A portrait of a fascinating case that gets bogged down in its details.



Buffalo News crime reporter Gryta (The Real Teflon Don, 2012) presents an exhaustive history of the .22 Caliber Killer, who, for four months in 1980, terrorized the city of Buffalo, New York, with a racially motivated killing spree.

After the death of his father, Joseph Christopher snapped. The 25-year-old high school dropout sawed off the end of his father’s rifle, walked to a supermarket parking lot and shot a teenager in the head. It was the first of 17 assaults, most of them deadly and all against African-American men. As Christopher’s attacks became crueler—he cut out the hearts of two cab drivers and later strangled the first black patient he could find at a hospital—racial tensions in western New York began to boil. Gryta, who covered these murders as a reporter, demonstrates a great fidelity to the facts. His account never approaches melodrama, nor does he wantonly psychoanalyze those involved. Instead, he allows readers to draw their own conclusions about Christopher’s sanity and motivations. That said, the book could have benefited from a little more color at times; it often reads like a protracted history textbook, albeit a lurid one. The author chronicles every legal appeal and the many battles over Christopher’s psychological evaluations in meticulous, beat-by-beat detail, but readers may be left wanting juicier information, such as Christopher’s exact movements during a 14-hour span in which he shot two men. Later, Gryta writes at length about how a special investigative team was constructed, yet he shies away from detailing the members’ individual personalities. As a result, there are no heroes for readers to root for. The book’s best section is a conversation between Christopher and a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Russell W. Barton, which retells the murder spree from Christopher’s point of view, making it newly terrifying. In a bid to get ruled insane, Christopher tells Barton that the devil told him to kill and that he was at war with his victims. It’s a riveting sequence, and more of such action, rather than exposition, would have made this book a more forceful read.

A portrait of a fascinating case that gets bogged down in its details.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 290

Publisher: Getzville Grove Press, Ltd.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2014

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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