Provides valuable insights and vividly captures the human drama of criminal cases.




A prosecutor explores the criminal justice system, exploring its “humanlike qualities.”

As a veteran prosecutor in Riverside, Calif., Strunsky has long labored in the trenches of the law. He puts that experience to good use in his book, which is full of valuable insight into the system, much of it drawn from cases he has tried. Strunsky is not a typical, Law & Order prosecutor; he’s sensitive to the nuances of the system that are “rarely explored or recognized.” For Strunsky, a trial is not a cold, clinical exercise but a cauldron of feelings. “[H]uman emotion is incredibly influential in the courtroom,” he notes. His case narratives capture those emotions. For example, in the case of two sisters who recant their allegations of molestation on the witness stand, the author writes, “The question that still haunts me is, What if the two girls hadn’t come clean and confessed?” Strunsky approaches juries as a storyteller, and he brings the same compelling quality to his writing. During a murder trial, he sets the scene: A man who had just killed his wife in a hot tub, “stepped into his suede-like moccasin slippers...and stopped to stare down at [her] lifeless body, partially obscured by soap bubbles and the turbulence of the spa jets.” In another dramatic passage, Strunsky recalls how he made legal history by piercing the clergy-penitent privilege in the case of a Jehovah’s Witness accused of child molestation. The defendant had made admissions to a church elder. “We can’t allow this exemption to shield child molesters,” Strunsky argues. The author also takes on such hot-button subjects as capital punishment and handgun control. “Because someone had a small, easy-to-carry ‘high-speed bullet dispenser’ at his fingertips, a shouting match turned into an irreversible death,” he says of one murder case. Some readers might find some of the graphic detail in the book a bit raw. But Strunsky’s singular achievement is to free the criminal justice system from the distortions of Hollywood and show it as it really is.

Provides valuable insights and vividly captures the human drama of criminal cases.

Pub Date: July 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1620958810

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Book Baby

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2012

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A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.


Beatlemania meets autopsy in the latest product from the Patterson factory.

The authors take more than half the book to reach John Lennon’s final days, which passed 40 years ago—an anniversary that, one presumes, provides the occasion for it. The narrative opens with killer Mark David Chapman talking to himself: “It’s like I’m invisible.” And how do we know that Chapman thought such a thing? Well, the authors aver, they’re reconstructing the voices in his head and other conversations “based on available third-party sources and interviews.” It’s a dubious exercise, and it doesn’t get better with noir-ish formulas (“His mind is a dangerous neighborhood”) and clunky novelistic stretches (“John Lennon wakes up, reaches for his eyeglasses. At first the day seems like any other until he realizes it’s a special one….He picks up the kitchen phone to greet his old songwriting partner, who’s called to wish him all the best for the record launch”). In the first half of the book, Patterson and company reheat the Beatles’ origin story and its many well-worn tropes, all of which fans already know in detail. Allowing for the internal monologue, things improve somewhat once the narrative approaches Chapman’s deranged act—300-odd pages in, leaving about 50 pages for a swift-moving account of the murder and its aftermath, which ends with Chapman in a maximum-security cell where “he will be protected from the ugliness of the outside world….The cell door slides shut and locks. Mark David Chapman smiles. I’m home.” To their credit, the authors at least don’t blame Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” for egging on the violence that killed him, but this book pales in comparison to Kenneth Womack’s John Lennon 1980 and Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life, among many other tomes on the Fab Four.

A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2020


Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2021

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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