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Tag Archive: True Crime


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

In the small-but-crowded field of Victorian true crime, Paul Thomas Murphy′s 2016 release Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder presents a notable installment in the genre.  Covering a lesser-known crime that was the sensation of its day, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane details the brutal murder of Jane Clouson, a sixteen-year-old London maid-of-all-work, and the legal fiasco that followed, including—but hardly limited to—the murder trial of suspect Edmund Pook.  Murphy begins his account like a thriller, a police procedural of a bygone era of evolving law enforcement and burgeoning forensics.  His heroes are the detectives, witnesses, and doctors who come forward to uncover the truth of Clouson’s attack—and the identity of her attacker.  Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is available now in a paperback edition.

In his riveting step-by-step analysis of the investigation, Murphy paints a vivid picture of 1870s London—its law enforcement, its residents, and the neighborhoods torn apart by the culture clash of young Clouson’s murder.  This section of the book really shines, offering both an excellent overview of period forensic science and police procedure, as well as enticing tidbits like the cost of a photograph or the unexpectedly fascinating workings of a ironmonger’s shop from the era.

The second part of Murphy’s tale, leading readers through the labyrinth of the 19th century English justice system, loses a bit of momentum, although that’s as much the challenge of presenting the welter of material about the case (four separate steps to the murder trial and all the attendant solicitors, barristers, judges, and witnesses) as the challenge of making the mystifying Victorian trial process understandable.  That said, it’s unclear who the audience for the book is meant to be—American readers wholly unfamiliar with the byzantine and confusing steps of a Victorian murder trial; or English readers who will find the basics—if not the details (which have changed substantially in the intervening 145 years)—relatable.  Readers brand-new to the subject will likely find themselves lost and confused by references to the Treasury Department (which handled many public prosecutions until the 1980s) and similar trappings, and may struggle to stick with the book through the legal morass.  It is not a spoiler to note that Pook was acquitted of the murder, but the legal battles surrounding him were far from over.  Murphy offers up a cast of characters who, beyond mere professional adversaries, become almost mortal enemies as the many facets of the case churn on.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Truer to the classic pulp crime comic book genre than the likes of recent monthlies like Fatale or Velvet, writer Ande Parks and artist Esteve Polls are bringing back those 1930s-1950s stories once found in the pages of Crime Does Not Pay and Crime SuspenStories with their new series Seduction of the Innocent.  Comic book collectors and historians will recognize the title from Frederic Wertham’s infamous anti-comic book diatribe, and Dynamite Entertainment is playing off that shocker moniker here to good effect.

Behind the title is the classic pulp noir storytelling we were fans of in IDW Publishing’s recent throwback mini-series The X-Files: Year Zero reviewed previously here at borg.com.  As with old crime magazines, you’ll find “horrific tales of true crime”–murders and crime scenes–as advertised yet “horrific” from more of a 1950s eye than a Tarantino-esque blood-splattering as found in most current crime series.  Writer Parks pulls from his broad knowledge of crime stories and history to begin a story that could have taken place in Anytown U.S.A., but he has chosen a San Francisco FBI office from 1953 as his starting point.

Not only is Parks known for his artwork on Green Arrow and El Diablo, Parks has had critical success writing true crime accounts including Union Station, Capote in Kansas, and Ciudad, as well as work on classic favorite characters Kato, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro. 

Seduction of the Innocent issue 1 Polls interior art

Artist Esteve Polls evokes that straightforward “just the facts, ma’am” Dragnet style look with his panel renderings, which blends nicely with Parks’ story.
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By J. Torrey McClain

I have an outsized morbid curiosity.  I am in the midst of reading “Devil in the White City” about the 1893 World’s Fair and the serial killer that lurked just outside its gates.  I definitely enjoyed reading Bill James’s foray into something not related to baseball, “Popular Crime.”  I’ve included several books by criminal profiler John Douglas in my reading list over the last fifteen years.  I wrote about “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story” for borg.com.  So, those personal facts may color my opinion, but I’m going to go ahead and say that if you’re looking for a true crime podcast, you can’t do any better than the season that “You Must Remember This” devotes to Charles Manson and the murders he and his family committed in the summer of 1969.* (http://www.vidiocy.com/youmustrememberthispodcastblog/2015/5/26/charles-mansons-hollywood-part-1-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-the-manson-murders)

*However, if you’re looking for runner-ups, I suggest the first season of “Serial” from the producers of “This American Life,” and the ongoing “Criminal” that is part of the Radiotopia podcast network.  I’m sure you’ve already read WAY too much on “Serial,” but I may have to add my own “Hey Listen To This!” post on “Criminal” and several of the other members of Radiotopia.

Host Karina Longworth knows how to tell a story, gives the listener a bunch of great facts and lets you know when she ventures into the realm of speculation and rumor.  Each podcast episode comes with its own blog post that notes the sources Karina uses to edify and explain the years Manson spent living free outside of prison.  She connects Manson to various other figures in Hollywood like Dennis Wilson and Doris Day.  (I must say the Wilson part really intrigued me and got me to add his digital double album, “Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu” to my music wish list.)  She takes her time telling the story, so the series runs for twelve episodes and each episode is at least a half an hour.  It’s not a rush job, it’s not a sample of one evening in the life, it’s a darn comprehensive look at a specific time and place centered around one of the most sensational and senseless crimes of the century.**

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Grimm the TV series is “grim” to the extent of its various Wesen creatures—some stars of the show like Monroe and Rosalie and the villainous Adalind—as they woge into the faces of a horror movie special effects artist’s dream project.  Strange murders and other crimes from their dark fantasy world come across weekly on NBC with a footing in the reality of a Portland, Oregon police precinct.  But there is an equal balance of humor that can often make you forget the show is so dark.  The comic book spin-off of the series, reviewed here at borg.com last year, allows Nick, Hank, and Monroe to venture off to locations too expensive for a network TV series.  The tie-in Book of Lore highlights the fictional monster culture behind the series stories.  Now a new tie-in novel takes the darkest elements of the TV series even further, to more horrific places that could never make it to network TV.

Bram Stoker Award winning horror author John Passarella takes on the Grimm universe with a new criminal element in Grimm: The Chopping Block, a new paperback novel just released. It’s The Freshman meets Silence of the Lambs meets Fat Tuesday. The remnants of boiled human bones are turning up in multiple places around Portland.  And the victims have nothing in common.  It’s not long before Detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin, along with Captain Renard and Sergeant Wu, discover that what the victims don’t have in common says all they need to know about the true nature of the crime.

Grimm The Chopping Block

Humans become livestock under the knives of a Wesen butcher.  Any reader may go along with our favorite character Monroe by book’s end and go Vegan.  Be prepared for descriptions you’d find in any meat-packing plant or Food Network series, only with an unusual meat substitute.  Food prep takes on new meaning.  And the story features a dinner event that The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover only scratched the surface with.

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