Friday, 31 January 2014

The Best We Can Do (True Crime) by Sybille Bedford

Introduction:  The Best We Can Do (1958) is the true and famous account of the trial of John Bodkin Adams.

The prosecution of Dr John Bodkin Adams for murder at the Old Bailey in London in March 1957 will go down in history as one of the great English criminal trials.  Other doctors have been tried for murder, but not since Dr William Palmer of Rugeley was convicted at the same court in 1855 (almost a hundred years before), had it been alleged that a medical man used his professional skill in order to kill a patient.  Adams's trial lasted for three and a half weeks - that is seventeen days in court - and was in 1957, the longest murder trial held in England.

In 1956 - the year of his indictment - Dr Adams was fifty-eight.  He was born and brought up a Methodist in Ulster Ireland and had been in private general practice at Eastbourne for over thirty-five years.  The practice was large and lucrative, many of his patients being rich, old and female.  He lost his father when he was fifteen and his only brother at eighteen.  He qualified at Belfast at twenty-two, came to Eastbourne at twenty-three and remained there until his death in 1983.  He was a zealous non-conformist churchwarden, taught Sunday school and was chairman of the local YMCA;  his hobbies were motoring and clay-pigeon shooting.  He never married and lived alone in a large Victorian house, looked after by a devoted elderly housekeeper.

During the summer of 1956, Eastbourne buzzed with rumours about Dr Adams and a number of 'mysterious deaths'.  In September, Scotland Yard sent senior detectives to investigate.  Stories began to appear in the Press and were soon taken up by the (unfettered) international Press, who freely described Dr Adams as a latter-day English Bluebeard.

In December, the Doctor was arrested for the murder of a Mrs Morell.  The preliminary hearing before the Eastbourne Magistrates' Court in January 1957 lasted a fortnight, and was conducted in public in spite of an objection by defence.  The prosecution alleged that the Doctor had also murdered two other rich patients for gain.  These allegations of triple murder by a well-known local figure were publicized to all;  very few people could have remained ignorant of the Press view of the Doctor's guilt.

Dr Adams was committed for trial in London instead of at the Lewis Assizes in Sussex because of possible local prejudice.  The exhumation of the bodies of two other patients of Dr Adams, on the day after he was charged with murder, hugely served to increase curiosity and prejudice.  Nothing was ever heard of the result of these investigations, so it is fair to assume that they disclosed nothing incriminating.

Dr Adams was held in custody in Brixton Prison from 19 December 1956 until 18 April 1957;  the actual trial began on 18 March 1957.  As the case opened, the Eastbourne GP's future looked short and bleak.  The sensational trial that followed enthralled the hanging public but conflicting expert evidence and a brilliant young defence lawyer gradually turned the tables.  It should be borne in mind that at the time, capital punishment had not been abolished.  Therefore the death penalty was still mandatory for a conviction of murder.

Sybille Bedford's classic account of the case vividly recreates the tense courtroom atmosphere and the unfolding drama of a key trial in British legal and medical history.

About the author:  Sybille Bedford (1911-2006) was born in Charlottenburg, Germany, and was privately educated in England, Italy and France.  She published her first book, A Visit to Don Otavio:  A Traveller's Tale in Mexico in 1953.  Three years later, she published A Legacy, which was described by Nancy Mitford as 'one of the very best novels I've ever read'.  Since then, she has also written the novels A Favourite of the Gods (1965), A Compass Error (1969), and Jigsaw (1989), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
The Best We Can Do:  The Trial of Dr Adams (1958) started her on a new direction, and she attended some of the most important criminal and political trials of our times, notably the Auschwitz trial at Frankfurt, the trial of Jack Ruby in Dallas, and the Lady Chatterley's Lover case.  Her researches in England, France, Germany and Switzerland produced material for her book, The Faces of Justice, published in 1960.  She was the author of As It Was (1960) and the two volume authorized biography of Aldous Huxley.
Sybille has contributed literary criticism and articles on travel, food, wine and the law to numerous publications, including The New York Times, Esquire, Life magazine, TLS, Observer, Harpers and Queen, Vogue, the New York Review of Books, the Saturday Evening Post and the Spectator.
She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Vice-President of PEN, an association of writers pledged to protect freedom of expression and promote literature.  She was awarded the OBE in 1981 and a Companion in Literature in 1994.  Her final work was Quicksands, a memoir published in 2005.

Monday, 27 January 2014

John Steinback (1902-1968)

John Steinback was a Noble prize-winning American author.  He was born in California on 27 February 1902, in his family home called Steinback House.  In 1925, he attended Stafford University though he didn't graduate.  Instead he moved to New York.  He did odd jobs in New York while looking for a publisher for his book.  No publishers wanted to publish his work.

The following year, he returned to California where he kept working toward his goal of publication.  Finally, in 1929, he found a publisher for his novel and it was published.  It was called Cup of Gold.  His first book award came in 1935 for his novel - Tortilla Flat - where he was given the Gold Medal for Best Book by a Californian.

In 1937, Of Mice and Men was published and became an American classic.  Two years later, Grapes of Wrath was published and the following year, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath.

In 1947, he wrote The Pearl, which later became a movie.

In 1960, John travelled across American with his dog, Charley.  He said he loved America and wanted to see all of it.

In 1962, he won the Nobel Prize in literature for all of his literary masterpieces.  Thirty of his books were published by this time.

John died in New York in 1968.  He was buried in the Garden of Memories.  More than a decade later, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in his honour.  Years later, he continued to receive honours, particularly the Gold Medallion by the American Arts.  His literature has lived on as classics.

Friday, 24 January 2014

I'll Take Care Of You (True Crime) by Caitlin Rother

Paperback/Author's Note (excerpt):  Wealthy Men Only.  SWF, 25, 5'5", 100#, classy, well-educated, adventurous, fun and knows how to take care of her man.  Looking for an older man, 30+, who knows how to treat a woman.  You take care of me and I'll take care of you.  Photo & letter.  PO Box 544, Balboa, CA 92661. Call 55287.
Nanette Anne Maneckshaw Johnston Packard, the woman who stars in this true-crime reality, should be the spokesmodel for the greed and epidemic of materialism that have plagued our nation for years and have put so many into the throes of crippling debt.  Well said.

Nanette Johnston Packard, a sexy divorcee, liked to meet men at the gym and through personal ads.  A habitual liar, cheat and thief, this Supermom con artist was married three times and had four children.

Soon after she began dating multimillionaire entrepreneur Bill McLaughlin, he moved her and her kids into his bay-front home in Newport Beach.

But one man was never enough for Nanette.

Eric Naposki, her NFL linebacker lover, fulfilled Nanette's wilder cravings.  Together they schemed to make her fiance's fortune their own.

The unthinkable happened on 15 December 1994.  Just after 9pm, Bill's son, Kevin, heard a series of shots downstairs in their house in Newport Beach, California.  When he got to the kitchen, he found his father lying on his side surrounded by a handful of bullet casings and a few dark red splotches of blood across the kitchen tiles.  There was no sign of a gun or of the shooter.  Authorities had suspicions but no proof.

Pulitzer-nominated writer Caitlin Rother explores this chilling and fascinating story of a cold (fraud-and-homicide) case which started in the mid-1990s and especially of a woman who seemed to have it all until justice finally had its day in 2008...

About the author:  New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored nine books, including Lost Girls, Poisoned Love, Dead Reckoning, Body Parts, Twisted Triangle, Deadly Devotion, Naked Addiction and My Life, Deleted.  Rother, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, worked as an investigative reported at daily newspapers for nineteen years before deciding to write books full-time.  Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.  She has appeared as a crime expert on "Nancy Grace," the "Jay Thomas Show," E!, numerous shows on Investigation Discovery, "Snapped" on the Oxygen Network, Greta Van Susteren's "On the Record," XM Radio, "America at Night," C-Span and various PBS affiliates.  Rother also teaches narrative non-fiction, interviewing and creative writing at UCSD Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Starvation Heights (True Crime) by Gregg Olsen

Paperback:  In 1911, two wealthy British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, came to a sanitorium in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary "fasting treatment" of Dr Linda Burfield Hazzard.  Dr Hazzard's dietary regimen called for a cup of tomato broth twice a day.  She might vary the stock to include an asparagus broth.  Some orange juice were allowed in the mornings.

She also stressed on the necessity of an exercise program that included vigorous walks several times a day.  Dr Hazzard explained, "Your bodies are full of poison.  You need to walk it out.  No matter how difficult it may be as the fast continues, you must persevere and walk.  Walk!  Walk!  Walk!"

It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters.

But within a month of arriving at what the locals called Starvation Heights, the women were emaciated shadows of their former selves, waiting for death.  They were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions.

As their jewelry disappeared and forged bank drafts began transferring their wealth to Hazzard's accounts, Dora Williamson sent a last desperate plea to a friend in Australia, begging her to save them from the brutal treatments and lonely isolation of Starvation Heights.

In Starvation Heights (1997), a haunting saga of medical murder set in an era of steamships and gaslights, Gregg Olsen reveals one of the most unusual and disturbing criminal cases in American history, with more scandal than a novelist could conjure - hypnotism, strange mental powers, forgery, the desecration of a body, the pressure brought by the British in a prosecution on American soil, and of course, a hideously cruel murder of a beloved sister.

The Earl Edward Erdman Diary (The Seattle Daily Times, 14 August 1911) - On 28 March 1910, Earl Edward Erdman, a City of Seattle civil engineer, died of starvation in the Seattle General Hospital.  He had kept a diary which had detailed Buzzard's treatment during the preceding weeks that provides an insight into the treatment Hazzard prescribed to her patients.  The following are excerpts from his diary:

1 February - Saw Dr Hazzard and began treatment this date.  No breakfast.  Mashed soup dinner.  Mashed soup supper.

5-7 February - One orange breakfast.  Mashed soup dinner.  Mashed soup supper.

8 February - One orange breakfast.  Mashed soup dinner.  Mashed soup supper.

9-11 February - One orange breakfast.  Strained soup dinner.  Strained soup supper.

12 February - One orange breakfast.  One orange dinner.  One orange supper.

13 February - Two orange breakfast.  No dinner.  No supper.

14 February - One cup of strained tomato broth at 6pm.

15 February - One cup hot strained tomato soup night and morning.

16 February - One cup hot strained tomato soup am and pm.  Slept better last night.  Head quite dizzy.  Eyes yellow streaked and red.

17 February - Ate three oranges today.

19 February - Called on Dr Dawson today at his home.  Slept well Saturday night.

20 February - Ate strained juice of two small oranges at 10am.  Dizzy all day.  Ate strained juice of two small oranges at 5pm.

21 February - Ate one cup settled and strained tomato broth.  Backache today just below ribs.

22 February - Ate juice of two small oranges at 10am.  Backache today in right side just below ribs.

23 February - Slept but little last night.  Ate two small oranges at 9am.  Went after milk and felt very bad.  Ate two small oranges 6pm.

24 February - Slept better Wednesday night.  Kind of frontal headache in am.  Ate two small oranges 10am.  Ate one and a half cups hot tomato soup at 6pm.  Heart hit up to ninety-five minute and sweat considerable.

25 February - Slept pretty well Thursday night.  Ate one and a half cups tomato broth 11am.  Ate one and a half cups tomato broth 6pm.  Pain in right below ribs.

26 February - Did not sleep so very well Friday night.  Pain in right side just below ribs in back.  Pain quit in night.  Ate one and a half cups tomato broth at 10.45am.  Ate two and a half pump small oranges at 4.30pm.  Felt better afternoon than for the last week...

This diet continued more or less unchanged until his hospitalization on 28 March 1910.  He died that afternoon. (Source: Wikipedia, Linda Hazzard)

About the author:  Throughout his career, Gregg Olsen has demonstrated an ability to create a detailed narrative that offers readers fascinating insights into the lives of people caught in extraordinary circumstances.  The award-winning author has written nine non-fiction books, nine novels, a novella, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child as well as been a guest on scores of national and local television shows, including educational programs for the History Channel, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.  He, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington, with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (cocker spaniel) and Suri (dachshund).

Olsen's next true crime book, If I Can't Have You:  Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children, will be out on 20 May 2014.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Hardback:  From Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, comes a witty, charming and hilariously relatable debut novel about a struggling young actress trying to get ahead and keep it together in New York City.

It's January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing "important" work.  But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club.

Her roommates - her best friend, Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer - are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn't exactly count as success.  Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she's not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep.  Not just yet.

But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she'd happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything - and finding a hair product combination that works.  Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she'll finally have a chance to perform for people who could actually hire her.

And she can't let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt and the most successful actor in her class, even though he's suddenly started paying attention.  Meanwhile, her bank account is rapidly dwindling, her father wants her to come home, and her agent doesn't return her calls.

But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Someday, Someday, Maybe (2013) is a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately.  It's about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job.

About the author:  Lauren Graham is an actress best known for her roles on the critically acclaimed series Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.  She has performed on Broadway and appeared in such films as Bad Santa, Evan Almighty, and Because I Said So.  She holds a BA in English from Barnard College and an MFA in acting from Southern Methodist University.  She lives in New York and Los Angeles.  Someday, Someday, Maybe was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 in the Best Fiction category and entered the New York Times bestseller list.

Lauren Graham talking about her debut novel on HuffPost Live in 2013:

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 11 January 2014

If Loving You Is Wrong (True Crime) by Gregg Olsen

Within hours of giving birth to her sixth child, Mary Kay Letourneau had her baby daughter whisked from her arms.  She was then shackled and returned to her jail cell.  This was back in 1998.  Just years before, the pretty, personable, Seattle schoolteacher was living a life many would envy - she had a handsome husband, four beautiful children, and a beloved following of students.  Then she was accused of child rape, and her whole world turned upside down.

How did a 34-year-old married teacher fall in love with one of her sixth-grade students?  Was it a complete lapse of judgment or as she contends, the meeting of two soulmates?  Were the two planning to run away together before police caught them in a parked car?  Did the couple have illicit sex in every room of the Letourneau house, as the teenager told the tabloids?

If Loving You Is Wrong is an account of the case that shocked the world and rocked the headlines in 1996.  It recounts the lonely life of Mary Kay Letourneau and the young object of her obsession, the boy who fathered two of her children.

If Loving You Is Wrong (2013) is a must-read for both true-crime aficionados and students of abnormal psychology. (Ann Rule)

About the author:  Throughout his career, Gregg Olsen has demonstrated an ability to create a detailed narrative that offers readers fascinating insights into the lives of people caught in extraordinary circumstances.  The award-winning author has written nine non-fiction books, nine novels, a novella, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child as well as been a guest on scores of national and local television shows, including educational programs for the History Channel, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.  He, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington, with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (cocker spaniel) and Suri (dachshund).

Olsen's next true crime book, If I Can't Have You:  Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children, will be out on 20 May 2014.  For more information, click on his name (above).

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Agony of the Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery, Book 13) by Laura Childs

Paperback:  Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning finds herself in hot water when a body surfaces at the grand opening of Charleston's Neptune Aquarium.

The opening of the aquarium is a major Charleston event, and Theodosia has been hired to cater the private party to honor dignitaries and big-buck donors.  Things are going swimmingly - until Theodosia discovers a body entangled in a net, drowned in one of the aquarium's state-of-the-art tanks.

To make matters worse, the victim is Theodosia's former boyfriend, Parker Scully.  The EMTs think Parker's drowning was an accident, but when Theodosia notices what look like defense wounds on his hands, she realizes that someone wanted Parker dead.

The police aren't keen on her theory, so if she wants Parker's killer brought to justice, Theodosia will have to jump into the deep end and start her own investigation.

Agony of the Leaves (2012) includes delicious recipes like honeybee scones, tea resources and tea time tips!

About the author:  Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, the Scrapbooking Mysteries and the Cackleberry Club Mysteries.  She is a consummate tea drinker, scrapbooker, and dog lover, and travels frequently to China and Japan with Dr Bob, her professor husband.  In her past life she was a Clio Award-winning advertising writer and CEO of her own marketing firm.

The fifteenth Tea Shop Mystery book, Steeped in Evil, will be out on 4 March 2014.  The Tea Shop Mystery series is a highly recommended read and a favourite of mine.  Do not miss it!

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 6 January 2014

Fatal Sunset: Vanished Beauty (Quick Reads) by Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff

This is a quick but informative read about two "perfect" and unsolved murders or something even more terrifying.  First is blonde and beautiful Robyn Colson Gardner, 35, who took a secret trip to the island of Aruba with a man she met online and then vanished without a trace on 2 August 2011.  Her disappearance has an eerie parallel to Natalee Holloway's disappearance in 2005.  Natalee was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate.  Both stayed in the same Aruban resort town of Oranjestad.

On 22 October 2003, Christina Mae Watson, 26, a young and pretty newlywed was found dead at the bottom of the ocean just one week into a dream Australian honeymoon. Extensive evidence showed it could have been a tragic accident.

The men who were involved in Robyn's mysterious disappearance and Tina's sinister death are walking free today.  The alleged motive of insurance money was the key factor in both the accusals.  In Robyn's case, it was a $1.5 million accidental death policy.

The author's advice based on this book is "Dare to be aware when going on vacation!"

Nemcoff has dedicated Fatal Sunset: Vanished Beauty (2013) to the memories of Robyn Gardner and Tina Watson.

About the author:  Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff is a bestselling and award-winning author who has been known to occasionally moonlight as a voice-over artist and independent journalist.  He is a former Sirius Satellite Radio drive time show and TV host that has been featured by PlayBoy Magazine and Access Hollywood.  He is the writer behind Kindle bestsellers The Death of Osama Bin Laden and Where's My F***king Latte?, an insiders look at the world of Hollywood celebrity assistants that was not only featured on Access Hollywood, but has spent over five years straight on Amazon's top-selling charts in the categories Television and Movies.  Mark currently resides in Los Angeles.  He can be reached at, and

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A Perfect Husband (True Crime) by Aphrodite Jones

Paperback:  Michael Peterson was a decorated war veteran and bestselling novelist, his wife Kathleen a high-powered executive and devoted mother.  They seemed to be the perfect couple until that tragic night of 9 December 2001, in the posh suburb of Forest Hills in Durham, North Carolina, Michael found Kathleen at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood.

Aphrodite Jones draws on exclusive interviews and disturbing new evidence to update (latest update: 2013) this classic real-life thriller of marriage, manipulation and murder.

About the author:  The author of eight bestselling books, Aphrodite Jones is an internationally recognized authority on true crime.  She is the host and co-executive producer of Investigation Discovery's hit series True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, now in its third season.  Jones has frequently appeared as a crime expert on The O-Reilly Factor, Dateline NBC, The Today Show, CNN Newsroom, Piers Morgan Tonight, among others.  In addition, Jones created and hosted the reality crime-fighting TV show The Justice Hunters that aired on USA Network.  Her account of Brandon Teena, All She Wanted (1996), was the inspiration for the Academy Award winning film Boys Don't Cry (1999).  A Perfect Husband (2004) was made into the critically acclaimed Lifetime movie, The Staircase Murders (2007), which Jones co-produced with Lionsgate TV.  She divides her time between homes in New York and Florida.  She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Below is Part One of an eight-part documentary for ABC television - filmed by an award-winning French film crew, Maha Productions, in 2004 - almost exclusively on Michael Peterson as well as his immediate family, his attorneys, his defense team, his court hearings and the trial proceedings.  Back then, the presiding judge on Peterson's case was assured that the documentary would not be aired until after the trial verdict and sentencing and was convinced that a documentary of this nature would have educational value.  (Warning: the documentary contains dramatic scenes):

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Bitter Almonds (True Crime) by Gregg Olsen

Paperback (Update:  2002, true crime):  Stella Nickell's small-time world was one of big-time dreams.  She of the clinging miniskirts, a wild mane of black hair, and cherry-red lips.  For a forty-two-year-old grandmother, Stella Maudine Nickell was hot stuff.

On 5 June 1986, her biggest one came true when her husband died during a seizure, making her the beneficiary of a $175 000-plus insurance payoff until authorities discovered Bruce Nickell's headache capsules had been laced with cyanide.

In an attempt to cover her tracks, Stella did the unconscionable.

Less than a week later on 11 June 1986, she saw to it that a stranger, Susan Snow, a forty-year-old Auburn bank manager, would also become a "random casualty" of cyanide-tainted painkillers.  Both Bruce and Susan died without regaining consciousness.  But Stella's cunning plan came undone when her daughter Cynthia notified federal agents and troubling questions lingered like the scent of bitter almonds.

What would turn a gregarious barfly like Stella into a cold-hearted killer overnight?  Why would Cynthia, a mirror image of her mother, turn on her own flesh and blood?  Did Cynthia reveal everything she knew about the crimes?  Was Stella a lone killer or did she have an accomplice in her daughter, Cynthia?  The stunning answers would unfold in a case that sparked a national uproar, dug deep into a troubled family history, and exposed an American mother for the pretty poison she was.

Stella went to trial in April 1988 and on 9 May 1988, after five days of jury deliberation, she was found guilty of five counts of product tampering.  One month later, the judge pronounced a sentence of two ninety-year terms, with parole a possibility at thirty years, for the charges relating to the deaths of Susan Snow and Bruce Nickell and three ten-year terms for the product tampering charges.  All sentences were to run concurrently.  She was also ordered to pay a small fine and forfeit her remaining assets to the families of her victims.  At that time, she made history by being the nation's first convicted federal product tamperer.

Now, almost seventy-one years of age and serving time at the federal women's prison near Pleasanton, California, Stella will be eligible for parole in the year 2018 when she will be seventy-five-years-old.

About the author:  Throughout his career, Gregg Olsen has demonstrated an ability to create a detailed narrative that offers readers fascinating insights into the lives of people caught in extraordinary circumstances.  The award-winning author has written nine non-fiction books, nine novels, a novella, and contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child as well as been a guest on scores of national and local television shows, including educational programs for the History Channel, the Learning Channel, and Discovery Channel.  He, a Seattle native, lives in Olalla, Washington, with his wife, twin daughters, three chickens, Milo (cocker spaniel) and Suri (dachshund).

Olsen's next true crime book, If I Can't Have You:  Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children, will be out on 20 May 2014.  For more information, click on his name (above).

Friday, 3 January 2014

Survived By One by Robert E Hanlon with Thomas V Odle

Hardback (Introduction, excerpt):  The deliberate, calculated, serial execution of all family members by one of the children is an extremely rare crime termed parricidal familicide, that represents less than 1 percent of all homicides in the world.  Survived By One:  The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer, published on 6 August 2013, is the true story of one such unconscionable act.

Blurb:  On 8 November 1985, five members of the Odle family - parents, Robert and Carolyn, each approximately thirty-nine, Robyn, fourteen, Sean, thirteen, and Scott, ten - were brutally murdered in their home in Mt Vernon, a small town in Southern Illinois, sending shockwaves throughout the nation.

The murder of the Odle family remains one of the most horrific family mass murders in US history.

Tom Odle, the eldest son and only surviving member of the family, was charged with the murders the following day.  He was eighteen years old.  His capital murder trial revealed that his mother, Carolyn Odle, dominated the household and was a controlling, manipulative and emotionally detached woman with a penchant for corporal punishment, mostly tormenting him and his brother, Sean.  His father idly stood by and did nothing to defend them.

Although she was considered an upstanding member of the community and was president of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) at her children's elementary school, the trial exposed the complex "correlation between the public persona and the private life of the maternal target."  It also revealed "a dynamic within the Odle household that is typical of dysfunctional families with an abusive element."

The court would learn that Tom's core motive for the mass murder of the entire Odle family was to kill his mother, Carolyn.

Tom was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death at the age of nineteen - the youngest death-row inmate in the Illinois prison system - and, after seventeen years on death row, expected a lethal injection to end his life.

On 11 January 2003, in response to the growing number of death-row prisoners who had been exonerated due to wrongful convictions, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the death penalty of all death-row inmates in Illinois, and ultimately changed Tom's sentence to natural life without parole.

The commutation of his death sentence was an epiphany for Tom.  Prior to the commutation, Tom lived in denial, repressing any feelings about his family and his horrible crime.  Following the commutation and the removal of the weight of eventual execution, he was confronted with an unfamiliar reality:  a future.

As a result, he realized that he needed to understand why he murdered his family.  He reached out to Dr Robert Hanlon, a neuropsychologist who had examined him in the past.  Dr Hanlon engaged him in a therapeutic process of introspection and self-reflection, which became the basis of their collaboration on this book.

Dr Hanlon tells a gripping story of Tom's life as an abused child, the life experiences that formed his personality, and his tragic homicidal escalation to mass murder, seamlessly weaving into the narrative Tom's unadorned reflections on his childhood, finding a new family on death row and his belief in the powers of redemption.

As our nation attempts to understand the continual mass murders occurring in the United States, Survived By One sheds some light on the psychological aspects of why and how such acts of extreme carnage may occur.  However, Survived By One also offers a never-before-told perspective from the mass murderer himself, as he searches for the answers concurrently being asked by the nation and the world.

Tom said in an interview in 2009, "You can't just put people in cells and leave them.  You've got to get them educated.  Educated people make educated decisions.  So if you send an educated person back to the world, he's going to make educated decisions and hopefully, be educated enough that he won't land in the penitentiary again."  Tom is the first and only former death-row inmate among the 167 death-row inmates whose sentences were commuted to achieved a college degree.

On 9 March 2011, the death penalty was abolished in the State of Illinois.

In 2012, Tom was transferred to the Dixon Correctional Center of the Illinois Department of Corrections and has remained there since.  He said, "My story could be used as a teaching tool if someone else comes down this road, if they feel this is the only thing they have left.  Options.  When you're young and you get involved in drugs, you are really not aware of the world.  Life is so narrow, and you're not really thinking about tomorrow or looking for opportunities.  You think, 'I've got to resolve this right here, right now.'  It's a little picture compared to the big picture.  Be proud of it cause it's the only one you get."

What lessons can we derive from Tom's story?  Reverend Gary Fore's address is perhaps worth thinking about.  He said, "If one child passes through here and figures alcohol and drugs are really not the fun they figure them to be, that they're really not worth it compared to the pain they bring..." and perhaps his most salient point, "If one parent passes through here and realizes that choosing up sides and being abusive to each other in the family is not healthy...then these (the Odles) have not died in vain."

The biggest factor in the shaping of a potential family killer is a history of childhood abuse.  "It's hard not to overstress that," said Dr Hanlon.

Tom receives no financial compensation for his contribution to this book.

About the author:  Robert E Hanlon, PhD, is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with a specialization in forensic neuropsychology and is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg of Medicine in Chicago.  He has more than twenty-five years of experience as a forensic expert, evaluating hundreds of murder defendants and death-row inmates and testifying in many murder trials.  His publications include more than thirty articles and chapters in professional journals and textbooks. 

About Thomas V Odle:  Odle is an inmate at the Dixon Correctional Center, Illinois Department of Corrections.  In 1986 at the age of nineteen, Odle was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the mass murder of his family.  Odle has spent his entire adult life in maximum-security prisons, including seventeen years on death row.  In 2003 the governor of Illinois commuted Odle's death sentence to natural life.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Golden Calf by Helene Tursten

Paperback:  Three men have been shot in one of Gothenburg's most fashionable neighbourhoods, sending Irene Huss and her colleagues on a goose chase through a tony world of expensive cars and fancy homes.

All three victims seem to be tied to one person, the glamorous dot-com darling Sanna Kaegler-Ceder, but Sanna isn't talking, even when her own life seems to be at stake.

Swedish Detective Inspector Irene Huss - jiujitsu champion, mother of teenage twin girls, and investigator on Gothenburg murder squad - faces a case of very dirty big money and someone who is willing to kill for it.

About the author:  Helene Tursten was born on Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast, where she lives today.  She is in fact trained as a nurse and a dentist.  After working as a nurse for three years, she decided to go to dental school.  It was when she returned to school for her dental degree that Helene met her husband, who had been a policeman.  They are still married more than thirty years later with a daughter who is now an adult.  The dog in the Inspector Irene Huss Investigation books, Sammie, is based on their real-life dog, who lived to the ripe old age of fifteen.

Helene spent ten years practising dentistry before her career was curtailed due to rheumatic illness.  That was when she turned to writing.  Today, she has written ten novels about Irene Huss and her colleagues at the police headquarters in Gothenburg.  The books have been translated into eighteen languages.

There are also twelve TV films that have been made featuring Detective Inspector Irene Huss.  The films have been shown in many European countries.  Helene wrote the story synopses and edited all the film scripts in collaboration with professional script writers.  Working on the films has been a real kick for her and she thinks has also been good for her books.

"There's a big difference between writing a book and writing a script for a film," Helene says.  "When I  am working with a film plot I have to think in pictures and within the limitations of a budget.  It is very inspiring for me as a writer to think and work in a different way."

The Golden Calf (2013) is the fifth book in the Inspector Irene Huss Investigation series.  The Golden Calf was originally published in Sweden, as Guldkalven, in 2003.  The Golden Calf is translated from the Swedish into the English by Laura A Wideburg.

The next and sixth book of the Inspector Irene Huss Investigation, The Fire Dance, will be available on 23 January 2014 in both hardback and Kindle forms.

Other books in the Detective Inspector Huss series are Detective Inspector Huss (2003), The Torso (2006), The Glass Devil (2007), and Night Rounds (2012).

Rating:  5/5