Poet Carl Sandburg described Chicago as “course and strong and cunning.” Novelist Nelson Algren characterized Chicago as a “city on the make.”Author Dean Jobb cements Chicago’s gritty reputation in Empire of Deception.
In his early Cold War novels, John le Carré referred to something called “Moscow Rules”: the tradecraft used by spies in a hostile city when they had to be super-cautious to avoid getting caught. If you want to learn the 21st-century equivalent of those rules, The Spy’s Son is a great place to start—although in real life, they don’t always work as smoothly as in fiction.
What with all the CSI television dramas, books by FBI profilers and frightening news stories about serial killers, we’ve become quite familiar with the concept of the criminal psychopath, a person without remorse. But even now, most of us are shocked when a child is a murderer. In 1874, when our current ideas about mental illness were still in their infancy, 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy seemed to many like a demon from hell.
The buzzer blared from the door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The night watchman peered into the grainy video monitor and saw two men in police uniforms. The men persuaded the watchman to open the door. Once inside, the men bound and gagged the watchman and a fellow security guard and made off with $500 million in stolen art. Among the 13 masterpieces taken in the March 18, 1990, heist were Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert.
The African-American struggle continues in every corner of the nation, from small towns like Ferguson, Missouri, to the boroughs of New York. Thus, Black History Month arrives at a critical time in America. The question is: Can we learn from history? These selections shed new light on the black experience and offer perspectives on the often painful evolution of race relations in America.
The baffling 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor gets true-crime treatment in Tinseltown, a compelling interweaving of star power, the machinations of power brokers and the desperation of the wannabes and the washed up. Together they provide the book’s apt subtitle: “Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood."
One day in January 2010, Aubert de Villaine received a cardboard tube in the mail. Inside was a map of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, his vineyard, more detailed than any map he himself owned. There was also a note threatening to poison his vines unless a one million euro ransom was paid. Despite the detailed map, De Villaine doubted the threat, which turned out to be real; the vines were in fact poisoned. Shadows in the Vineyard is not a conventional true crime story, but then, poisoning the rarest and most expensive wine in the world is not your average crime.
In his heyday, E. Forbes Smiley III was larger than life, a man who excelled at virtually everything he set his hand to. Although his name smacked of sitcom pretentiousness, he was never the rich buffoon. Raised in a middle-class, well-educated family in New Hampshire, Smiley became a superb college student, an engaging conversationalist, a gifted woodworker and a generous and loyal friend.
The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas tells the interlocking stories of these two men whose lives collided in September 2001. Like the very best creative nonfiction, this suspenseful true crime book uses the techniques of literature to develop its characters, themes and plot. Bhuiyan is our appealing protagonist, a man who never gives up trying to better himself, and who treats all humans with respect—including the man who tried to kill him. Antagonist Stroman is downwardly mobile, a lower-middle-class kid who never caught a break, and who is filled with rage toward anyone who isn’t white (and male).
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2014
Walter Kirn has penned a number of imaginative novels, including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were both made into movies. But nothing in the pages of those books could match the bizarre, real-life experiences Kirn relates in his new memoir, Blood Will Out.