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.