Book Reviews: Misjudged Murderesses by Stephen Jakobi and Dead Silence by Ron Handberg

Misjudged Murderesses
Female Injustice in Victorian Britain
Stephen Jakobi
Pen and Sword, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-52-674162-2
Trade Paperback

Between 1836 and 1900 the wheels of justice often wobbled slowly and erroneously through British society. There were major changes in policing and some changes in social attitudes. However, the balance of justice most often was weighted in favor of the male side of things. Several women were accused of heinous crimes—mostly murder—and, according to this author, mistakenly convicted and executed.

The author, a private solicitor, in 1992 founded Fair Trials International, leading a persistent effort to balance justice world-wide. This volume of true crimes and results is part of his ongoing efforts.

It is a trudging look at the gathering of evidence and its presentation in English courts. The presentation is dense, careful and evokes textbooks of past classes. Indeed, the type on the page is small and readers might be advised to have a magnifier at hand. This is not bed-time pleasure.

However, for anyone intrigued by the evolution of our justice systems, police work and the attitudes of court authorities will find much of this book more than merely interesting.

Another rather fascinating aspect of the book is the role of religion. The author documents a case of torture of a woman prisoner by a chaplain and testimony in court by religious leaders who were supposed to be hearing confession by the female prisoners.

During the time between 1843 and 1900, 53 women were hanged after murder convictions. Thirty of those were poisoners. Fifteen of the poisoners never confessed. Eleven of the 53 were clearly guilty and of the rest, there were various problems that call into question the whole process and outcomes.

It appears that a good deal of the bias toward these women, some of whom were successful in society, was generated by a press that could be accused of being out of control over these sensational cases.

One of the most prolific murderesses described in the book is Mary Ann Cotton. Although convicted and hanged at 40 years of age, only for murdering her stepson, she was married many times, lost many children, and is reliably suspected of have used arsenic in tea to kill at least twenty men and children.

The book documents some appalling miscarriages of justice, as well as describing some appalling acts of murder that were never adequately resolved. Well researched, documented and written, this is not, however, something one would select to take to the beach.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dead Silence
Ron Handberg
HarperPaperbacks, February 1999
ISBN 0-06-101247-5
Mass Market Paperback

On a steamy July afternoon in 1983, three young boys run gleefully from their front yard to the nearby park and down the bluff to the edge of the Mississippi River. They do not return home ever again.

Fifteen years later, top television anchor, Alex Collier scans a memory item, the disappearance, on this date, of those three Hathaway sons. The story mildly intrigues him. Now readers, introduced to Collier’s co-anchor on the news team, are drawn inside the routine workings of a major station news operation. The author, with vast and varied experience in such operations, is careful to avoid relying on the technical details of such an operation to move the story forward.

Rather, Handberg relies on the interpersonal relationships, decisions and routines of the people who spend their time researching, writing, taping and presenting the daily television news to help move the story forward. It’s an interesting and sometimes tension-filled situation, but the story really focuses on the three missing boys. Collier decides to use his star-clout to get the station to in effect reopen the case.

Careful logical moves, rather than sudden insightful intuition guides Collier and his young co-anchor to the people, many long retired who were involved in the original case, including the still distraught, still seeking answers, parents of the boys.

The novel is rooted in reality and makes good use of the unusual and often exotic internal scenes in a big-time television operation, the evolving life of officials and ordinary citizens, some of whom have moved on, retired or left the Twin Cities. Mysterious threatening phone calls, possible deliberate hit and run and new murder all populate this novel as the clues mount, incidents occur and Collier persists against mounting resistance and tension.

The physical presence of the cities and rural Minnesota are inserted judicially with logical and useful influence on the trajectory of this story. The narrative rhythm is appropriate and although the novel is long, it is a well-paced read that will capture the imagination and attention of anyone interested in missing person cases.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger—and a Giveaway! @WmKentKrueger @AtriaBooks

This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4767-4929-7
Hardcover

Literature fills almost as many needs as there are readers. This novel, solemn, deliberate, moving, is not for the harried or the cynical. Or maybe it is, if the reader is at least willing to consider the mysterious and sometimes mystical forces that surround us. Faith, like awareness of the natural world, is largely a private matter. This novel ultimately raises and thoughtfully considers more questions than it answers. Or not. The book is eminently satisfactory as a fine piece of literature for whatever enjoyment and satisfaction any reader gains from the story, a journey of life and death and misdeeds and love and, perhaps, redemption. Certainly forgiveness.

The journey begins with the difficult abusive lives of three inmates of a hard-scrabble boarding school in rural Minnesota in the midst of the deep depression that engulfed the nation in the nineteen-thirties. Three young men, in their early teens, Albert, Odie and Moses, grow closer in their mutual efforts to resist being smashed under by the persistent and sadistic efforts of the school officials who do not shy away from meting out corporal punishment at the drop of a fork.

When the opportunity a huge storm presents, the three boys collect a girl they all know from a nearby farm and lately orphaned like them, then run away from the school and determine to somehow make their way to Saint Louis. So they have a definite goal, however ethereal.

The adventure and the travelers’ desperate need to stay out of the clutches of the law infuses the story with tension and excitement, and the carefully crafted descriptive passages only add to the forward drive. Here readers will find evangelists, storekeepers, the law, liars, good and bad people and a story that ultimate raises fundamental questions of relationships.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Sunday
evening, September 8th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger

Northwest Angle
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2011
ISBN 9781439153956
Hardcover

Action and intrigue and a trip into the human heart all set in the distant north. Amidst the beauty of nature, water and forest, in the boundary waters of Lake of the Woods lies evil, corruption, and greed. Krueger‘s latest novel featuring Cork O’Connnor has a little bit of everything and doesn’t let up until the end.

Cork has brought his family to the Lake of the Woods for a September vacation. When a sudden rare but violent storm strands Cork and his older
daughter, Jenny, on one of the thousands islands in the waters between the United States and Canada, they discover a mystery which will endanger everyone. First they find a lonely cabin filled with supplies, then the body of a murdered girl, and finally a baby boy, alive but malnourished. After narrowly escaping death at the hands of a stranger, they reunite with the rest of the family, only to be thrown into solving the mystery of the murder. However, eyes are watching and who knows who can be trusted. Cork must unravel the puzzle in order to save his family.

This is a little bit mystery, a little bit intrigue, and a little bit of soul searching. An interesting mix of characters makes for an entertaining book. There is so much here-Ojibwe Indian wisdom and culture, a look at Christian faith both good and self-serving, and personal relationships–all in with the backdrop of northern Minnesota and amidst a murder mystery. Krueger writes a well-blended in-depth story sure to entertain.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2011.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Vermilion Drift by William Kent Krueger

Vermilion Drift
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2010
ISBN 9781439153840
Hardcover

Authors of crime fiction, like authors working in any other genre, often use their talents to work through personal issues, sometimes intensely private issues.  Although it is not entirely clear, the writer may be working through some family issues with this novel.  Does that matter?

Perhaps.  That depends on the result.  In this case, the author, possessed of well-honed, significant writing talent, has produced a novel of finely wrought proportions, multi-layered with considerable depth.  By that I mean that the characters demonstrate multiple levels of engagement, and the story itself works on more than one level.  Almost every character who appears in the book is involved in the story in more than one way.  Some of their levels are casual or socially related, such as what may be routinely expected of law officers in Tamarack County, the Northern Minnesota location of this novel.  Other characters, Henry Meloux, for example and other Native Americans; Sam Wintermoon, appears, and of course, Cork’s mother and his father, Liam, all have, at different times, visceral involvement in the story.

The problem, if there is one, is that this story is much more a novel of family and community relationships than it is a novel of suspense, or crime, horrific and awful though the crimes were.  Death is always the ultimate judge, from whom there is no appeal.

So, in my view, the problem is one of balance, or perhaps of categorization. The involvement of Cork O’Connor, now a private investigator, alone in Aurora, is mostly one of self-examination.  The novel is one of Cork’s journey of discovery.  What was the meaning of his occasional nightmares? What were the issues that consumed and separated the O’Connor family in those last fateful months of Liam O’Connor’s life?

The novel begins with Cork once again at odds with his Ojibwe heritage.  His mother, remember, was a member of the tribe.  He’s hired by the owners of the Vermilion One and Ladyslipper mines to deal with threats against the mine.  But then he’s also tasked to try to locate a missing woman, sister of the mine owner.  Lauren Cavanaugh has gone missing.  Finding the missing woman opens a window on old unsolved crimes from a previous generation, from a time when Cork’s father was the sheriff of Tamarack County.

Sorting through old albums, records and memories, fresh and repressed, takes up the body of the novel As with all of this author’s previous novels, the explanation is logical, satisfying and meaningful.  Krueger, as always, is skillful in evoking the landscape, not just its physical self, but its atmosphere, its mystical presence and its influences on the people who reside there.

In the end, this thoughtful exploration of law, truth and justice and their profound influences on all of us is a highly successful emotionally moving effort.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2010.