Are you a fan of true crime books? Then you will want to take a look at these new titles from Chicago Review Press.
Even if you aren’t a fan, if you write mysteries, suspense or thrillers, you might want to check them out as research materials. All three books describe in detail both the “law” and the “order” of criminal investigations. If nothing else, you become familiar with the process and the vocabulary through reading real world stories.
True Crime 1
Convenient Suspect: A Double Murder, a Flawed Investigation, and the Railroading of an Innocent Woman* by Tammy Mal
Author Tammy Mal is a journalist who wanted to write a book about a horrific double murder that happened in a small town in Pennsylvania. In December of 1994, someone killed a young woman named Joann Katrinak and her baby boy. Three years later another new mother was arrested, one who had never met the victims in person. The suspect, Patricia Rorrer, was quickly convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Because she was curious about the case. Mal figured others would be, too. When she started gathering background information, she thought Patricia Rorrer was guilty. After she began to go deeper, however, she found inconsistencies. By the time she wrote the book, Tammy Mal was convinced that the woman who had been convicted was not the killer and the true criminal is still at large.
Although the topic is a difficult one, Tammy Mal’s writing style is clear and fast paced, so it is relatively easy to read. There is a short note from Patricia Rorrer in the back matter.
True Crime 2
The Trials of Walter Ogrod*: The Shocking Murder, So-Called Confessions, and Notorious Snitch That Sent a Man to Death Row by Thomas Lowenstein
In a similar fashion, author Thomas Lowenstein says he did not start out to write about someone who was innocent of the crime he had been convicted of. He originally started the book with the idea he would delve deeply into all sides of a death penalty case. In fact, he chose cases at random, and his only criteria was that the inmate agree to communicate about the crime. The case he found turned out to involve another Pennsylvania murder, this time in Philadelphia, and another prisoner who is likely to have been wrongly convicted.
This book brings up the issues of coerced false confessions. The suspect did confess, but only after thirty-six hours with no sleep.
[Side note: I am interested in false confessions. After reading about a case in Beatrice, Nebraska where six people were wrongly convinced they were involved in a case, I played around with some ideas about using the topic as the centerpiece of a novel. I did some deeper research and found out there’s a lot of information about this topic. In one 2015 study, 70% of subjects subjected to suggestive and repetitive interviewing techniques could be convinced they had committed a crime, when in fact they had not. Talk about power of suggestion.]
Unlike the previous book, The Trials of Walter Ogrod has extensive notes in the back matter.
True Crime 3
Freeing David McCallum*: The Last Miracle of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter by Ken Klonsky
(*Amazon Affiliate link)
Ken Klonsky is an English teacher. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a boxer who had been wrongly convicted, and kept in prison for nineteen years. After reading an article Klonsky wrote about Carter, a convict named David McCallum contacted them, saying that he had also been wrongly convicted. As they went through the case, they found there was DNA evidence that other suspects were involved. Unlike the previous books, David McCallum, has been released after nearly thirty years behind bars.
This book also involves false confessions. The back matter includes an appendix of contrasting false confessions, a helpful list of key figures, and also an index.
Admittedly, it is difficult emotionally to read this trio of books in succession. In all three, decisions were made to pursue suspects based on personality or race with little or no evidence to back up the belief of that the person was guilty. For two of the cases, the suspects were coerced into confessing, which sealed their fates.
In addition to difficult subject matter, it is also difficult at times to keep all the various names straight. Each case involved many people, including victims and their families, other suspects, witnesses, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and prosecution. Having a list of key figures in Klonsky’s book made me wish the other two had a similar list.
Overall, all three books were well written, and compelling. Try them and you might end up a changed person.
Disclosures: These books were supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.