Monday, April 30, 2018

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Reviewed by Christy

            The Golden State Killer wasn’t always called that. In fact, his crimes were so widespread and prolific across California that he held many monikers. It wasn’t until Michelle McNamara’s 2013 article for Los Angeles magazine “In the Footsteps of a Killer” did she publicly coin the more cohesive nickname.

            In the mid to late 1970s, Sacramento was terrorized by a man who snuck into couples’ houses late at night, tied up the men, and raped the women. Many victims told of mysterious footprints around their homes in the days leading up to the attack. Neighbors spoke of suspicious men lingering in the neighborhood who maybe didn’t seem suspicious at the time.  Sometimes the perpetrator would make comments during the attack that made the victims believe he might know them personally. At the very least, law enforcement believed he meticulously planned his attacks and monitored his victims for days before striking. From 1976 – 1979 he stalked Sacramento before slowly moving outside of his comfort zone to other cities, occasionally popping back in Sacramento.   He was known as the East Area Rapist, and he is believed to have assaulted approximately 50 women.

            In the fall of 1979 murders with very similar MOs began occurring in southern California: home invasion late at night, man tied up, woman assaulted. Police communication between districts was very poor at this time so no one made the connection. The murderer was dubbed The Original Night Stalker, and it is believed he killed at least 12 people. It wasn’t until the early 2000s with advances in DNA technology that law enforcement realized the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were one and the same. He then became known as EAR/ONS for short.

            McNamara knew that EAR/ONS was a rather clumsy and confusing nickname. Even among true crime readers, EAR/ONS isn’t nearly as well-known as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, though his depravity could certainly match both. To get the public’s attention he would need something catchier and more succinct: thus the Golden State Killer.

            In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, McNamara’s writing is lovely and full of compassion. With so many locations and so much evidence it would be easy to pack the book densely with facts and risk becoming very dry but she avoids doing that. It’s part true crime, part memoir as she examines her obsession with true crime research and briefly touches on her familial relationships. At times it feels a little disorganized but I’m not sure I can really fault anyone for that. While in the middle of writing this book, McNamara died in her sleep from a combination of prescription medication and an undiagnosed heart condition. With encouragement from her husband Patton Oswalt (or begging, as he puts it), her colleagues finished the book as best they could with McNamara’s many, many notes.

            The book is quite sad to read at times for the content alone but also because I felt certain that the Golden State Killer would never be caught. Law enforcement (and McNamara) long thought he could possibly be a police officer or in the military. Being a policeman would explain how he always seemed to be one step ahead of them or how he could possibly track down survivors’ numbers after decades to call them and psychologically torture them once more. It would certainly help keep him above suspicion. But it had been so long. He very likely could be dead. He could go the way of the Zodiac or Jack the Ripper.  I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

            With less than a third of the book to finish, I woke up April 25th to the unbelievable news that the Golden State Killer had been caught. His name is Joseph James DeAngelo, he’s a 72 years old Vietnam veteran, and he was at one point a police officer. He was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburb Citrus Heights – where at least six of his crimes took place.

Like many others I had one question on my mind: what was it that led investigators to DeAngelo? Since at least five years ago lead investigator Paul Holes was using genealogy websites in hopes of getting a hit on the Golden State Killer or, more likely, a relative. While they could only use genetic markers, as opposed to genetic material, Holes and McNamara were convinced the answer lay somewhere in those sites. The possibility kept McNamara up at night. But and 23andMe would not work with law enforcement in cases such as these, citing their privacy policies. But GEDMatch, per their terms of use, is an open-source genealogy site. After homing in a on a relative, law enforcement put DeAngelo under surveillance. After collecting a discarded DNA sample, they finally got a match.

It’s an ending that Michelle McNamara often imagined.  Oswalt firmly believes that her 2013 article helped renew the public’s interest which ultimately lead to his capture. A task force was brought together in 2016, and he was caught two short years later, so it’s certainly plausible. Regardless, the fact that the “Golden State Killer” has become the go-to nomenclature in regards to DeAngelo speaks to McNamara’s influence.

McNamara didn’t care who caught him, she just wanted him caught. In her book she ends with “A Letter to An Old Man” and describes how she imagines that day would go: a car pulls up in the driveway, the doorbell rings…

 “This is how it ends for you.
‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim once.
Open the door. Show us your face. Step into the light.”

Friday, April 27, 2018

Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell and “Kathryn Kenny”

Reviewed by Kristin

Certain books can transport me back to my childhood:  The Fire Cat by Esther Averill, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Smiling Hill Farm by Miriam E. Mason, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene, and so many more.  We lived near a neighborhood library and the highlight of my week was picking out more books to read while riding in the car, eating breakfast, or especially hiding under the sheets with a flashlight after bedtime.  Many times I begged, “Just one more chapter!” when I was discovered reading in the late night hours.  Even though Nancy Drew was a pretty sharp sleuth, the amateur detective who captured me in my pre-teen years was Trixie Belden.  I may have been nine or ten when I started reading the series, but all these years later I still have been known to pick one off my bookshelf and just spend an hour or two lost in happy memories.

Trixie lives with her parents and brothers on Crabapple Farm in upstate New York.  Her mother is “Moms,” who always has a cheerful smile and a quick reminder for Trixie to dust the living room before she goes out to ride her bike or swim in the nearby lake.  Trixie usually gives the dusting a lick and a promise before bursting outdoors, often with younger brother Bobby who she considers a terrible pain.  As the series begins in The Secret of the Mansion, big brothers Brian and Mart are off working at a camp, and Trixie knows that she will just die of boredom before the summer ends.

When moving vans pull up the long driveway of the neighboring Manor House, Moms tells Trixie that she might want to go meet the Wheelers’ daughter, but be sure to take Bobby along!  Honey Wheeler is the stereotypical “poor little rich girl” but is soon tramping through the woods, teaching Trixie to ride a horse, learning how to ride a bike, and pretty much having more fun than she ever had before in her sheltered little life.  But trouble is afoot!  Mr. Belden finds a miserly old neighbor unconscious in his driveway.  Will Mr. Frayne recover?  And whether or not he does, is there any truth to the rumors that he has a fortune hidden in his decrepit old house?

Thus begins the adventures of Trixie and Honey, as well as the other members of the club they will soon call the Bob-Whites.  Brian, Mart, Jim, Diana and Dan round out the group of teenagers who seem to find a mystery around every corner, whether in their sleepy little town of Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson or on their travels across the country.  Between hidden/lost/stolen jewels, brown eyed uncles, and missing sheep, Trixie and the Bob-Whites have their hands full.

The Trixie Belden series was begun in 1948 by Julie Campbell, who wrote the first six books.  Following those classic titles (and the best written, in my opinion) several authors were assigned the pseudonym Kathryn Kenny to continue the teens’ adventures through the next few decades, finishing in 1986 with #39, The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost.  It’s no surprise that the vocabulary can seem a bit dated with Trixie continually exclaiming “Oh jeepers!” and “Yikes” as well as referring to big brother Brian’s old but beloved jalopy.  In some of the later books, the terminology was updated, but the original wording seems fitting to that time.  In 2003, Random House began reprinting the first books in the series, but unfortunately stopped after the first fifteen titles.  I was hoping that a new generation would come to love Trixie as I did, and still do.

Trixie always seemed to me a most realistic figure in teenage sleuth-dom.  Sure, Nancy Drew has her little blue roadster convertible which she jumps into at a moments’ notice (probably wrapping a scarf around her titian colored hair—that’s a rosy apricot color if you were curious) and a seemingly unlimited budget to travel around solving mysteries.  Trixie has siblings, chores, school responsibilities, and an outdoorsy personality which was extremely appealing to me.  She sometimes made mistakes, but always owned up to them and tried her best to help other people.  Her generous nature and compassion for others, as well as a strong sense of right and wrong always shone through, no matter which author took up the pen.

What books take you back to your childhood?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nevermore: Uncommon Type, Stolen Life, Bedlam Stacks, Book of Joy, Family Next Door, 9th Hour

This week’s Nevermore opened with Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks.  Our reader quite enjoyed the book, noting that it was nice to know Hanks as more than an actor.  He found the stories to be a mixture of humorous and poignant. He was also impressed by the array of typewriters owned by the author, photos of which headed each chapter.

Jaycee Dugard was only eleven years old when she was kidnapped.  She was held captive for eighteen years, during which time she gave birth to two daughters. In her memoir, A Stolen Life, Dugard described how she was able to cope with her captivity and abuse, and of the challenges that awaited her after she finally found freedom.  Our reader said that while the writing wasn’t polished, it was very touching. 

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley begins in 1859 England, when a man is challenged to go to Peru to collect cuttings of plants to bring back for the manufacture of quinine. Merrick Treymane was an employee of the East India Company before an injury compelled his early retirement, and he’s not anxious to go where so many expeditions have failed before. On the other hand, he’s finding the situation at home to be almost unendurable, so against his better judgment he sets out.  Our reader was quite taken with this historical fantasy, especially the ending which she found to be moving.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama may practice different religions but they found a great deal of common ground in their views on suffering, faith, compassion, and happiness.  In 2015, the two spent several days together discussing these topics, resulting in The Book of Joy.  There are no revolutionary ideas here, according to our reviewer, but they do describe techniques for developing joy in your own life. 

In The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth, a seemingly idyllic neighborhood is disturbed when the mysterious Isabelle moves in.  The residents are intrigued by this lone single woman amid all the families.   The reader soon learns that the families have dark secrets of their own, and that the young woman’s choice to move there was no whim.  Alternating viewpoints, suspense, and well developed characters made this book a page turner.

Finally, Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour tells the story of three generations of an Irish American family.  Annie is pregnant with her first child when she becomes a widow.  She and the child are taken in by the Little Sisters of the Sick Poor.  From there, the story focuses on Annie, her daughter Sally, and several of the nuns.  Our reader was impressed at how the nuns remained such strong individual presences in an institution which encourages conformity, and praised the beautiful writing.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly

Reviewed by Jeanne

Librarian Kathleen Paulson has found a real home in Mayville Heights, Minnesota. She has a loving boyfriend, a job she enjoys, and many close friends.  One young friend is Mia Janes, who works with the library’s Reading Buddies program.  Kathleen meets Mia’s great uncle Victor at the library where he is looking for books to help him deal with some health issues.  It turns out that Victor is in town trying to mend fences with Mia’s family, especially her grandfather, after a long-ago family quarrel but his reception is a cool one.  Then Kathleen and Mia discover a body, and the police seem to think they have a strong suspect in Mia’s father, Simon.

Mia is desperate for Kathleen to prove her father’s innocence, so the librarian allows herself to be drawn into another investigation even if it may put her at odds with Marcus, her police detective boyfriend.  Kathleen does have something Marcus doesn’t:  two very gifted cats who seem to excel at finding clues.

This is the ninth entry in the Magical Cats Mystery series, but the first to appear in hardcover.  It would work as a standalone, but I have to say I have enjoyed watching Kathleen settle in and build relationships.  That to me is the real appeal of the series:  the strong relationships between the characters. Kelly isn’t afraid to allow things to change—there’s an impending marriage in this one—but she allows things to develop slowly.  The dialog especially is well done.  The conversations sound natural and there’s a good bit of humor.  The mysteries are good, but it’s the characters that make the series as much fun as it is.  I admit that I found the first couple were a bit slow going because of all the character introductions, but now they all seem like old friends.

And speaking of characters, two of the furriest are Kathleen’s rescue cats, Owen and Hercules.  While they don’t talk, the two have other talents such as becoming invisible or walking through walls and they seem to understand human conversation and are adept sniffing out clues—providing Kathleen keeps them in treats.

The Magical Cats books in order:

Sleight of Paw
Copycat Killing
Final Catcall
A Midwinter’s Tale
Faux Paw
Paws and Effect
A Tale of Two Kitties
The Cats Came Back (due out September 2018)

(Note:  Sophie Kelly also writes a series of mysteries under the name Sophie Ryan.  One of them was reviewed here.)