Writing books about true crimes requires a lot form the author: meticulous research not only into the actual crimes being described but equally fine tuned research into the period in which the crime(s) took place and a psychoanalyst's intensity of examination of the perpetrator of those crimes. Michael M. Greenberg ha few peers in his chosen field of writing: the only one who comes to mind is fellow attorney Vincent Bugliosi who in 1974 published (with Curt Gentry) the book HELTER SKELTER that brought all the details of the 1969 Charles Manson murders to light and became a best seller. Greenberg is as fine a writer as Bugliosi and in many ways is a more eloquent scribe delineating the events of an almost forgotten horrifying crime spree that horrified New York from 1940 to 1956 - the Mad Bomber George Metesky whose handmade bombs served as a means of vengeance and retribution suffered by Metesky during an accident in Con Edison's Hell Gate power plant, an accident that brought to light a paranoid schizophrenic outsider to the attention of the populace and crime control division Metestky wished to alert to his 'dastardly' mishap.
Greenburg knows exactly how to develop his case and perhaps it is inherent in the mental machinery of an attorney that makes him so thorough yet compelling a reporter. He probably is aware that those of us outside of New York City were familiar with this set of crimes that puzzled New York theaters, Grand Central Station, Con Ed plant and other public places, so he very gradually and carefully builds a background for this son of Lithuanian immigrants, taking us through the interstices of his childhood that created a man whose quiet and withdrawn demeanor belied the growing disease with in his mind. He takes us through the Great Depression, then the 'red scare', the flavor of the USA at the entry into WW II at the time of Pearl Harbor's thrusting the country to blind nationalism, and the subsequent post war state of mind in this country. Metesky always seemed to be on the outside of viability as a human and when he was the victim of a technical disaster while working for Con Ed on September 5, 1931 resulted in severe pulmonary bleeding, he was unable to work and developed many complications from his industrial accident resulting in bilateral pulmonary tuberculosis.
Metseky was forced to live off his older spinster sisters who moved him to Arizona for his disease state and then back to Connecticut where he penned multiple letters to Con Ed for workman's compensation, continued health benefits - support of any kind that would provide him with some satisfaction that Con Ed cared. When all of this frustration came to nothing he devised pipe bombs, carefully creating strange devices, covering all his tracks, and placed these bombs where they would bring attention to the public about his plight with the empire of Con Ed. With tremendous sensitivity Greenburg allows us to get to know George Metesky, understand the emergence of this psychosis, and still document all the police response (a fine history of the bomb squad in New York is included) and the harrowing terror of an unknown bomber created in a city that never knew where the next explosion could occur. The results of the serial bombings over such an extended period of time resulted in a positive force in the evaluation of criminal profiling (now so well understood because of television programs such as 'Criminal Minds') and an evaluation of how to deal with the criminally insane - a feature of the book that sits well in the purview of Greenburg as a practicing attorney. This is a tale about a man who singlehandedly terrorized a city for sixteen years while sustaining the role of a complete conundrum to the law enforcement agencies those tactics would be permanently altered because of the madness of one man.
An example of rich is this author's talent: `As the scourge of fascism spread across Europe, the violent impulse that now inculcated George Metesky's ailing mind searched for expression. The decade that gave birth to radio and radar, Art Deco and swing, 'The Grapes of Wrath' and `The Wizard of Oz'; that saw Olympic triumph in Berlin and Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey; that began with the hardship of depression and the repeal of Prohibition, would end with America edging ever closer to world conflict. And for an unpretentious man from Waterbury, Connecticut, ravaged with mental illness, the decade of the 1930s would end with a simple decision to use bombs to settle a personal score.'
To this reader's knowledge this is only the second book from the gifted Michael K. Greenburg: his first book 'Peaches & Daddy: A Story of the Roaring '20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public' was a complete surprise and a fine winner. This writer seems destined to become one of America's finest true crime historian/novelists. If there is anything that could be improved in his work it would be in the choice of titles for his books - both book's titles sound sensational like headlines, are too long, and need to be reduced to something very catchy and attention getting to get the exposure they deserve. Grady Harp, June 11