BOOK REVIEW: Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert by Patricia Cornwell

Title: Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert

Author: Patricia Cornwell

Book Length: 570 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: January 4, 2023

Read Finish Date: March 22, 2023

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From New York Times bestselling author Patricia Cornwell comes Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert, a comprehensive and intriguing exposé of one of the world’s most chilling cases of serial murder—and the police force that failed to solve it.

Vain and charismatic Walter Sickert made a name for himself as a painter in Victorian London. But the ghoulish nature of his art—as well as extensive evidence—points to another name, one that’s left its bloody mark on the pages of history: Jack the Ripper. Cornwell has collected never-before-seen archival material—including a rare mortuary photo, personal correspondence and a will with a mysterious autopsy clause—and applied cutting-edge forensic science to open an old crime to new scrutiny.

Incorporating material from Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed, this new edition has been revised and expanded to include eight new chapters, detailed maps and hundreds of images that bring the sinister case to life.

My Review: Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert explores the theory that the famous British painter Walter Sickert was also Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer who terrorized London in the late 19th century.

The book presents evidence that Sickert had a connection to the Ripper murders, including similarities in the style and content of his paintings and the crime scenes, as well as letters that he wrote and received that may indicate his involvement. Cornwell also delves into Sickert’s personal life and character, painting a portrait of a disturbed and possibly violent individual.

However, the theory presented in the book has been met with skepticism and criticism from some experts in the field, and it remains a controversial topic in the ongoing debate about the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

While a well-researched book, I found Cornwell’s theory about the true identity of Jack the Ripper less than compelling. Cornwell made less of a case for Walter Sickert being the notorious serial killer, than she did that Sickert was an awful human being who had an obsessions with death / violence. At times, Cornwell’s arguments feel repetitive and she can be overly speculative in her analysis. Additionally, some of the evidence presented is circumstantial and open to interpretation, which left me feeling unconvinced, to say the least.

For example, Cornwell presents a letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper alongside one from Sickert in her book, both containing doodles or drawings. Cornwell asserts that the drawings are very similar, but upon examination, I personally did not find them to be alike. Additionally, Cornwell claims that she couldn’t proceed with her investigation without certain “scientific” evidence. However, it is unclear what type of science she is referring to, as the DNA evidence is non-existent and handwriting analysis is not a reliable method in court.

The sole piece of evidence that could potentially be considered credible (although that term is used loosely) is the matching watermarks on certain Ripper letters sent to the police and Sickert’s letters from the same period, indicating that they were manufactured from the same batch of paper. While it is possible that Sickert wrote these letters, it does not necessarily mean that he was the Ripper. However, Cornwell’s research indicates that Sickert had an obsession with death and murder, was unpleasant, arrogant, and possibly even narcissistic, and created violent art.

Is this the recipe for a serial killer or just a major jerk? It’s difficult to say. While Sickert’s obsession with death and murder, coupled with his violent art and nasty personality, certainly raise some red flags, there is no conclusive evidence linking him to the crimes of Jack the Ripper. It’s possible that he was taunting the police for fun, or that he didn’t send the letters at all. And if he was the Ripper, why did he suddenly stop killing? It’s a mystery that may never be solved. While Cornwell attributes many more murders to the Ripper than the five that are typically attributed to him, the lack of concrete evidence linking Sickert to the crimes makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions.

Cornwell’s obsession with the killer at the expense of the victims made the book even less exciting for me. While reading it, I also listened to the Bad Women podcast, which focuses on the victims of Jack the Ripper. Cornwell refers to the victims as prostitutes, but in reality, they were not. This indicates that she was more interested in the killer than the victims, even though she claims the book is for the victims to get justice. About 20% of London’s population at the time of the killings was homeless, and the victims may have been homeless or fallen on hard times, but there is little evidence to suggest they engaged in prostitution.

Another aspect of the book that I found distasteful and disrespectful was Cornwell’s graphic depiction of the murders, as well as her inclusion of actual photographs of the victims’ mutilated bodies. It’s unclear how this serves the victims or their families, as it can be incredibly triggering and traumatizing to see such images. In my opinion, it is not appropriate to include such graphic content in a book, especially without a warning for readers who may be sensitive to such material.

During an interview for a Bad Women podcast episode, Cornwell referred to Jack the Ripper as “Jack the Rippoff” and disclosed spending 7 million dollars on her investigation into Sickert. It appeared to me that Cornwell was not particularly passionate about her own project, but may have felt obligated to complete the book due to her commitment and contractual obligations with the publisher. If Cornwell isn’t so thrilled with the book, should I be?

Trigger warnings for this book include: graphic descriptions of violence and murder, depictions of mutilated bodies, mentions of sexual assault, discussions of mental illness, and potential victim blaming.

Although I gave this book 3 stars, would I recommend it? The book has received mixed reviews, with some readers praising it for its thorough research and others criticizing it for its unsupported claims and graphic descriptions of violence. If you are interested in true crime or the Jack the Ripper case, you may find the book worth reading for its unique perspective and extensive research. However, if you are sensitive to graphic content or have concerns about the author’s methods and claims, you may want to consider a different book on the topic. Ultimately, whether or not to read the book is a personal decision that depends on your individual interests and comfort level.


BOOK REVIEW: Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen

Title: Starvation Heights

Author: Gregg Olsen

Book Length: 436 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Medical History

Read Start Date: January 31, 2023

Read Finish Date: March 8, 2023

Brief Summary of the Plot from GoodreadsIn 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. 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 this true story—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.

My Review: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Starvation Heights tells the story of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor who operated a fasting sanitarium in the early 20th century in the state of Washington. Hazzard claimed that fasting could cure all manner of ailments, and convinced many wealthy patients to undergo extreme fasting regimes under her supervision. However, many of her patients suffered greatly, and some even died under her care.

The book delves into the disturbing and often gruesome details of Hazzard’s practices, and explores the psychology behind her obsession with starvation and control. It also examines the social and cultural context of the time, and how the prevailing attitudes towards medicine and health allowed Hazzard to operate her dangerous and fraudulent business for years.

The harrowing account of Hazzard’s patients’ starvation had a profound impact on me. The book focuses on the “treatment” of Claire and Dora, two heiresses from England who voluntarily submit themselves to Hazzard’s dangerous regimen. They are forced to survive on meager amounts of vegetable broth for over 40 days and endure brutal enemas and physical abuse. Claire eventually succumbed to the “treatment” and died.

Like the curl of smoke from a candle, Claire was gone.”

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 21%

It is shocking to learn that despite numerous witnesses, no one intervened to stop the cruelty. Adding to the horror, the State refused to prosecute Hazzard for Claire’s death by starvation because it was deemed too costly. Instead, they sought to have Claire’s estate pay the expenses. Can you imagine!?!?

Many of her critics were aghast that it had taken so very long for the fasting proponent to be stopped at all. They wondered what kind of power she held? How was it that she had been allowed to get away with repeated murder?”

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 52%.

All of this death and cruelty was motivated by greed.

The way the vice-consul perceived it, Linda Burfield Hazzard had targeted wealthy and vulnerable subjects of the British Empire. It was her practice to have herself appointed administrator of their estates, and once accomplishing that, she and husband Samuel were in the position to submit enormous bills to the dead patients’ estates and extract large sums of money. Everything had been for greed. For the love of money.”

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 55%.

Hazzard not only robbed her patients of their money and possessions but also manipulated them into believing that the starvation was actually working. Despite weighing no more than a young child, Hazzard’s patients were convinced that they were getting better.

She had such a will that when she placed food of an inferior quality on the table and told me it was the best, it immediately became in my eyes the best. Her great power over people lies in her tremendous will plus mental suggestion.”

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen, ebook at 23%.

The book was undoubtedly meticulously researched, and despite being a work of non-fiction, the storytelling was exceptional. Even the trial segment of the book was engaging, as Hazzard’s behavior in the courtroom was truly unbelievable. Through the trial, readers were able to delve into the details of the case and learn more about Hazzard’s other victims, who unfortunately numbered quite a few.

I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime and medical history. It may also appeal to those interested in the darker side of human nature and the psychology of manipulation. However, due to the disturbing content and descriptions of abuse, it may not be suitable for all readers due to various trigger warnings.

Trigger warnings include, but are not limited to:

  • Extreme malnutrition
  • Starvation
  • Physical abuse and violence
  • Medical malpractice
  • Death and dying
  • Manipulation and exploitation
  • Mental illness
  • Eating disorders

Please note that this list may not be exhaustive, and individual readers may find other aspects of the book to be triggering or distressing. It is always a good idea to research a book’s content and potential triggers before reading, and to prioritize self-care while reading if necessary.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Beyond the Grave by James Patterson

Title: Murder Beyond the Grave

Author: James Patterson

Book Length: 295 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: December 28, 2022

Read Finish Date: January 4, 2023

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Two true-crime thrillers as seen on Discovery’s Murder is Forever TV series

MURDER BEYOND THE GRAVE: Stephen Small has it all – a Ferrari, fancy house, loving wife, and three boys. But the only thing he needs right now is enough air to breathe. Kidnapped, buried in a box, and held for ransom, Stephen has forty-eight hours of oxygen. The clock is ticking . . .

MURDER IN PARADISE: High in the Sierra Nevada mountains, developers Jim and Bonnie Hood excitedly tour Camp Nelson Lodge. They intend to buy and modernise this beautiful rustic property, but the locals don’t like rich outsiders changing their way of life. After a grisly shooting, everybody will discover just how you can make a killing in real estate . . .

My Review: I purchased this book at the library near my parents house in South Carolina for $1. I thought it was a pretty good deal, as James Patterson books are usually entertaining. Although this book was nonfiction / true crime, it had all the classic hallmarks of what make a James Patterson book a JP book. The prose was easy to read and the were stories engaging.


Murder Beyond the Grave tells the story of Danny, a “reformed” drug dealer, who can’t handle the straight life. Where once he had cash to burn, he now has piles of bills with no way to pay them. One day he drives past the house of a rich man, Stephan Smalls. Stephan is living the good life. Family. Career. Nice house. Even a Ferrari in the driveway.

Danny is jealous. Worst of all, Danny sees the opportunity to make some cash. He hatches a plan to kidnap Stephan for ransom money.

Danny has a girlfriend. She knows he’s up to no good — but she stays quiet. She sees him building a wooden coffin. Still, she says nothing. Not to friends, family, the police. She never says anything when she picks up Danny in a remote location in the middle of the night. When Danny continues to act strangely for the following few days.

When Stephan is found dead, both Danny and his girlfriend are convicted of murder. This didn’t sit well with me.

Although this book read like fiction, this is a true story. I found it not only incredulous but absurd that Danny’s girlfriend was found guilty of murder simply for not telling the police Danny was “up to no good”. Put it simply, the jury did not believe that she didn’t know. Personally, I believe she had nothing to do with it. Yes she’s dating an ex-con, but that doesn’t make her a murderer. She seemed like a nice woman with a small child to care for. If her known drug dealer boyfriend was acting cagey, she probably thought he was dealing again. Why would she think he was kidnapping someone? And even if he was dealing again, did she have a legal OBLIGATION to turn him in? No. Does that make her an accomplice? I would argue also not.

I was really pissed off by her conviction and would have liked to hear more about why she was found guilty. For example, what persuaded the jury that she knew, and not only knew but PARTICIPATED? Isn’t it more likely that she just didn’t want to know what he was doing, so she didn’t ask questions? Is ignorance a crime? I guess, in her case, it was.

Murder in Paradise is the second story in the book about a woman who is shot and killed. Bonnie Hood is the owner of a lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains. While renovating the place, she starts an affair with an employee. He was also shot but lived. The two had been sleeping together the night of the crime.

Speculation swirled — was it the husband? Did someone have a vendetta against Bonnie? Eventually, a suspect surfaced: Bruce Beauchamp, a construction worker of Bonnie’s husband, Jim. Without solid evidence, Bruce is acquitted but is later shot to death by Jim Hood. Jim claimed it was “self-defense,” but after a mistrial, Jim was convicted and sent to prison for 27 years.

This Jim guy sounds like a real “winner.” Not. Is it nice to be cheated on? Of course not, but that doesn’t make it all right to kill your wife and attempt to kill her lover. It also doesn’t make it okay to kill the guy you hired to do it…because, let’s be honest, that’s what he was doing, right? Jim was afraid that Bruce would implicate Jim in Bonnie’s murder, so he had to get rid of him. And that self-defense BS almost worked — there was a mistrial the first time around. He almost got away with it. Almost. I read online that this guy got out of jail in 2017. This totally blows my mind.

The woman in the first story goes to jail for life because of ignorance, and this guy killed 2 people and wounded another and gets out after 27 years? Ugh.

This is, of course, all speculation and my own opinion based on the limited facts presented in the book. I think, in general, I would have liked more facts and more details.

In conclusion: 1) this book is entertaining and at points, even thought provoking; 2) reads like a fiction book, although a nonfiction / true crime story; and 3) could use some extra facts and more about the trials.

Verdict: Fans of James Patterson will enjoy it.

BOOK REVIEW: American Mother by Gregg Olsen

Title: American Mother: The True Story of a Troubled Family, Motherhood, and the Cyanide Murders that Shook the World

Author: Gregg Olsen

Audiobook Length: 14 hours and 7 minutes. Book length: 496 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: November 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: At 5.02 pm on June 5, 1986, an emergency call came into the local sheriff’s office in the small town of Auburn, Washington State. A distressed housewife, Stella Nickell, said her husband Bruce was having a seizure. Officers rushed to the Nickell’s mobile home, to find Stella standing frozen at the door… Bruce was on the floor fighting for his life.  
As Stella became the beneficiary of over $175,000 in a life insurance pay-out, forensics discovered that Bruce had consumed painkillers laced with cyanide.
A week later, fifteen-year-old Hayley was getting ready for another school day. Her mom, Sue, called out ‘I love you’ before heading into the bathroom and moments later collapsed on the floor. Sue never regained consciousness, and the autopsy revealed she had been poisoned by cyanide tainted headache pills. Just like Bruce.
While a daughter grieved the sudden and devastating loss of her mother, a young woman, Cindy, was thinking about her own mom Stella. She thought about the years of neglect and abuse, the tangled web of secrets Stella had shared with her, and Cindy contemplated turning her mom into the FBI…
Gripping and heart-breaking, Gregg Olsen uncovers the shocking true story of a troubled family. He delves into a complex mother-daughter relationship rooted in mistrust and deception, and the journey of the sweet curly-haired little girl from Oregon whose fierce ambition to live the American Dream led her to make the ultimate betrayal.    
Originally published as Bitter Almonds. Revised and updated edition.

My Review: I received this book as an audiobook and ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. With respect to the different formats:

Audiobook: The audiobook was great. I also really liked the interview with the author that was included in the end.

Ebook: The ebook was also great. It was easy to read and it was organized well.

With respect to the story itself, American Mother is the true crime story of a woman, Stella Nickell, who murdered her husband Bruce by giving him Excedrin capsules filled with cyanide. The medical examiner initially stated that the cause of death was emphysema. Stella was free and clear of the murder — that is — until she became greedy. You see, if the death was accidental, then Stella would get a bigger payout from the life insurance.

Sickly inspired by the “tylenol murders”, which was a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982, Stella formulated a plan: she would contaminate Excedrin bottles with cyanide filled capsules and put them on the shelves at drug stores. Then, when someone else took them and died, it would be seen as another “drug tampering” case, and Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident. This plot is sick and twisted, and Stella almost got away with it. Who would think that someone would be so callous as to murder complete strangers to cover up the murder of her husband?

A short while after Stella put the bottles on the shelves, a woman named Sue took those cyanide pills and died. This time the medical examiner found the cyanide in her system. After Sue’s death hit the news, Stella started calling authorities stating her belief that her husband had also taken contaminated pills. It was found to be true.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Stella murdered Sue so that Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident and Stella could get more money. What a heartless piece of garbage!

Gregg Olsen tells the story of not only the murder and the victim, Sue, but also the background on the Nickell family. While I’m not a big fan of focusing on the killer (because the focus should be on the victim instead), it was important to see Stella’s family dynamics, as there was some speculation, although never proven, that Stella’s daughter was in on the plot as well.

I really like how Olsen told the story — it wasn’t dry like some true crime books, and it held my interest. There was some repetition of the facts when Olsen wrote about the trial (and honestly this was my least favorite part), but on the other hand it really drove home the point that Stella was a heartless monster who killed 2 people for the money.

If you like true crime, I would definitely recommend this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: A Haunted History of Invisible Women by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

60098288._SY475_Title: A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 44 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Paranormal, Horror, True Crime

Read Start Date: September 25, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 27, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From the notorious Lizzie Bordento the innumerable, haunted rooms ofSarah Winchester‘s mysterious mansionthis offbeat, insightful, first-ever book of its kind explores the history behind America’s female ghosts, the stereotypes, myths, and paranormal tales that swirl around them, what their stories reveal about us–and why they haunt us…

Sorrowful widows, vengeful jezebels, innocent maidens, wronged lovers, former slaves, even the occasional axe-murderess–America’s female ghosts differ widely in background, class, and circumstance. Yet one thing unites them: their ability to instill fascination and fear, long after their deaths. Here are the full stories behind some of the best-known among them, as well as the lesser-known–though no less powerful.

Tales whispered in darkness often divulge more about the teller than the subject. America’s most famous female ghosts, like New Orleans voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the Salem witchcraft trials, mirror each era’s fears and prejudices. Yet through urban legends and campfire stories, even ghosts like the nameless hard-working women lost in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire –achieve a measure of power and agency in death, in ways unavailable to them as living women.

Riveting for skeptics and believers alike, with humor, curiosity, and expertise, A Haunted History of Invisible Women offers a unique lens on the significant role these ghostly legends play both within the spook-seeking corners of our minds and in the consciousness of a nation.

My Review: I received this audiobook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this book was well done, but I found it to be more informational than scary. Despite the “horror” classification on Goodreads, I personally do not think that this book fits into that genre. The authors told the tales of female ghosts, but in the context of how women were / are societally perceived, and how this perception spawned such ghost stories. So, for me, it was more a book about the history of ghosts and the societal reasons why ghost stories are created, rather than a compilation of ghost stories.

I hadn’t ever thought to much into how ghost stories came about. It was very interesting to get the authors’ take based upon the historical evidence.

As of the writing of this review this book has about a 3.8 average rating on Goodreads, with about 111 ratings overall. Honestly, this is surprising to me and seems a bit unfair. Most of the lower ratings are from people who say the book is to “feminist” for them, or rag on the authors for not collecting interviews from people who have seen these ghosts, or for not sharing their own personal ghost stories. But I don’t think this was the point of the book. This book wasn’t about the stories themselves per se, but how these ghost stories were formed and how said stories have shaped society in the retelling. It is an interesting and unique perspective to these ghost stories, one which I had never read before.

Therefore, I would recommend this book, especially for those people who like history and ghosts.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: No Lawyers in Heaven by Henry Milner

56033836._SY475_Title: No Lawyers in Heaven: A Life Defending Serious Crime

Author: Henry Milner

Audiobook Length:  6 hours and 43 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Autobiography, Memoir

Read Start Date: August 13, 2022

Read Finish Date: August 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Netgally (link to Goodreads): The life of a criminal defence lawyer is shrouded in mystery. Outsiders might wonder about how to deal with potentially dangerous clients; what happens behind the scenes when building a defence; and, that age-old moral dilemma, how a lawyer can defend someone they think is guilty. But what is life really like for those tasked with representing the shadowy underbelly of society?

For over forty years, criminal defence solicitor Henry Milner has been the go-to lawyer for some of Britain’s most notorious criminals including Kenneth Noye and the Brink’s-Mat robbers, Freddie Foreman, John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer and the gang behind the Millennium Dome raid.

Here, the lawyer referred to in the Sunday Times as ‘The Mr Big of Criminal Briefs’ offers a fascinating insight into life at the top of the profession, lifting the lid on the psychology of those who end up on the wrong side of the law and those who defend them. By turns shocking and hilarious, this remarkable memoir takes us deep into the enigmatic criminal underworld, delivering a wry personal commentary on the most extraordinary aspects of a life spent amongst the accused.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I have to say, from the very beginning of this book I just loved it.

In 1967 the author, Henry Milner is in the College of Estate Management when he is essentially told by the school that he is not very good (as he had come at the bottom of his building construction class twice because he “can’t draw”), and that he should think instead of becoming a lawyer, as he had excelled in legal classes such as property law. And so he did.

Milner eventually becomes a defense attorney and he tells the stories of when he was practicing in the 70s and 80s. The stories are told with wit and humor and at times had me laughing out loud. His clients, some guilty, some acquitted are characters unto themselves. Even though they are criminals, many of their antics were funny (maybe not haha funny, but at least shake your head in astonishment funny).

I had never heard of these cases because they were before my time, and also this takes place in England and not America.

I also really liked the narrator. He told the stories in an animated way, like you were at a party, engaged in a conversation with him and he was regaling you of that one time when he represented this guy…

The crimes that are discussed are not heinous in nature, mostly robberies, and so I didn’t feel drained by reading this book like with some true crime books about murder.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Toxic Rage: A Tale of Murder in Tucson by A.J. Flick

41562444Title: Toxic Rage: A Tale of Murder in Tucson

Author: A.J. Flick

Book Length: 303 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: April 29, 2022

Read Finish Date: June 11, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Brian Stidham fell in love with Tucson, Ariz., the minute he came to town. A young and talented eye surgeon, he accepted a job with an established eye surgeon to take over his pediatric patients.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Stidham told a friend. “I can live right there by the mountains and go hiking. It’s a great deal for me there. The partner I’ll be working with is ultracool. He’s giving me the keys to the kingdom.”

Brad Schwartz, the doctor who hired Brian, was ambitious and possessed surgical skills few others had. But he was a troubled man.

Within a year of Stidham’s arrival in Tucson, the medical relationship would be severed by Schwartz’s personal troubles. Stidham broke away to start his own practice. Rumors abounded within the medical community that Schwartz was incensed and considered the departure a betrayal. His rage grew, even driving a wedge between him and his fiancée, Lourdes Lopez, a former prosecutor.

Three years after Stidham moved to Tucson, his life ended in an empty, darkened parking lot. But who would murder such a nice man in such a violent manner? Lourdes, who had witnessed Schwartz’s toxic rage toward his former partner, feared she knew. But would her suspicions be enough to catch the killer? Find out in TOXIC RAGE.

My Review: I received this book several years ago from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I stopped reviewing books when the pandemic started for some reason, and am just going back now to read what I didn’t before. I’m a true crime junky, so I was excited to read this book about a case I had never heard about.

Brian Stidham was hired by Brad Schwartz to be another doctor is Schwartz’s ever growing practice. Although a successful doctor, Schwartz was plagued with troubles, eventually leading him to become an addict. While in rehab, Stidham leaves Schwartz’s practice to start one of his own, igniting a fury in Schwartz which eventually leads to Stidham’s murder.

The Goodreads synopsis of this book is a little misleading. The hook of the synopsis: “Lourdes, who had witnessed Schwartz’s toxic rage toward his former partner, feared she knew. But would her suspicions be enough to catch the killer? Find out in TOXIC RAGE,” makes it sound like Lourdes is the focus of the book and we follow her story as she tries to uncover the killer. This isn’t what happens at all. Lourdes is actually a very small part of the story. And actually, it was pretty obvious that Schwartz was the killer from the beginning.

While I liked this book, I felt that there was a lot of repetition. For example, Schwartz went around telling anyone he spoke to that he wanted Stidham dead. He even asked several people if they could kill him, or if not, knew anyone that could. We heard from each of these people. This got a little mundane and at points I found it hard to get through. It would have been more powerful if we had heard the details about one or two of the most shocking stories, and then the author could have lumped the rest into a brief paragraph or two.

Despite the above, I did find the book to be very interesting. Even though the book makes it very obvious from the beginning that Schwartz was the killer, the book still explores the other possibilities the police looked into. I thought it was good that the author wrote what actually happened rather than have an opinion as to what happened. The book seemed well researched and included information about interviews and court proceedings.

While I would recommend this book, it wasn’t my favorite true crime story.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Murder in the Neighborhood by Ellen J. Green

60152986Title: Murder in the Neighborhood

Author: Ellen J. Green

Audiobook Length: 9 hours 38 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: April 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On September 6, 1949, twenty-eight-year-old Howard Barton Unruh shot thirteen people in less than twelve minutes on his block in East Camden, New Jersey.

The shocking true story of the first recorded mass shooting in America has never been told, until now.

The sky was cloudless that morning when twelve-year-old Raymond Havens left his home on River Road.

His grandmother had sent him to get a haircut at the barbershop across the street – where he was about to witness his neighbor and friend Howard open fire on the customers inside. Told through the eyes of the young boy who visited Howard regularly to listen to his war stories, and the mother trying to piece together the disturbing inner workings of her son’s mind, Ellen Green uncovers the chilling true story of Howard Unruh – the quiet oddball who meticulously plotted his revenge on the neighbors who shunned him and became one of America’s first mass killers. With access to Howard’s diaries, newly released police reports and psychiatric records alongside interviews with surviving family members and residents of the neighborhood, A Murder in the Neighborhood will have readers of In Cold Blood, If You Tell and American Predator absolutely gripped.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in the Neighborhood tells the story of the first recorded mass shooting in the US (which took place in 1949), from the perspective of 12-year-old Raymond Havens who witnessed the shootings and Freda Unruh, the killer’s mother.

Sitting here in 2022, with dozens of mass shootings have occurred in recent decades, the facts surrounding the first mass shooting in 1949, alarmingly, doesn’t seem shocking to me. What is clear, is that nothing has changed since 1949. Through a gripping narrative, the author explores not only the crime, but the events leading up to the crime. We get to see not only the aftermath, but Howard Unruh’s evolution from veteran to mass murderer.

I am not sure if the author intended it, but as I read this book, I could really see the parallels with the mass shootings taking place today, and it is honestly maddening that nothing has changed in 70+ years. This book is not only a story about an event in history, but also gives us a lens into our future.

I read a book recently that posited that people who commit suicide do so only when their chosen method of suicide is at hand. In other words, the method of suicide is intrinsically linked to the suicide itself. E.g. if Person X wants to shoot himself, but can’t find a gun, he will not just use another method, he will, in fact, not commit suicide at all.

This made me wonder whether mass killings are similar. What would have happened if Howard Unruh did not have access to guns? Would he have been able to shoot as many people? Would he have stopped at just the Cohens — the original intended victims? Unruh had planned to murder the Cohens for their ceaseless bullying, but Unruh describes that as he started shooting, he couldn’t stop. He just kept going. Shooting people, whether they had “wronged” him or not. He even killed 3 children for no reason. Now, if he had a knife, say, would he have been able to keep killing before someone stopped him? I guess we will never know.

The book seemed to be well researched, and I liked how this book not only discussed the hard facts surrounding the killings, but also went into the psychology of Unruh. As readers, we got to see the “why” (as ridiculous as his reasons were), not only the how. I also really liked the writing style of the author. It was written like a fiction book i.e. the telling of a story rather than a recitation of facts, which made it very easy to read.

If you are a true crime fan who otherwise reads mostly fiction (like me) I think this book is right up your alley.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System by M. Chris Fabricant

59427482Title: Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System

Author: M. Chris Fabricant

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 15 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Science, Politics, Social Justice

Read Start Date: April 3, 2022

Read Finish Date: April 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: An insider’s journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role junk science plays in maintaining the status quo.

From CSI to Forensic Files to the celebrated reputation of the FBI crime lab, “forensic scientists” have long been mythologized in American popular culture as infallible crime solvers. Judges and juries put their faith in “expert witnesses” and innocent people have been executed as a result. Innocent people are on death row today, condemned by junk science.

In 2012, the Innocence Project began searching for prisoners convicted by junk science, and three men, each convicted of capital murder, became M. Chris Fabricant’s clients. Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System chronicles the fights to overturn their wrongful convictions and to end the use of the “science” that destroyed their lives. Weaving together courtroom battles from Mississippi to Texas to New York City, Fabricant takes the reader on a journey into the heart of a broken, racist system of justice and the role forensic science plays in maintaining the status quo.

At turns gripping, enraging, and moving, Junk Science is a meticulously researched insider’s perspective of the American criminal justice system. Previously untold stories of wrongful executions, corrupt prosecutors, and quackery masquerading as science animate Fabricant’s astonishing true-crime narrative. The book also features a full-color photo insert that illustrates the junk science explored by the author.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is really interesting and informative and tells several stories of innocent men convicted using “junk science” e.g. bite mark evidence. It is such a travesty of justice for innocent men to sit in prison for decades, or even be executed, because of “evidence” that isn’t even valid, while the real guilty party is allowed to live their life a free man.

The author is an innocent project attorney who works to get justice for these unfortunate men sitting in prison after being wrongfully convicted. The first person narrative of the author brings a personal perspective to the cases which are being analyzed in the book, and you can really sense the author is incensed over the injustice.

The book seems to also be well researched (in addition to maybe being first hand knowledge of the facts) and it is well written. I was engaged the entire way through, even though the overall message was somehow redundant — i.e., that junk science is garbage.

If you like true crime stories, and Netflix shows such as The Staircase, then you will definitely like this book.

10 Book Reviews

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW:Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese by S.J. Peddie

58914879._SY475_Title: Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese

Author: S.J. Peddie

Audiobook Length: 8 hours 22 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: March 26, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 27, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Based on exclusive interviews before his death in 2020 at age 103, SONNY is the first and only authorized biography of legendary mob boss John “Sonny” Franzese, the head of the Columbo crime family and financier of the infamous film Deep Throat. An old school Mafioso, he kept silent on his nine decade career in organized crime, remaining loyal to the Mafia oath throughout 30 years in prison, until he finally agreed to talk to award-winning Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie for this groundbreaking, never-before-revealed account.

John “Sonny” Franzese reportedly committed his first murder at the age of fourteen. As a “made man” for the Colombo crime family, he operated out of his Long Island home specializing in racketeering, fraud, loansharking, and other illicit deeds he would deny to his dying day. His career in organized crime spanned over eight decades–and was sentenced to fifty years in prison for robbery charges. But even behind bars, Sonny Franzese never stopped doing business…

This is the true story of an old-school Mafioso as it’s never been told before. Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie interviewed Franzese in prison–and uncovered a lifetime of shocking secrets from the legend himself:

* How Sonny became friends with celebrities Frank Sinatra Jr., Rocky Graziano, and Sammy Davis Jr.
* Why FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had a very personal interest in Sonny.
* How Sonny managed to juggle numerous affairs with women, including a famous model.
* How Sonny spent a third of his life in prison–and still managed to earn untold millions for the mob.
* How Sonny accidentally revealed some of his worst crimes–to a “friend” wearing a wire.

Through it all, Franzese refused to break the Mafia’s code of silence. Authorities believe he may have murdered, or ordered the murders of, forty to fifty people. Yet he earned a grudging respect from law enforcement and an absolute reverence from his fellow gangsters. Eventually he managed to outlive them all–until his death in 2020 of natural causes, a rare event in the Mafia. Thanks to a series of exclusive first-hand interviews with Newsday reporter S.J. Peddie, the astonishing life story of John “Sonny” Franzese can be told in all its bold, brutal, and blood-spattered glory. This is a must-read for anyone fascinated with Mafia history–and a rare look inside a criminal mind that has become the stuff of legend.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Wow what a story! This fascinating read kept me enraptured from beginning to end. I had no idea that there was an OG living until 103 (he died in 2020). Although he led a life of violence and crime (no one knows how many people he killed or ordered to be killed, although its probably a few dozen), John “Sonny” Franzese outlived most of the people in his life – including those who put him away. Despite being violent, Sonny had a very interesting life!

This book reads like it should be fiction, but it’s a true story! Yikes. I felt like I was reading something inspired by The Godfather, although in truth it was probably the other way around.

The way the author wrote this book was fantastic. This guy is a bad guy sometimes almost unabashedly so – I think we can all agree– but on the other hand, he is still a person, and the author gave Sonny a human quality. I even found myself chuckling a few times at what Sonny was saying, and even feeling kind of bad for him. One son (who was not his biologically, but his stepson who he adopted as his own) ran away into witness protection. Another son, a drug addict, snitched. In one poignant scene (paraphrasing), John (the snitch) was called into see the bosses and Sonny tells him – You can go and see them, and they might kill you. You don’t go and see them, they definitely will kill you. That’s how it was in Sonny’s life. You stick to the Mafia code, or they ice you. Sonny, despite his many trials and jail stints never once snitched. It must have felt like the greatest betrayal to have his sons do so.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are into mafia movies.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.