An uneven but often enthralling collection of true-crime investigations.

THE CASE OF THE VANISHING BLONDE

AND OTHER TRUE CRIME STORIES

Veteran narrative journalist Bowden resurrects a half-dozen works of true crime, ranging from merely creepy to palpably fascinating.

Best known for his visceral accounts of warfare in Mogadishu and the lives and deaths of Pablo Escobar and Osama bin Laden—not to mention his excellent Vietnam book, Hue 1968 (2017)—here the author recalls his foundations as a reporter, a trade that “hones an appetite for crime.” The opening story, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1983 as “The Incident at Alpha Tau Omega,” is awkward. While Bowden’s writing is solid and sincere, his attempt to parse the moral implications of the gang rape of a female college student comes off as both overly disturbing and painfully sympathetic to the perpetrators. Similar themes arise in “why don’t u tell me wht ur into,” a 2009 Vanity Fair piece in which Bowden uses the case of a sex offender to debate the ethics of entrapment à la the TV show To Catch a Predator. The author’s reporting in “…A Million Years Ago” (Vanity Fair, 2012), about the investigation into a decades-old cold case, has attracted some controversy, but there’s no skepticism about his portrayal of the investigation itself, resolutely documented and as incisive and enthralling as any true-crime podcast or episode of NCIS. The collection picks up considerably with the introduction of private eye Ken Brennan, a no-nonsense, profane former Long Island cop. “I’m from New York,” Brennan tells one suspect. “I talk like that to everybody.” Readers are likely to have encountered some version of the title story (“from the start, it was a bad case”) in popular media. However, that piece and its companion stories, “The Body in Room 348” and “Who Killed Euhommie Bond?” are as gripping as any murder mystery and feature shades of Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe.

An uneven but often enthralling collection of true-crime investigations.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2844-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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