Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by Michael Cannell

Why has everyone forgotten about the Mad Bomber? He planted dozens and dozens of bombs all about New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s (although as a patriotic American--and a vet himself--he paused for WWII) from Grand Central Station to the New York Public Library to Radio City Music Hall. It's amazing how much of history is lost to the wind until an enterprising author puts pen to paper.

This bomber was truly outwitting the NYPD, even though he made calls and sent notes about his bombs (he didn't really want to hurt people.) It took absolutely forever to figure out who it was. Finally what did it was the lead detective going to a psychiatrist for a profile, which was so not done in those days that they didn't even have a word for it, and a tabloid newspaper reaching for a headline and trying to engage the bomber.

The profiling didn't have as much impact on the case as the subtitle would have you believe, even though it was uncanny how accurate it was. But the newspaper's open letter that got a response, and the back-and-forth that finally lead the bomber to admit an important date when he was injured at Con Edison (he was clear from the beginning that ConEd was who he was mad at for an injury and their subsequent treatment of him.) That date allowed ConEd to find his file (even though earlier they'd sworn up and down to the police that they had no records going back to the 1930s), and put a name with the face.

Who was he? Well, you'll have to read it and find out! I'm not going to give it away! A real-life Law and Order episode from the near past.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. This book is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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