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THE MAUL AND THE PEAR TREE

THE RATCLIFFE HIGHWAY MURDERS, 1811

A true tale of murder most foul in Regency London in which James' mystery-writing witchery is joined with Critchley's police history know-how. In December, 1811, seven members of two households were bludgeoned to death in the dock area of east London. The murders of Timothy Marr, his wife, 3(apple)-month-old baby and shopboy in Marr's Ratcliffe Highway drapery shop and second-floor lodgings sent a shockwave throughout England. Murder was rare at the time, especially within the sanctity of respect-able homes, and the death of an innocent babe raised specters of maniacal fiends stalking the blameless and unwary. The later massacre of John Williamson, his wife and female servant in their public house near Ratcliffe Highway fed rumors of a Popish Plot and impelled a terrified citizenry to arm themselves. Local authorities (there was no Metropolitan Police force at the time) had no idea how to proceed with a murder investigation. Rewards were posted, which netted droves of "suspects" fingered simply because they were Irish, foreign-born, had acted peculiarly, or had gotten bloodied in brawls. One of these was a good-looking, somewhat dandyish, sailor named John Williams, who had been drinking at Williamson's pub the night of the murder and who, when he returned to the nearby Pear Tree public house, had asked the man whose room he shared to blow out the candle (presumably to hide his bloody clothes). When it was learned that the maul (a ship carpenter's mallet) used in the Marr murders came from a tool chest stored at the Pear Tree, Williams became the prime suspect. While the authorities were assembling more (and mostly unconvincing) circumstantial evidence, Williams hanged himself in his solitary cell. After sifting through the available evidence, James and Critchley conclude that Williams was probably innocent; and, if guilty, had operated with an accomplice. They weigh the evidence against other more likely suspects and even consider the possibility of an innocent Williams being strangled, then hanged, by prison authorities. In this way, a besieged government could declare the case closed (sound familiar?) and a terrified and outraged populace could once more rest easy. This one's a winning combination: a spellbinding mystery replete with authentic historical minutiae, and a brooding, teeming early-19th-century locale.

Pub Date: March 25, 1986

ISBN: 0446679216

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986

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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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UNDER THE BRIDGE

A tour-de-force of true crime reportage.

Godfrey reconstructs a horrific murder with a vividness found in the finest fiction, without ever sacrificing journalistic integrity.

The novel The Torn Skirt (2002) showed how well the author could capture the roiling inner life of a teenager. She brings that sensibility to bear in this account of the 1997 murder of a 14-year-old girl in British Columbia, a crime for which seven teenage girls and one boy were charged. While there’s no more over-tilled literary soil than that of the shocking murder in a small town, Godfrey manages to portray working-class View Royal in a fresh manner. The victim, Reena Virk, was a problematic kid. Rebelling against her Indian parents’ strict religiosity, she desperately mimicked the wannabe gangsta mannerisms of her female schoolmates, who repaid her idolization by ignoring her. The circumstances leading up to the murder seem completely trivial: a stolen address book, a crush on the wrong guy. But popular girls like Josephine and Kelly had created a vast, imaginary world (mostly stolen from mafia movies and hip-hop) in which they were wildly desired and feared. In this overheated milieu, reality was only a distant memory, and everything was allowed. The murder and cover-up are chilling. Godfrey parcels out details piecemeal in the words of the teens who took part or simply watched. None of them seemed to quite comprehend what was going on, why it happened or even—in a few cases—what the big deal was. The tone veers close to melodrama, but in this context it works, since the author is telling the story from the inside out, trying to approximate the relentlessly self-dramatizing world these kids inhabited. Given most readers’ preference for easily explained and neatly concluded crime narratives, Godfrey’s resolute refusal to impose false order on the chaos of a murder spawned by rumors and lies is commendable.

A tour-de-force of true crime reportage.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-1091-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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