Despite some truly chilling moments and much to learn, this engrossing case falls flat.

IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU

SUSAN POWELL, HER MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE, AND THE MURDER OF HER CHILDREN

The tale of an entire family succumbing to a tragic string of crimes.

When Susan Powell disappeared, many of her friends and family were quick to assume her husband, Josh, was at fault. Authors of the Bodies of Evidence series Olsen (A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder That Destroyed a Church, 2010, etc.) and Morris (Ted and Ann: The Mystery of a Missing Child and Her Neighbor Ted Bundy, 2011, etc.) convincingly lay out the myriad of circumstantial evidence against Josh. His suspicious actions the night his wife went missing, and in the weeks after, are damning, as is what seemed like a complete lack of concern with her fate. The authors set down these facts along with anecdotes from friends and family about an increasingly controlling husband and a wife who wanted out. Olsen and Morris clearly did their research, but they don’t add much color to their narrative. Those close to Susan seem to have been eager to contribute, while the Powell family was less forthcoming. Combined with the focus on Josh as the assumed guilty party, the narrative slides too easily into tired tropes of the beautiful young wife and mother pitted against an angry and oppressive husband. Though the respective shoes may fit, and the authors explain they don't intend for Susan to seem perfect, more nuance would have been welcome. Still, they paint a portrait of systematic dysfunction, and readers are left knowing exactly why Powell may have killed his wife. Many portions of the book are written as if the case was ultimately solved and culpability proved. When the case is closed—still unsolved—it leaves the entire story feeling anticlimactic and readers feeling cheated out of a sure thing.

Despite some truly chilling moments and much to learn, this engrossing case falls flat.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-02714-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...

THUNDERSTRUCK

A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered...

MY STORY

The inspirational and ultimately redemptive story of a teenage girl’s descent into hell, framed as a parable of faith.

The disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 made national headlines, turning an entire country into a search party; it seemed like something of a miracle when she reappeared, rescued almost by happenstance, nine months later. As the author suggests, it was something of a mystery that her ordeal lasted that long, since there were many times when she was close to being discovered. Her captors, a self-proclaimed religious prophet whose sacraments included alcohol, pornography and promiscuous sex, and his wife and accomplice, jealous of this “second wife” he had taken, weren’t exactly criminal masterminds. In fact, his master plan was for similar kidnappings to give him seven wives in all, though Elizabeth’s abduction was the only successful one. She didn’t write her account for another nine years, at which point she had a more mature perspective on the ordeal, and with what one suspects was considerable assistance from co-author Stewart, who helps frame her story and fill in some gaps. Though the account thankfully spares readers the graphic details, Smart tells of the abuse and degradation she suffered, of the fear for her family’s safety that kept her from escaping and of the faith that fueled her determination to survive. “Anyone who suggests that I became a victim of Stockholm syndrome by developing any feelings of sympathy for my captors simply has no idea what was going on inside my head,” she writes. “I never once—not for a single moment—developed a shred of affection or empathy for either of them….The only thing there ever was was fear.”

Smart hopes that sharing her story might help heal the scars of others, though the book is focused on what she suffered rather than how she recovered.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-04015-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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