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Friday, December 27, 2013

Book review: The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

Do you love watching Cold Case Files? Did you see the articles last summer about the finally solved 30+ year old child murder case in New York City? If you like mysteries, especially real ones, this book is for you.

Three men in Philadelphia, William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter, founded the Vidocq Society, honoring the founder of the very first police detective department, in France. Originally conceived as a social club for various detective-types (cops, private detectives, profilers, pathologists, FBI agents, coroners, etc.) to network over world-class food, they quickly found that they wanted to talk shop and that seemed to always lead back to the "one case" each of them had that they couldn't forget--because it was still unsolved. So the group officially began to solicit the presentation of cold cases to them. They do not want to circumvent the police so they prefer the officers or DA involved actually make the presentation. And it is amazing when you get the best minds in the field into one room and they can look at the evidence with fresh eyes, how many times they really do figure out who did it. And while they can't always prove it, they often do provide fresh leads and new avenues of investigation and new people to interrogate (or old people to look at more thoroughly.)

These three men are an odd trio. Bender is probably the oddest, as he has a wife and a longtime mistress (who is well-known to the wife who vets all his girlfriends before allowing them), and he communicates with the dead, which is very helpful in his facial reconstructions. Walter, the psychologist and profiler, was the second oddest. He resembles Sherlock Holmes the most, in his habits (smoking, piano playing), physicality (skinny), and demeanor (isn't friendly, doesn't care if others dislike him, confronts people). Fleisher is odd mostly in that he seems rather ordinary and yet is friends with these two misfits. Bender and Walter solve a number of famous cases, are on American's Most Wanted several times, and help bring in some truly pathological murderers, decades after the fact.

It's amazing how years later, not only has the science advanced which we know, but often people are less scared to tell what they know. when they were younger, when the crime was closer, when the perpetrator had more power over them, they often clam up. But after decades, the potential recriminations fade. In fact a couple of the murderers themselves confess when confronted decades later. Also the distance these men and women have from the original cases helps them see evidence without bias, as does the breadth of their experiences.

This book was not great literature, the author repeated a few phrases several times, the promise of Sherlockian-esque escapades of the title never pans out, and the pacing of how the different cases were presented was uneven, however it was thoroughly enjoyable. I worried it might be too creepy or scary to read late at night but that did not prove to be the case; while you do read about gory and reprehensible acts, the whole point of the book is catching the perpetrators so those murders become less scary. I read it fairly quickly, and it was a nice distraction from my usual fare.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

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