Archive for ‘Crime History’

October 28th, 2015

The Betrayal: How the 1919 Black Sox Scandal Changed Baseball

by Gwen

The Betrayal

Baseball. History. Scandal. Crime. Chicago. That’s like Christmas, my birthday, and everything good wrapped into one for me and just in time to watch my team duke it out with the Royals in the World Series.

Charles Fountain takes a big swing at separating the fact from gossip, what little can be known for sure and what has passed into legend, and while I don’t think that anyone is ever going to be able to put this game to bed, he makes a great slide into home.

Too many baseball metaphors? I’ve got more….many, many more.

Rumors were rampant that the fix was in even before Eddie Cicotte took the mound in 1919 for the White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds. However, the bigwigs of organized baseball didn’t want to hear it, it would have made America’s Pastime look bad to even check out the rumors. Journalists talked about it amongst themselves, but their editors squashed any actual mention of the idea in print, too controversial and this is baseball, it was too clean and fix something as big as the Series? That’s not possible.

What made it even harder to figure is that the boys played well, really well. They just lost. There were very few questionable plays and the bats were still active, balls were caught, runners were thrown out, etc.

It all fell apart a year later and just got more complicated from there with a myriad of complicated motivations to keep it hidden, get the truth out there, personal squabbles, ambitious lawyers, bitter players and the list is honestly endless, everyone had an oar in. Very few people walked away looking pure as snow, but this is baseball and America…we always bounce back.

You’re going to want to be a baseball fan if you pick up The Betrayal. It isn’t a book for everyone, more a book for every fan.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, the World Series is on and I’ve made some bets.

The Betrayal: How the 1919 Black Sox Scandal Changed Baseball by Charles Fountain

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199795134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199795130


Sort of Like Gwen's Signature








December 16th, 2014

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Michael A. Ross

by Gwen

New Orleans

In 1870, New Orleans and Reconstruction had it so right and the best example of this I have ever come across is this case and this book. I wanted to cry; not because there was a kidnapping, but because for a few shining moments, our country was trying so hard to live the ideal of freedom and justice for all.

Two African American women kidnapped wee Mollie Digby from her front yard in June of 1870. I say African American, however at the time they were called many things, some nice and some that are derogative now. It may seem strange to us now, the “N” word was seldom one of them. We tend to look at the American South as rabid racists in the late 1800’s. New Orleans was different though. It was special and in many ways a utopian sort of place where people of different races and nationalities lived side by side and often mixed and mingled. There were slaves pre-war, so it wasn’t perfect.

New Orleans had a long history as a French Colony before the US made their little ‘ole Louisiana Purchase and the French had always had a better attitude about race than most countries, way ahead of their time. There was this idea of Creoles; French Creoles, Afro-Creole, Louisiana Creole, etc.  The precious gift of New Orleanians was that they were all Creoles. They all got along and for the most part, it looks like it was copasetic until the war or really after the war…or really until people that didn’t understand the concept of Creole moved on in after the war and tried to shape New Orleans based on their old fears and belief systems. If what I am trying to say is coming out like a hot mess, it’s because my thoughts get all muddled and well, it was a hot mess at the time.

Half of the population of New Orleans jumped on this kidnapping because it was two African Americans and the other half were busy trying to use it to show that Reconstruction was working. The problem is that it was the media that was doing the hating and people pay attention when the news shoves crazy stories in their faces all day-all the time. (much like now) The Republicans that really believed in Reconstruction and supported equality got it a bit muddled as well. Instead of finding dear Mollie Digby, they were busy attempting to prove a point and that never works well.

What matters is that for one brief shining moment Justice was truly blind and fair. It was hard won, never assured, and probably the last time that African Americans got a fair shake in a courtroom for decades, but it happened. The story of it is glorious and heart breaking and will make you mad and will make you look back at the political parties and what they stood for and a million other things.

And then, that other political party got busy, there were black codes and Jim Crow then the KKK drew members like a dead skunk in the road draws maggots and it all went to hell for way too long.

An amazing book about a not so amazing crime that highlights not only the great New Orleans culture, but a time when everything and anything was possible.

{Insert apology here because I get really worked up whenever one of the two R’s comes up, Racism & Rape. Those are things that shouldn’t be happening and there is no valid excuse or for them other than ignorance and hate. Not acceptable.}

Much Like Gwen's Signature

September 22nd, 2014

Deja Book~2 Short Reviews of Books I Feel Like I Have Read Before

by Gwen


Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths by Andrew Norman

I have read many books about Darwin, even though I find his natural science so boring that there better be some caffeine involved.  I get my kicks from the controversy that his work created and that is ultimately keeps coming back year, after year. The whole big bang, bible/God, we came from monkeys debate never gets old for me and is a great way to check for compatibility in friends and lovers. What I am saying is that I could use one or two questions, relating to him, that would easily let me know if there is even a small chance that we will get on.

1st Question ~ “How do you feel about the Scopes Monkey Trial?” (If they don’t even know what that was, they can leave, they do not pass go, cya wouldn’t want to be ya.)

2nd Question ~ “Does the Origin of Species conflict with your religious values? Please explain in detail.

See? Two questions and if the person is fairly intelligent, ready to be honest, and open; you would have a really good preview of your compatibility.

Andrew Norman covers much of what has been done before, but I enjoyed it for two things that he chose to cover and covered well. Norman included more of Darwin’s childhood than I remember reading in past works.  Yes, the most important parts of his life were his journey and then Origin of Species, but how did he get to the point that he was doing these big things? Norman tells us.

Norman has a nice way of explaining things to laymen without talking down to his readers. For example, the passage on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was interesting; it didn’t fly over my head or put me to sleep.

Read it if you have never read anything regarding Darwin.

Charles Darwin: Destroyer of Myths by Andrew Norman

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1628737255
  • ISBN-13: 978-1628737257

Vanish Smile

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti


Oh, Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you…

Great art heists or fabulous forgeries are fun to read, I think. At least I never pass them by, fiction or non-fiction, they are great ways to learn about not only the art, but museums and the cities they are in as well.

However, you have to either tell me a story, like maybe Chasing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton or you better cover more facts and do it in an engaging way than the last few books. Scotti isn’t able to pull this off and there were times that it read as if had been pulled word for word from other books I have read before. (not saying plagiarism, just fatal lack of creativity)

Pass on this one for another. Chasing Mona, while fiction, covered the same material and was a more entertaining narrative.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1ST edition (April 7, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 0307265803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265807


September 20th, 2010

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi (NF)

by Gwen

The Monster of Florence


Did you know that Italy had its own serial killer? Or that Thomas Harris was inspired by those murders when he wrote the sequel to the uber successful Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal? Let me introduce you to II Mostro or The Monster of Florence.

The Monster murdered 16 people in the province of Florence from 1968 to 1985 and he has never been tried for his crimes. Unfortunately, a few other men were tried, but they were not II Mostro and many men, families, and careers were destroyed during these.


Douglas Preston sort of stumbled into learning of the story when he moved to Florence in August of 2000 to work on a new book. It turns out that the house that he rented for his family just happens to be next to the olive grove that was one of the murder sites. Preston, a well know thriller writer, is intrigued and by meeting the journalist that covered II Mostro for more than twenty years, Mario Spezi, he ends up becoming part of the story himself.

II Mostro murdered lovers. He shot both dead and then usually dragged the woman’s body off a ways and took a biological trophy from her, leaving her exposed almost in a ritualistic fashion. In Italy, courtship rituals are a wee bit different from here in the US, young people live with their families until they are married, so where are loving couples going to go when they are desirous of a bit of one-on-one time? They take their cars and find quiet semi sheltered back-roads often near olive groves or vineyards that provide great views of the Florentine valley and most importantly, privacy.


This practice didn’t shock me at all, but a cottage industry that it spawned did. It seems that there is a whole group of men, called Inidiani, would creep around in the dark like peeping toms to watch these young lovers. Can you imagine? They had specific spots where they liked to watch and many even brought along night vision goggles and cameras to get better angles and just maybe something to blackmail adulterers with!

Anywho, when Preston gets into the story, there hadn’t been a murder since 1985, yet police were still busy investigating and pointing fingers and that suspect or another with craze and lack of evidence so much so that they reminded me of a Peter Sellers caper movie. You see, there are the police, then there are the carabinieri (military police), different prosecutors, and magistrates are all involved in the case and that makes for a big fat mess if you ask me.

For the book, Spezi catches Preston up by telling him everything that has happened so far and then the work on finding the killer together. They seem to think that the killer lies down in a direction that had long been considered closed by the police. The police and magistrates are off chasing leads and creating flimsy facts looking into a vast conspiracy of rich satanic worshippers. I kid you not, they are ready to arrest pretty much every nobleman in the province as being a member of a satanic cult.

It hits the fan when the police get tired of Preston and Spezi saying that the police are on the wrong trail. Italian men are proud men and they don’t like to be told that they are wrong. Next thing you know, Preston and Spezi are indicted and Spezi is then suspected as being II Mostro.

My thoughts-

This is true crime like no other and what made it more interesting was that it takes place in Italy. Not only do we get to read beautiful descriptions of Florence, we get to peek inside how the Italian Justice system works…..or doesn’t work in this case. I hate to judge how another county runs things, but the way they do it isn’t in no way efficient and in this case, seldom leads to justice. It is like a bunch of clowns took over and the attending media add to the circus atmosphere.

It should be no surprise that I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted to know who II Mostro was and just couldn’t fathom the lengths that the legal system would go to in order to push their theories of the case ahead, no matter how out there they were.

Of special interest was how they could turn on journalists, whose job it is to investigate and report the story to the masses. That aspect of the story had journalists all over the world crying foul, just as it should have.

Brava Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi!

The Monster of Florence by Douglass Preston with Mario Spezi

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 10, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 044650534X



July 5th, 2010

Review~ The Bell Tower: The Case of Jack the Ripper Solved in San Francisco by Robert Graysmith

by Gwen


I admit, I have a morbid attraction to any book having to do with Jack the Ripper. Every few years, it seems, some author comes out with a book that purports that they have solved the case once and for all and I read it diligently. Never have I been so disappointed though as I was with The Bell Tower.

While the story of some unrelated and grisly murders that took place in a San Francisco church a few years after the Ripper killings was interesting, there was no real evidence to back up the claims that the title made. Just because a guy might have been in London at the same time and happened to be the minister at the church when these particular murders took place is not evidence to me.

However, take out the shoddy references to Jack the Ripper and The Bell Tower was a nice treatise on life in San Francisco in 1895. Particularly entrancing was the story behind the two leading newspapers at the time run by Michael De Young and William Randolph Hearst. The drama between those two fierce competitors is a story on in and of itself.

The book is long, 500 plus pages. The evidence is scant and a interruption of the main story. Worst of all, a man was hung for the crimes and Graysmith didn’t really give me enough information to tell if he was in fact the killer or not. This is the same guy that wrote Zodiac, which was made into a movie. I expected a lot more.

Thankfully, I got this book from the library. I still would like a refund for the time I wasted reading it.