Reflections on the Celebration of Violence
Email this review


An offbeat, sweeping examination of true crime in America (and occasionally other nations).

James (The Bill James Baseball Abstract, etc.) has been a controversial figure among professional baseball fans for decades, as he has invented statistical measures of player and team performance. Turning his iconoclastic mind to true crime, the author offers analyses of specific murder cases that have aroused passions about innocence or guilt (Lizzie Borden, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Sacco-Vanzetti, the Boston Strangler, the Black Dahlia, O.J. Simpson, JonBenét Ramsey, the Kennedy assassination and dozens more); opines about the causes and effects of crime throughout a complex society such as the United States; and evaluates previously published crime books. James is aware that tabloid-type accounts of crime often exploit tragedy to provide popular amusement, but he writes that the best reporting about true crime also conveys important human stories and educates citizens who are mostly ignorant about the criminal-justice system. The author suggests a thought process that contains 18 elements characterizing crime stories, including those in which an innocent defendant pursues justice, in which sexual violence is involved and so on. Why bother? Because the inclusion of certain elements, he writes, helps determine whether any given murder will become a crime sensation. During his analyses of specific cases, James frequently pricks conventional wisdom within the criminal-justice system. Those already inside the system, especially lawyers, are unlikely to question many of his fundamental tenets, giving the author’s admittedly amateur critiques needed visibility.

Certain to engender controversy in the law-enforcement realm, as James has previously done in the world of baseball, where his seemingly revolutionary notions are now accepted by some members of the establishment.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5273-4
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2011


MysteryHITMEN I HAVE KNOWN by Bill James
by Bill James
NonfictionTHE MAN FROM THE TRAIN by Bill James
by Bill James
MysteryCLOSE by Bill James
by Bill James


IndieThe Girl Next Door by Lisa  Aurello
by Lisa Aurello
NonfictionTHE TRUTH ABOUT AARON by Jonathan Hernandez
by Jonathan Hernandez
NonfictionA SILENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS by Karen Spears Zacharias
by Karen Spears Zacharias
NonfictionA STONE OF HOPE by Jim St. Germain
by Jim St. Germain