Book Review: American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

BY MATT ELLIS

With seven Law and Orders, four CSIs, and crime thrillers ranking among the top-selling genres of fiction, it is no mystery that America has an addiction to police procedurals and court drama. Networks and publishers have made an industry out of true crime re-creation and documentaries for those with a more discerning bloodlust that want to know that the murder and mayhem they consume is the real deal. In this environment, it should come as no surprise that Kate Winkler Dawson’s newest book, American Sherlock, with its equal parts biography, true crime facts, forensics science history, and social commentary, is primed to be a shotgun blast of mass appeal into the face of the nonfiction marketplace.

At first blush, American Sherlock is a biography about Edward Oscar Heinrich, a man Dawson identifies in the prologue as “a forensic scientist and criminalist from the first half of the twentieth century, a man who changed how crimes were solved before forensics became the foundation of most criminal cases – America’s Sherlock Holmes.”

Dawson tackles Heinrich’s illustrious career by walking the reader through his most famous cases. The chosen series of vignettes reads like the lead plots of the best crime fiction—a Hollywood mogul accused of sexual assault and manslaughter; a devout husband charged with the murder of his wife; a manhunt after a boy finds a body part; and quite possibly the last great American train robbery. That’s not all, but you get the idea.

Book Review: The Witches Are Coming

by Leanne Phillips

The Witches Are Coming is a collection of essays by Lindy West, some brand new, and some previously published in various online and print magazines and updated for the book. West has been around for a long time. Her work has been featured in publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Jezebel. As I read The Witches Are Coming, I recognized a couple of the essays, having read them when they were originally published, but I’ll admit West’s name didn’t become familiar to me until I binge-watched Season One of Shrill, a Hulu original television series starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant. I was impressed and intrigued enough to look up Shrill’s writers, including West, the author of the memoir which inspired the television show. When I read that West had a new collection of essays, The Witches Are Coming, I got my hands on a copy as quickly as I could.

Book Review: Olive, Again

by Leanne Phillips

Elizabeth Strout’s third novel, Olive Kitteridge[1], was published in 2008 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009. In 2015, the book was adapted into an award-winning miniseries with Frances McDormand playing the title role of Olive, a character who seems to have been written with McDormand in mind. Readers and viewers alike were delighted by the character of Olive. Now, Olive Kitteridge returns in Strout’s seventh and most recent novel, Olive, Again[2]. Imagine my delight to find that this new book is an even more engaging, moving, and meaningful read than the original.

Strout had no trouble letting go of Olive after Olive Kitteridge. In fact, in the ten years since she wrote Olive Kitteridge, Strout had moved on to other things, including writing three more novels. She had no plans to write about Olive again. In a recent interview with Maris Kreizman for The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Strout said: “I never intended to write a sequel, but she just showed up again. She’s Olive and she has to be contended with. A few years ago I had the weekend to myself, and I went to a cafe to sit. All of a sudden I just saw Olive driving into the marina as an older woman, and I thought, ‘Uh oh. Here we go.’”

Book Review: Year of the Monkey

By Briana Weeger

In the first days and weeks of 2020, the season for past reflections and future resolutions is upon us—if you’re into that sort of thing. In Patti Smith’s newest memoir Year of the Monkey, the writer, photographer, and musician takes a surreal look at her life in 2016, the year of the trickster monkey in Chinese zodiac. But Smith doesn’t seem to be a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, in a tumultuous political and personal landscape, Smith is beautifully open to the lessons, connections, and hidden meanings within dreams that the year offers her. Her writing is a surreal mix of fiction and nonfiction as she contemplates what is real and attempts to absorb the absurd truths of living and dying.

Book Review: Dear Twin

By Sarah Sheppeck

Are you Asian? Queer? Mixed race? A twin? No? Then Addie Tsai’s debut novel Dear Twin isn’t for you—emphasis intentional.

Don’t misunderstand—there’s broader appeal in this narrative, which also tackles the less niche topics of interpersonal relationships, individuality, and abuse, both emotional and physical. But it’s clear that in this deeply personal young adult novel, fictionalized in part from the bones of her own memoir, Tsai hopes to reach certain young adults—those who identify at a core level with her pansexual, Asian-and-white, daughter-of-a-first-gen-immigrant narrator, Poppy, who can add the additional hyphenate of “identical twin” to her list of particular identities. In fact, Poppy isn’t just a twin, but a mirror twin, meaning that she and her sister Lola (short for Lolita—there are layers to that) have matching-but-opposite physical traits, like a birthmark that appears on the left side of Poppy’s face but the right side of Lola’s.

Book Review: The Butterfly Girl

By Laurie Rockenbeck

The Butterfly Girl, Rene Denfeld’s second offering in her Naomi Cottle series, explores what it is to be lost versus invisible in a gritty thriller set in Portland’s Skid Row. Denfeld does a masterful job creating a compelling narrative by alternating views between two main characters—Naomi and Celia.

Naomi Cottle was once a lost child, and her work as a private investigator is focused on finding other children. She comes to Portland to search for her sister and has vowed not to take on any other cases until she finds her.

Celia is a twelve-year-old girl who has run from an abusive home.  It is through Celia’s eyes that Denfeld shows the starkest separation of the two worlds in which these characters live. Naomi is part of what Celia thinks of as day people as opposed to those who live and die on Skid Row. When Celia first encounters Naomi, it is with the same suspicion and loathing she holds for all day people:

The woman clearly did not belong here, not in these days of sea creatures washed up onshore. What happened in the night was meant to stay secret–like what had happened with her step-dad, Teddy. Celia had made the mistake of telling. She had found out that the people of the day don’t want to know what happened in the night.

Book Review: Nothing to See Here

By Collin Mitchell

Breaking the mold is a difficult thing to do and no one captures the difficulty of this hardship better than Lillian Breaker, the consciously wayward protagonist in Kevin Wilson’s new novel, Nothing to See Here.

As a teenager, Lillian is ambitious enough to get into the exclusive Iron Mountain, “a fancy girl’s school hidden on a mountain in the middle of nowhere,” but at twenty-eight she’s living in her mom’s attic, working two grocery store jobs, and smoking a lot of weed. So, what’s her problem? Her best (and rich and beautiful and scheming) friend, Madison Billings. If this novel isn’t about fate and class, family, the haves and the have-nots, then it’s about friendship and its exploitive little schemes.

Book Review: All This Could Be Yours

By Jenny Hayes Jami Attenberg’s novel All This Could Be Yours takes place largely over a single day, a day which Victor Tuchman—a pretty terrible man— spends mostly unconscious and near death in a New Orleans hospital. The book bounces around between the points of view of the family members and various others who come into the scene—sometimes only tangentially—near the end of Victor’s life. This structure gives the book a loose, kaleidoscopic feeling, with a consistent narrative tone that keeps it feeling cohesive; the prose is clear and rhythmic, conveying each character’s point of view while occasionally interjecting its…

Book Review: Know My Name

By Rachel Zarrow

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Viking, 2019) is the untold story of the person who the world came to know as Emily Doe, the victim of a widely reported 2015 sexual assault on Stanford’s campus. Though Know My Name is a memoir, the book is many other things—a victim’s manifesto, a story of love and loss, and a close examination of the broken systems that protect perpetrators and betray victims. Chanel Miller, the woman we meet in the pages of this book is many things too. She’s an activist, a victim, a writer, an artist, a comedian, a daughter, a sister,  a visionary, and more.

Book Review: Family of Origin

By Amy Reardon

Leave it to the generation that enjoyed a privilege and abundance fueled by post-WWII government subsidies to close the door behind them, handing their children an earth destroyed by greed, a democracy gone off the rails, and crushing student debt. Leave it then to a mind like CJ Hauser’s to capture what happens next: how the children abandoned in a dry well must set to work building for themselves a stairway of hope before they can climb out and face the serious work of healing the planet.