A public defense attorney recalls the most peculiar (and gruesome) of the cases he’s encountered.
After college, debut author Siracusa meandered professionally. He had an aborted stint in the Marines and worked for Brooks Brothers as well for the U.S. Public Health Service as an epidemiologist tracking venereal disease in New York City in the 1960s. (He found plenty.) In 1969, he started evening classes at New York Law School and landed a job as a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society working under the mercurial mentorship of a lawyer who specialized in post-conviction remedies. Eventually licensed to practice law both in Washington, D.C., and New York, he largely worked in the latter and amassed an impressively eventful career brimming with the kinds of cases that demonstrate the chaos of the city in its criminal heyday. The stories are as remarkable as they are macabre. The author defended a racist serial killer dubbed the “Midtown Slasher” by attempting to establish his insanity. In another case, a mortgage lender was kidnapped and tortured by a man to whom he refused a loan, a grizzly act of delusional malice. Many of the stories are achingly sad: A Vietnam veteran—emotionally ravaged by PTSD and traumatized by an abusive childhood—murdered his older brother. The author intelligently reflects not only on the city’s manic dysfunction, but also on the failings of judicial process, a bureaucratic maze run by incompetent factotums and petty tyrants. Despite the often grisly nature of the anecdotes, Siracusa relates them with humor and a wry sense of irony. The author displays a keen eye for the eccentricities of human nature and had a front-row seat to the expression of its vagaries. The prose, however, can be ungainly and stiff: “In an attempt to significantly reduce length of time to relate the story of the defecation dilemma, I will leave my magazines and newspapers in another room as I enter the toilet to tell my story unencumbered by reading materials.”
A captivating assemblage of New York crime stories but awkwardly delivered.