A vivid true-crime tale from a fascinating bygone era.




A true-crime chronicle of dark doings among the upper crust of Harvard Medical School in the middle of the 19th century.

On Nov. 23, 1849, the esteemed Dr. George Parkman went missing. The dour doctor, a well-known lecturer in the nascent science of medicine at Harvard, was last seen making his rounds. At the time, he was also collecting considerable cash receipts from his many real estate ventures. Naturally, foul play was suspected, and substantial rewards for information were posted. Collins (Chair, English/Portland State Univ.; Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living, 2014, etc.) introduces a cast of diverse players. There was Littlefield, the school’s janitor, who found the grisly remains of Parkman dismembered and burned in the laboratory and adjacent privy used only by chemistry professor John White Webster. Then there was Cambridge marshal Francis Tukey, whose past was not unblemished. Also included in this drama were Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A nimble writer, the author skillfully sets the stage for this 19th-century murder mystery. Skeletons, death masks, pickled organs, and cadavers abounded in the medical school. There were demijohns, casks, and bubbling retorts in the labs, and outside the building were pools of fetid water, clattering hansom cabs, and an occasional riot. Mesmerism was popular, and reporters did their agitated best to add colorful detail, true or imaginary, to their stories. It was a wonderful world of daguerreotypes, roaring printing presses, and even a mechanical man, all advertised to be powered by steam. The murderer was discovered, and the subsequent trial featured some forensic and jurisprudential innovations. Dental evidence was seriously employed for the first time, and the judge’s charge to the jury became accepted law. Collins also reveals lively bits of information about police procedurals as practiced during that time.

A vivid true-crime tale from a fascinating bygone era.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-24516-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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



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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"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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