Tag Archives: murder

Review: The Tenth Circle

circle-500Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.

Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.

The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.

I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.

The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.

MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.

Get The Tenth Circle in paperback now for $11.68.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Review: Horrible Man

Recap: If you’re intrigued by the Etan Patz case or have ever wondered what really happened to Amelia Earhart, this is the book for you. Horrible Man tells the true story of an unsolved double murder that took place in Portland, Australia more than 20 years ago. Called the Portland Hair Salon Murders, journalist Leonie Wallace writes about the homicidal act that led to the deaths of Claire Acocks and Margaret Penny. Acocks was doing Margaret Penny’s hair at her weekly appointment when someone came into the salon and savagely killed the two women.

Over the years, people have come forward, admitting to seeing a person flee the scene or hearing screams coming from the hair salon, but it has never been enough to pinpoint who did it. And after 20+ years of a case unsolved, many wonder if police will ever come to a conclusion about what happened.

Leonie Wallace takes us through the evidence, the police interviews and statements given by witnesses and family members, as well as insight from personal interviews she conducted with all the key players of the devastating tragedy. Wallace also discusses other similar murders that took place in Australia around that time. She talks about some of the prime suspects — and why they were never arrested or convicted. But most importantly, Wallace investigates who Claire Acocks and Margaret Penny really were, and how their loss has affected an entire community.

Analysis: What’s most intriguing about the murders is the fact that they happened in broad daylight on a Friday afternoon in a commercial downtown area. Before starting the book, I found myself wondering how something like this could possibly happen and go unsolved for this long. But Wallace’s journalistic prowess and research proves to us that there are so many different avenues, so many different options about what could have happened. Without proof and a lack of reasonable doubt, you’ve got nothing but a mystery.

Wallace writes the book in a way you would imagine a journalist would write it — straightforward, factual, mostly unbiased. While Wallace weaves in some of her own experiences about researching the case, she does an excellent job of simply informing the reader of the facts and not swaying us. She leaves us to come to our conclusions about what happened, and we find ourselves understanding why police were never able to come to a solidified conclusion.

Wallace’s research is extensive. But her interviews with the victims’ family members are easily the most heartbreaking portions of the book. These interviews are seamlessly woven into the facts of the case in a way that makes us want to finish the book in the hopes that there will be a happy ending, despite already knowing that is not the case.

MVP: Mr. Acocks and Mr. Penny. It’s impossible not to feel for the two men who lost their wives that day. It’s a shame that they have no clue as to why this happened or who did it, and that they probably never will. But their ability to continue living their lives and moving on as best as they can is inspiring.

Get Horrible Man on your Kindle for just $9.99.

Or in paperback for $29.22.

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Review: Tribes of Time

Recap: Albeit unrealistic, Tribes of Time tells a compelling murder story with a bold statement on the current status of civil rights in our country. It all begins when Dr. Haines Johnson is traveling through rural Tennessee on his way to a science conference. Along the way, he spots a group of six white Klansmen abusing a naked black man, named Cyrus. They are about to lynch him. Impossible for him to continue driving, Dr. Johnson stops the car and saves the man by killing some of the Klansmen. Cyrus finishes them off. It may have been an act of self defense, but between the two of them, they have committed six murders in a matter of minutes. Not only that, but it’s happened in rural Tennessee, where racism remains prevalent and the chances of having a fair trial are slim.

Since Haines has gotten Cyrus into this mess — and because Cyrus is forever indebted to him — Haines hires close lawyer friends of his from up North to represent he and Cyrus in court. They play their cards well, realizing this is not only a murder case, but a case about civil rights, and one that has the potential to take the country by storm. Tribes of Time takes us through the duration of the trial and beyond. But a tip that Haines and Cyrus’s lawyers receive near the end of the trial results in a monumental shift in the case, one that will change Cumberland County, Tennessee forever.

Analysis: The murder and trial are the essence of this strong story, but it would have been better if it were left that way. Instead the author, Jaymes E. Terry tries to include unnecessary additional subplots; for instance, a romance between one of the defense attorneys and a witness that’s added a few hundred pages into the novel.

Also unnecessary is the career-altering project named Sankofa on which Dr. Haines Johnson is working. A time-travel machine, the Sankofa is what Haines finally completes at the end of the novel, after the trial is complete. Though it is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the story, the back summary of the book makes the physics project seem as though it’s a focal point, when in reality, it has no bearing on the rest of the story.

Overall, Tribes of Time has heart. And the fact that Terry sets the story in 2005 makes its statement on civil rights that much bolder; after all, some of us (like myself, a white girl from the North) would find it hard to believe that something like this could still happen today. I found it surprising, but if true, it says a lot about our ignorance about the supposed leaps and bounds we’ve made in the civil rights movement in the last 50 years.

MVP: Dr. Haines Johnson. It takes a lot to save a man’s life and assist with murder, especially when doing it for a stranger. Dr. Johnson’s risk and courage are astounding. It’s impossible to not respect Haines in the utmost way.

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Behold, the Power of Biographies!

More than 40 years after Malcolm X’s assassination, the case might be revived — and it’s all thanks to a book. Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention has called attention to the Civil Right’s leader’s murder, which was never entirely solved.

Sure, arrests were made. But as this New York Times article explains, there are still unanswered questions, like who ordered the assassination. Some believe the innocent were blamed, while those responsible went free.

With the biography’s bestseller-status, some are pushing for the Justice Department, FBI, or Manhattan District Attorney to reopen the case.

People have attempted to reopen the case over the years, but as Shaila Dewan explains in her article, this time, there’s more of a possibility that it will make waves.

But this time they may well gain traction because the legal environment has changed: prosecutors in the South have demonstrated that it is possible to pursue and win cases that are decades old and, as a byproduct, they have made the failures of the police in the civil rights era abundantly clear.

Of course it helps that the book is a biography of one of the most intriguing people in American history, but the fact that a book has the power to open a murder case that’s more than 40 years old is amazing to me. What do you think? Do you think a decades-old murder case might soon be solved? Will you read the biography?

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