Where to begin? I don't remember the last time I was so disappointed by a book I'd been looking forward to.
It started as early as page 7. This is where the author began sneering at "the NPR crowd" and intellectuals who "write like trolls." Variations on this theme continued throughout the book. I was surprised to find that Mr. James attended college. I was sure he was a high school dropout with extreme higher education envy. Some of the passages in the book contradicted themselves and seemed illustrative of muddled thinking. His "jokes" often fell flat, like on page 300, where he compared President Obama to Ted Bundy.
The author also displays throughout the book a kind of defensiveness about his topic. He says that "if you are a writer and you try to talk your editor into working on a book about famous crimes, he or she will instantly begin hedging you toward something more...decent." It seems to me that despite what Mr. James says, there are loads of books on famous crimes. Maybe the author's editor was more worried about the limitations of the author than the appropriateness of the topic. (Mr. James describes himself as "not an easy man to edit." I don't doubt it; a giant ego will do that.)
Mr. James enjoys setting up strawman arguments and bashing the heck out of them. He makes many statements about what society, culture, liberals, or academics think about this or that subject and these opinions are presented as fact. For example, he says bookstores are ashamed of their true crime stories and shelve them next to the pornography. He also cites TruTv a lot. TruTv's schedule hasn't had much to do with crime and forensics in the past few years, except for Forensic Files, and I've heard that's being canceled. I don't know where he gets some of these ideas, except possibly out of his nether regions. By the way, don't look for footnotes. Or an organized bibliography. He claims to have read a "thousand or more" crime books. He mentions some of them in the text, and his comments about them are often amusing. Once he noted that a book was well written, and then a paragraph later griped that he didn't understand why it had sold so well! It was also laugh-out-loud funny when he criticized another book for, basically, a lack of documented research. Pot, kettle, black!
I really bought this book because it promised to cover some of the lesser known crimes. This it did, but t here were two problems. First, it seemed that the telling of the stories were secondary to the author's expounding on his convoluted theories on crime. Most stories were preceded by, followed by, or interrupted by Mr. James' over-complicated and arcane classification systems, along with a large dose of pop psychology, (his term). All this was pretty much dreck, in my opinion; the unsupported opinions and meanderings of a self-indulgent dilettante.
The second problem was more troubling. I came to distrust his reporting of the facts of the crime. He spent a lot of time on Lizzie Borden. It happens that I've done a bit of reading on this case recently. Mr. James is convinced that Lizzie didn't do it. That's okay, but he seems to have edited the facts to support his theory. He points out that Lizzie had a good relationship with her fishing buddy father. He pooh poohs the idea that Lizzie had a financial motive for the crime, remarking that she would have inherited her father's fortune anyway
Here's the thing about that. Lizzie wasn't getting any younger and her wealthy skinflint father's penny-pinching ways forced her and her sister to live in an undesirable part of town, in a house with no indoor plumbing or any other modern conveniences that were becoming common. As soon as Lizzie beat the rap and the girls came into their inheritances, they immediately purchased a large house on the fashionable side of town. Lizzie especially revelled in her new lifestyle that included parties and the company of theater folks. No motive? I beg to differ!
The author also doesn't mention that Lizzie's relationship with her father had deteriorated in the days prior to the murders. Lizzie had some pet pigeons in cages in the family barn. Daddy thought the birds were attracting undesirable neighborhood youths, and so a short time prior to his death, he decapitated the birds and left the remains for Lizzie to find.
Also, although Mr. James mentions that Lizzie's sister was away from home at the time of the killings, he doesn't tell you why. It turns out that both Emma and Lizzie left home in a snit, to stay with relatives out of town. It seems that dear old dad was arranging to sell or transfer property to one of his wife's relatives (not the first time he had done something similar). The girls had a sentimental attachment to this particular property where they had spent some happy times, and were upset about this. When Lizzie came back to town, she actually stayed at a boarding house in town for a while, rather than return to the family residence. When she did come home, the killings followed in short order.
Thus, it appeared the author omitted information that didn't support his case. This made me wonder about the cases I wasn't so familiar with. Were the facts in those cases bent too? I don't know, but I do know that some of his statements about the criminal justice system are completely false. Late in the book, during one of his rants, he claims that an individual on bail, before or after conviction, gets credit for any time on bail against the service of whatever sentence he receives. I worked in the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania between 1970 and 2005, and I can tell you that this is absolutely not true in Pennsylvania. A bit of Googling tells me it's not true in New York or Florida. I don't believe it is true anywhere in the U.S. Once again, the lack of documentation makes it impossible to discover where Mr. James came by this misinformation. Maybe he enjoys being indignant too much to let facts get in the way.
So, all in all, this book is twenty years' worth (that's how long he says it took to write it) of an amateur's musings on the perceived failings of the US criminal justice system, interspersed with crime tales, at least one of which has significant omissions. Decide for yourself whether it's worth your time. I know that it will not remain on my shelf.