 80% of this story. I liked the setup and the characters. This anthology has been light on stories with a protagonist on the outside of boxing. Unfortunately, the twist seemed really abrupt and jarring.

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

20140105-160356

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:

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fix”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Fix” by Thomas H. Cook

Card picked: Five of Diamonds

From: Murder on the Ropes, ed. Otto Penzler

Thoughts: When journalist Jack Burke spots Vinnie Teague on a crosstown bus, he decides to find out what happened when the “Shameful Shamrock” Teague took his career-ending dive.

Nearing the end of this anthology, I find that there hasn’t been a wide array of crimes associated with boxing in these stories. The whys and hows of taking a dive have been pretty prominent. This story is one of the shortest in the anthology and it contains one of the best characters. Vinnie Teague isn’t what he seems and neither was his poorly wrought boxing performance. Usually, a dive is meant to look like, well, not a dive. Teague went down after being grazed by washed-up Douggie Burns in a fight that should have been an easy KO. For Burke, it is one of the most perplexing things he’s ever seen in sports.

About the Author: I wasn’t familiar with Thomas H. Cook. It has also become obvious from this anthology how few thrillers I’ve read. If the writing prowess shown in this short story is any indication of his novel writing abilities, I just might become a fan of Thomas H. Cook.