Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly. Everyone knows the moniker Jack the Ripper, but very few know the names of his victims. For over a century the focus has been on the killer and the nature of his crimes, the meticulous and brutal murder of prostitutes. Author Hallie Rubenhold flips the script on traditional Ripper lore, and presents the lives of the five women whose lives have been reduced by history to their victim status and alleged unsavory activities. These women were more than victims. They were servants, business owners, wives, and mothers. The press of the day was so eager to allay fear amongst Londoners that they painted a portrait of a madman who preyed on prostitutes. This narrative was not only false, it prevented the truth about these women to be known. They were not perfect, but their greatest crime was being born poor women and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is a fascinating look at poverty in Victorian London as well as an exciting new chapter in the Jack the Ripper case. Modern day true crime fans will appreciate that author’s work in humanizing and respecting the victims of these brutal crimes.
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In This Tender Landby William Kent Krueger, hundreds of Native American children have been separated from their parents and sent to the Lincoln School in Minnesota, a boarding school meant to take the perceived “wild” out of these children by providing structure and forcing them to speak only English. The Brinkmans are the corrupt family who run the school and for years have taken advantage of their students, by stealing their money, by not permitting any family contact, and by doling out physical & mental abuse along with a shortage of nutritional food and clean clothing.
Odie narrates this novel and shares his adventures from the summer of 1932, when at 12-years-old, he and his older brother Albert O’Banion, along with Mosie, a mute Native American boy, and Emmy, a six-year-old ward of the Brinkman’s, decide they’ve all had enough at the Lincoln School and escape by canoeing down the Mississippi river.
As the group of self-proclaimed “vagabonds” journey in search of better lives, they have run-ins with drunks, bootleggers, hobos and con artists and get into some seriously dangerous situations along their way to St. Louis. Suspense builds as the gang learns that the Brinkmans have hired bounty hunters and are after them and closing in fast.
This Tender Land, was published in 2019 but is set during the Great Depression and reads like a modern classic. and is a beautifully crafted novel that has plenty for every reader —a mix of literary fiction, coming-of-age, adventure, mystery, and a lesson in morality and forgiveness.
If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, Huckleberry Finn or just enjoy compelling historical fiction, you won’t want to missthis novel.
Norman, a gabby porcupine, has a best friend named Mildred, a silent tree. The pair do everything together, even if it is one-sided. Life is great until a sapling appears close to Mildred. Norman becomes very jealous, especially when the trees touch. He needs to do something. He doesn’t want to lose his best friend Mildred. So Norman sneakily transplants the sapling far far away. Mildred misses the sapling and Norman begins to feel guilty. What should he do?
I love everything about this picture book: the plot; the characters’ names; the illustrations. I also love the message about friendship shared with small children.
I drove over two hours in 2016 to see Anthony Doerr, as one does when one is nerdy and obsessed with an author and in school to become a librarian. I remember clutching my copy of All the Light We Cannot See and being completely enamored. For an exercise in curiosity, Doerr presented a slideshow full of close-up pictures and asked us to guess the everyday objects. He described how a dropped call on the subway in New York City in 2004 was the inspiration behind All the Light We Cannot See, and how he spent ten years researching and writing the book, including studying the history of radio and Nazi art looting. When he signed my book, I remember him taking the time to ask about my weekend and wishing me a happy birthday. So needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is ambitious novel, spanning multiple centuries, places, characters, and even genres. There’s Anna, an orphan who lives and works in an embroidery house in 15th century Constantinople with her sickly older sister. She learns Greek in secret and during her quest to uncover even more words, she discovers a ruined library. Having a cleft palate and believed to be cursed or even demonic, Omeir is exiled to a remote part of Bulgaria and is raised by his whimsical, sweet grandfather. He is conscripted into the Ottoman army with his oxen to attack Constantinople, putting him directly in the path of Anna. Seymour lives in present-day Idaho and his only comfort is the natural world. He befriends an owl that lives in the woods behind his home but when the forest is destroyed for a new housing development, Seymour becomes a radical eco-warrior and crosses paths with Zeno in a devastating way. Zeno is an octogenarian, amateur translator, and Korean War veteran attempting to put on a play with a small group of children. Lastly, there’s Konstance. Konstance is trapped on a spaceship in the future with an infinite library meant to preserve humanity’s knowledge for a new, unspoiled planet. All five stories are connected through an ancient book following the fantastical and humorous adventures of a poor shepherd. Doerr’s writing is just as lyrical and rich as in All the Light We Cannot See. The novel is a clear ode to libraries, language, and the art of storytelling. While I wasn’t as invested in the characters as with All the Light We Cannot See, no one can illustrate the interconnectedness and beauty of our worlds like Anthony Doerr. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an epic worth diving into.
On June 9, 1912 in the town of Villisca, Iowa, all six members of the Moore family and two house guests were bludgeoned to death with an axe. An investigation yielded a number of suspects, one of whom was actually charged with the murders. But two trials later, the case remained unsolved. Bill James, a statistician, baseball analyst, and crime writer, set out to connect the Villisca Axe Murders to a single, prolific, and heretofore unnamed killer.
Between 1898 and 1912 dozens of families were bludgeoned to death in their sleep. These victims were in Nova Scotia, Florida, Oregon, Kansas, and Arkansas among other locations. During this time local police assumed most murders were committed by someone known to the victims. When they could not find a suspect, the cases went cold. James’ theory was the killer was an itinerant worker who used the railroad system to move about, slipping in and out of night under the cover of night. James believes he has correctly identified the man who murdered at least 59 people and could be responsible for another 94 deaths.
This is a meticulously researched book and the authors present a cogent argument against the The Man from the Train. His case is plausible and compelling, offering a fresh look at a number of 100 year old cold cases.
This was one of the first cases we discussed in Riverinos and it remains a group favorite. Feel free to join us Wednesday, January 19th at 7:00pm, when we talk about Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Register here and we’ll send you the Zoom link.
If you are a fan of good crime fiction, start the year right with Kathleen Kent’s “Detective Betty” trilogy, which follow the ups and (mostly) downs of a tough-as-nails, Brooklyn-born, Dallas-based narcotics detective. Betty Rhyzyk was raised by a family of policemen, but was all but destroyed by the death of her brother and the rampant police corruption in Brooklyn. For love, Betty has followed her partner Jackie to Dallas, where she is also hoping for an easier gig. Unfortunately, Betty is still haunted by her past, and not only are the good old boys in blue just as corrupt in Texas, Betty’s new batch of bad guys aren’t afraid of her one bit, even if she is carrying and badge and a gun.
In Betty’s first outing in The Dime, a vengeful cult leader Evangeline Roy tortures and nearly kills Betty. Both women survive and Roy escapes, leaving Betty perpetually looking over her shoulder, even as she throws herself into chasing down the next criminal. In the subsequent volumes of her adrenaline-filled story, The Burnand The Pledge, Betty’s dogged sense of right and wrong get her in more trouble than most of her male counterparts, and her inability to let go of an investigation or listen to authority figures has her on the outs with her superiors more often than not. Even when she’s closing drug cartel cases, catching criminals and getting promotions, Betty faces adversity as a female detective and as a lesbian on the force, and finds she must work that much harder to get respect. No worries –Detective Betty Rhyzyk thrives under pressure. Fans of Michael Connelly’s books and smart, high-octane crime fiction should snap this trilogy up and get ready to enjoy.
This is the first entry in the “Silver Screen Historical Novels’ series by Barbara Hambly. It’s 1924 when Emma Blackstone joins her sister-in-law Kitty Flint, a Hollywood actress whose stage name is Camille de la Rose, on the set as Kitty’s girl Friday. (Emma’s American husband is killed in WWI and her extended family died from the Spanish flu.) Kitty’s first husband, Rex Festraw, is found shot to death in her dressing room, and someone is trying to frame Kitty for the murder. Emma and her significant other, cameraman Zal Rokatansky, are very clever in figuring out who the murderer really is.
For fans of historical fiction and Hollywood in the 1920’s, this is a quick fun read by the prolific author Barbara Hambly.
It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.
Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.
The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.
The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.
Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.
What happens when you are accused of fabricating the worst night of your life? How do you deal with the fact that the people meant to help you think you’re the criminal? This case is wild! With a stranger abduction, rape, mistaken identities, secret organizations, cops with tunnel vision, it’s no surprise that this case was referred to as the real life Gone Girl. Victim F follows Denise and Aaron through Denise’s abduction, the tragic aftermath, and ultimately their recovery efforts as well as lawsuits. A fantastic true crime read.
As an avid consumer of all things true crime, it’s always exciting to discover "new to me" cases. The kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser is one such case. I also enjoy these “old-timey” cases; I find the distance between myself and the time of the crime offers me a bit of an emotional break from modern cases. Anyone else feel that way? Well, Deep in the Woods does not disappoint. The crime itself was strange and frankly, fascinating, the trials stranger, and the ending, the epilogue, the strangest of all. I listened to this one thanks to Netgalley and Tantor and found the narration to be perfection that added to the enjoyment of the story. Fans of historical crimes, kidnappings, and totally bonkers cases will enjoy this one.