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CrimeSong

TRUE CRIME STORIES FROM SOUTHERN MURDER BALLADS

A sometimes-sad, sometimes-humorous look at ballads that have preserved a part of America’s crazed, violent history.

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A law professor explores the real-life events behind old American murder ballads.

Underwood (co-author: Kentucky Evidence Courtroom Manual, 2016, etc.) delves into court records, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources to find the facts underlying popular songs about grisly murders and crimes in the South in the 1800s and early 1900s. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these ballads, although a few, such as “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Tom Dula” (aka “Tom Dooley”), are still well-known due to having inspired later musicians such as Bob Dylan and the Kingston Trio. Underwood explores several genres, including the “ ‘murdered girl’ ballad”—often about a man drowning his female lover—as well as songs in which women kill men for revenge, whole families are slaughtered, or bystanders lose their lives. In addition to tracing the history behind each song, Underwood comments on the actual cases’ legal aspects, such as hearsay, circumstantial evidence, or the “ ‘SODI’ defense”—short for “some other dude did it.” In all, he draws a macabre historical portrait of America, its sensationalist press, and its frequent miscarriages of justice, suggesting that things haven’t changed all that much in the modern era. The book includes each of the songs’ original lyrics along with a rich lode of grainy images and references to further readings and recordings. Overall, Underwood has written a delightful book about a gruesome subject. Even when he delves into the cases and their legal issues, he employs a light touch, sprinkling his accounts with humor: “Oh hell, don’t bother with him; he ain’t nothing but a lawyer,” one defendant advises. Besides providing a revealing look at the quirky history of U.S. criminal law, the book also serves as a testament to the sheer weirdness of American culture; in one ballad, for instance, the murder of a family in Missouri is set to the sweet, sentimental tune of “Home Sweet Home.” Underwood does have an unfortunate tendency to assert that certain topics are “interesting”—a judgment best left to readers—but such lapses are rare.

A sometimes-sad, sometimes-humorous look at ballads that have preserved a part of America’s crazed, violent history.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Shadelandhouse Modern Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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