An accessible, marvelously rigorous account of a bygone legal era.



A historical study of the often dysfunctional judicial system in late-19th-century New York City.

In the last third of the 1800s, Manhattan was a hotbed of crime, and its courts were often hamstrung by a toxic combination of unscrupulous law enforcement personnel and crude investigative techniques. In this book, Underwood (Law/Univ. of Kentucky; Crimesong, 2016) furnishes a series of journalistically rendered vignettes meant to capture the essence of that legal milieu. Much of the work is devoted to larger-than-life legal figures: William “Big Bill” Howe, for instance, was a cinematically dramatic defense lawyer known for his courtroom histrionics; he kept reporters on the payroll to advertise his triumphs and was among the first to rely upon a client’s claim of insanity as a defense. William Travers Jerome, known as “The Reformer,” was a prosecutor who made his reputation sending corrupt attorneys to jail. But he was no angel; he once used an affidavit in a case from a crooked lawyer he’d once prosecuted for suborning perjured affidavits. Over the course of two chapters, the author follows the case of Ameer Ben Ali, nicknamed “Frenchy,” who was tried and convicted for the murder of a woman in 1891. The prosecution was particularly devious and suggested that Ali might also be London’s Jack the Ripper, but he was eventually pardoned. Underwood is a masterful researcher, and he combs diligently through newspapers and trial transcripts to reconstruct these historical snapshots. He meticulously describes a judicial cosmos that’s largely unfamiliar now—one without Miranda warnings or scientifically sophisticated forensic tools. Trials instead relied heavily on eyewitness testimony and lawyerly skill, which generated unequal outcomes: “Because crime science was in its infancy, the guilty actually had a shot at acquittal with the right lawyer; but the innocent were often at the mercy of unscrupulous prosecutors, corrupt police, and hanging judges.”

An accessible, marvelously rigorous account of a bygone legal era.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945049-01-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Shadelandhouse Modern Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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