A worthwhile read for true-crime fans and followers of the case, but those looking for insight into the mind of a killer...

PORTRAIT OF A MONSTER

JORAN VAN DER SLOOT, A MURDER IN PERU, AND THE NATALEE HOLLOWAY MYSTERY

A thorough, journalistic recounting of two crimes, five years apart, linked by the same alleged perpetrator.

Former New York Times correspondent Pulitzer (Murder in Paradise, 2003, etc.) and Thompson (co-author: A Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation, 2005, etc.) narrate the tale of Joran van der Sloot, accused in the 2005 Aruba disappearance of teen Natalee Holloway, and the 2010 Lima, Peru, murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez. The authors approach the narrative like reporters, dispensing with florid descriptions and sticking to a no-nonsense, just-the-facts writing style. The book jumps between its two story lines and locations, with chapters alternating between the still-unsolved Holloway case, and the Flores killing, which occurred five years to the day later. This device is effective in maintaining suspense, despite the fact that many readers will know, from the worldwide news coverage of the case, what has happened. A final outcome is yet to be determined; as of the book’s conclusion, van der Sloot awaits trial in Peru on the Flores murder, and Holloway’s body has never been found. By the end, the suspense turns into sadness for all of the lives irrevocably damaged by their contact with van der Sloot, who has continued to offer various and conflicting stories, making the likelihood remote that the truth will ever be known. The authors’ conclusion is clear from the book’s title, and from their sympathetic portrayal of the victims and their families. But the villain, a charming liar and sociopath from an upper-middle-class Dutch family, remains a cipher. Is van der Sloot truly a monster, or did his tragic flaw cause an accident to spiral out of control, destroying his own life and the lives of many others? The authors decline to explore any possible nuances of their subject, and in doing so miss an opportunity to elevate the book beyond its genre.

A worthwhile read for true-crime fans and followers of the case, but those looking for insight into the mind of a killer will be disappointed.

Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-35921-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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IN COLD BLOOD

"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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The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

LICENSED TO LIE

EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

A former Justice Department lawyer, who now devotes her private practice to federal appeals, dissects some of the most politically contentious prosecutions of the last 15 years.

Powell assembles a stunning argument for the old adage, “nothing succeeds like failure,” as she traces the careers of a group of prosecutors who were part of the Enron Task Force. The Supreme Court overturned their most dramatic court victories, and some were even accused of systematic prosecutorial misconduct. Yet former task force members such as Kathryn Ruemmler, Matthew Friedrich and Andrew Weissman continued to climb upward through the ranks and currently hold high positions in the Justice Department, FBI and even the White House. Powell took up the appeal of a Merrill Lynch employee who was convicted in one of the subsidiary Enron cases, fighting for six years to clear his name. The pattern of abuse she found was repeated in other cases brought by the task force. Prosecutors of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen pieced together parts of different statutes to concoct a crime and eliminated criminal intent from the jury instructions, which required the Supreme Court to reverse the Andersen conviction 9-0; the company was forcibly closed with the loss of 85,000 jobs. In the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a key witness was intimidated into presenting false testimony, and as in the Merrill Lynch case, the prosecutors concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, a violation of due process under the Supreme court’s 1963 Brady v. Maryland decision. Stevens’ conviction, which led to a narrow loss in his 2008 re-election campaign and impacted the majority makeup of the Senate, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back; the presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate abuses. Confronted with the need to clean house as he came into office, writes Powell, Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to take action.

The author brings the case for judicial redress before the court of public opinion.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61254-149-5

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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