Still, true-crime buffs ought to enjoy this outing, which suggests that just about everyone involved had it coming.

THE COUNT AND THE CONFESSION

A TRUE MYSTERY

Of big bucks, bedrooms, and bullets: a classy if glacially paced real-life whodunit by seasoned journalist and nonfiction author Taylor (Falling, 1999, etc.).

Roger Zygmunt de la Burde, a self-styled count, was a fixture among Tidewater Virginia’s golf-and-cocktails set, which recognized him for the arriviste he was. Suave, cultured, given to propositioning women he’d scarcely met with a surprising rate of success, he amassed a sizeable fortune working as a chemist for the Philip Morris tobacco company, which he sued for a share of its profits from one of his patents. (“Instead of settling as he hoped it would, the company had countersued.”) While still married, he embarked on a series of affairs, one of which yielded a long-term relationship with another Philip Morris employee, Beverly Monroe. When Burde turned up dead, a single bullet to the brow, investigators at first ruled it suicide but then charged Monroe with murder. Apparently, Burde had been planning to break up with her after impregnating a much younger woman; Monroe had a strong motive to bump him off for a piece of his fortune, and her story didn’t quite add up. But she wasn’t the only person with an interest in seeing Burde dead; Taylor examines the many flaws in the prosecution’s case while enumerating the long roster of enemies Burde left behind: greedy family members, former paramours, aggrieved ex-husbands, big-tobacco executives. It’s up to the reader to judge whether the author does a convincing job of exonerating Monroe, convicted and now in prison. Suffice it to say that he looks into the matter with exquisite care, and though his desire to cover the ground thoroughly is admirable from an evidentiary point of view, it does tend to slow down the pace of a narrative that should crackle.

Still, true-crime buffs ought to enjoy this outing, which suggests that just about everyone involved had it coming.

Pub Date: May 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50538-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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Told with mettle and intelligence, Sebold’s story of fierce determination to wrest back her life from her rapist will...

LUCKY

A stunningly crafted and unsparing account of the author’s rape as a college freshman and what it took to win her case in court.

In 1981, Sebold was brutally raped on her college campus, at Syracuse University.  Sebold, a New York Times Magazinecontributor, now in her 30s, reconstructs the rape and the year following in which her assailant was brought to trial and found guilty.  When, months after the rape, she confided in her fiction professor, Tobias Wolff, he advised:  “Try, if you can, to remember everything.”  Sebold heeded his words, and the result is a memoir that reads like detective fiction, replete with police jargon, economical characterization, and film-like scene construction.  Part of Sebold’s ironic luck, besides the fact that she wasn’t killed, was that she was a virgin prior to the rape, she was wearing bulky clothing, and her rapist beat her, leaving unmistakable evidence of violence.  Sebold casts a cool eye on these facts:  “The cosmetics of rape are central to proving any case.”  Sebold critiques the sexism and misconceptions surrounding rape with neither rhetoric nor apology; she lets her experience speak for itself.  Her family, her friends, her campus community are all shaken by the brutality she survived, yet Sebold finds herself feeling more affinity with police officers she meets, as it was “in [their] world where this hideous thing had happened to me.  A world of violent crime.”  Just when Sebold believes she might surface from this world, a close friend is raped and the haunting continues.  The last section, “Aftermath,” has an unavoidable tacked-on-at-the-end feel, as Sebold crams over a decade’s worth of coping and healing into a short chapter.

Told with mettle and intelligence, Sebold’s story of fierce determination to wrest back her life from her rapist will inspire and challenge.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-85782-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1999

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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