The Spirit Lens (Collagia Magica #1)


Title: The Spirit Lens
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica #1

In a kingdom on the verge of a grand renaissance, where natural science has supplanted failing sorcery, someone aims to revive a savage rivalry…

For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery’s decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life’s bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria’s last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the king of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled.

As the king’s new agente confide, Portier – much to his dismay – is partnered with the popinjay Ilario de Sylvae, the laughingstock of Sabria’s court. Then the need to infiltrate a magical cabal leads Portier to Dante, a brooding, brilliant young sorcerer whose heretical ideas and penchant for violence threaten to expose the investigation before it’s begun. But in an ever-shifting landscape of murders, betrayals, old secrets, and unholy sorcery, the three agentes will be forced to test the boundaries of magic, nature, and the divine…

“I appreciate your concern, lord.”
Truly it warmed me more than I could say, even if he could only express it in the King of Sabria’s closet

Rating: B+

The Spirit Lens starts with a simple question: who is trying to kill the king? While trying to find the answer, Portier and his co-investigators come across many more questions. About the number of people who are behind it, their plans after the last attempt failed, their reasons, what they intend to do if they succeed. So far, so usual. At the end of the book, Portier has found out who was trying to kill the king. When it comes to all the other questions he has some very vague hints but a lot remains in the dark. That’s also not unusual for a first book in a trilogy but even in a book that sets the scene, I expect to get some more answers.
Not that I mind too much. Because even if I had learned more I still would want to read the next book to meet all the characters again. I loved Portier and his character development during the book. Except for the part where he seems to be thinking with his penis. Portier is a nobleman and in this world relationships with nobility are a complicated issue. (There are very strict laws about adultery). So any women he has met so far just went nope’ because they didn’t want to deal with all that shit. So when he comes across a woman who doesn’t do that and enjoys talking with him instead, it’s unsurprising that he is very happy about that fact. (It probably also helps that she is good looking…). And I don’t think it’s unrealistic that he would develop feelings for her. But I don’t buy how quickly these feelings develop into blind trust and Portier risking his job (and life) on her word. I could have accepted him wanting to believe her and then somebody else persuading him but it’s not even that. Without any outside influences, Portier decides taking time out of his busy schedule that includes saving the king’s life and so stopping the country from descending into chaos to help a woman he only met a few times. It’s a bit hard to believe. Even for such a kind-hearted person as him. (Did I mention how happy I am that we get a non-cynical hero? because I really am).

Continue reading “The Spirit Lens (Collagia Magica #1)”

Freebie Alert: Rivers of London Short Story


Somewhere amongst the shadowy stacks and the many basements of the British library, something is very much amiss – and we’re not talking late returns here. Is it a ghost, or something much worse? PC Peter Grant really isn’t looking forward to finding out….

A charming short-story featuring Peter, Toby, a dedicated librarian, possibly a pirate and definitely no spiders is available for free. All you need is an Audible account. | |

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards #1)

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Series:  Gentleman Bastards #1

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a ghost that walks through walls. Half the city believes him to be a legendary champion of the poor. The other half believe him to be a foolish myth. Nobody has it quite right.

Slightly built, unlucky in love, and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. He certainly didn’t invite the rumors that swirl around his exploits, which are actually confidence games of the most intricate sort. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else, pray tell, would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny of it. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Locke and company are con artists in an age where con artistry, as we understand it, is a new and unknown style of crime. The less attention anyone pays to them, the better! But a deadly mystery has begun to haunt the ancient city of Camorr, and a clandestine war is threatening to tear the city’s underworld, the only home the Gentlemen Bastards have ever known, to bloody shreds. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends will find both their loyalty and their ingenuity tested to the breaking point as they struggle to stay alive…

Rating: C

“But perhaps not everything miserable that happens to us stems directly from one of your choices, brother. Perhaps bad tidings come regardless of what we do.”

At first, I enjoyed the book. Locke was a fun character and I have a weakness for heist stories. But around page 200 I noticed something: Absolutely nothing had gone wrong so far. And the author had tried to distract me from that by telling the things out of order. At one point something seems to go wrong but it was actually part of a plan Locke had made earlier. We only learn about it afterwards. Additionally, we get ‘Interludes’ throughout the whole book, that tell us about Locke’s childhood and how he came to be a Gentlemen Bastard. Of course, they come just when something interesting happens in the main plot. (And of course, they end in the middle of something interesting happening). That’s a very cheap trick and one that’s ridiculously overused in this book.
Besides, we learn that Locke was six or seven during the beginning of these interludes. And that he had already lived on the street for a while at that point. And that he was already an extremely capable thief at that point. What’s with fantasy authors and ridiculously capable children? I promise the story would have still been very impressive if Locke had been ten at the beginning and I wouldn’t have spent a considerable amount of time rolling my eyes and going ‘At seven. Of course.’
Things began to slump a bit afterwards and I started to notice things. Like the absence of female characters. There’s Sabathea. She’s a member of the Bastards but she’s absent on a mission during the main plot. We also don’t meet her in the interludes. The two things we do learn about her is that she’s a redhead and that Locke’s in love with her. Like really. He loves her a lot. Really. He loves her so much that even when he tries to have sex with another woman he can’t because she isn’t Sabathea. And he only wants Sabathea. Because he’s really in love with her, in case you hadn’t noticed that.
What kind of mission is she one? How long will it take? Is she also in love with him or is it unrequited? How did she join the Bastards? What character traits does she have? We don’t learn any of this because that’s apparently not important. It’s important that Locke’s penis is suffering terribly.

Now after everything going smoothly for a while longer, things turn around sharply and now everything goes wrong. Really really wrong. And Locke got from one bad situation in a worse one. Can he survive that? Will Locke Lamora survive the book called The Lies of Locke Lamora? Now I’m not saying that authors can’t ever put characters in danger if the reader can be reasonably sure that they won’t kick the bucket. But that they shouldn’t act like ‘But will he survive this?’ is the most pressing question. And that’s exactly what happened here. We get very little of Locke worrying about how he’s going to get out of a difficult situation. We get very little of his friends worrying. Instead, we get a very long interlude after things just went really downhill for Locke.
Woho! Aren’t you dying to find out if he’s going to get out of this?

So after an entertaining beginning and a mediocre and drawn out middle the end came. Once I passed roughly page 500 (of 700), I was glued to the book. The finale had everything. Action! Surprising twists! Finally an awesome female character that got screentime! Characters – both villains and heroes – who got in trouble because they were a bit too clever for their own good.
Of only all of this had come a bit earlier, I would have loved this book and thrown it at everybody in my vicinity shouting ‘GO AND READ THIS’. Yeah. It was that good. But as it is I can only say ‘400-500 pages is an awfully long set-up, isn’t it?’ Because that’s what it is. The heist and everything that happens during that just sets up the actual plot. And I’m not going to recommend a book and say ‘Once you get past page 500 it gets really good’. So if you think about picking it up, bear that in mind. I still intend to pick up the second book in the series, because overall it was fun (and because it was the author’s first published novel). But I’m also not rushing to get it.

Breath and Bone (Lighthouse #2)

1140216Title: Breath and Bone
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Lighthouse #2

As the land of Navronne sinks deeper into civil war and perilous winter, everyone wants to get their hands on the rebellious sorcerer Valen -a murderous priestess, a prince who steals dead men’s eyes, and even the Danae guardians, whose magic nurtures the earth and whose attention could prove the most costly of all.

Addicted to an enchantment that turns pain into pleasure -and bound by oaths he refuses to abandon- Valen risks body and soul to rescue one child, seek justice for another, and bring the dying land its rightful king.
Yet no one is who they seem, and Valen’s search for healing grace leads him from Harrower dungeons to alien shores. Only at the heart of the world does he discover the glorious, terrible price of the land’s redemption-and his own.


Nothing was ever as simple as the fanatics believed.
The Lighthouse Duet does not reinvent the wheel. The question ‘Can you stay morally pure while fighting a totally immoral evil?’ has been asked before. But, where a lot of fantasy novels just answer this question with ‘no’ and then gleefully go on about the horrible things our heroes have to do Lighthouse follows it up with other questions. So how far can you go? If the bad guys have no rulebook and torture and murder children can you also throw out yours and start enslaving the souls of the dead? Or will you just end up as bad as the previous bad guys?
The characters don’t just touch upon these questions, shrug and move on. It’s a major source of conflict between the characters and it is done really well. But in the end, the resolution of this problem is perhaps a bit too convenient. Just like a lot of the problems get solved a bit too easily by the right magical power-upgrade at the right time, the right information coming along at just the right time etc. and perhaps it would have been better to have fewer problems with more complex solutions but in the end that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book (or binging the last third of it in a day...) A lot of it had to do with the great characters. I liked Valen and the other ‘good guys’ and felt with them over their moral dilemmas. And I despised the bad guys while also understanding their grievances and that they had some good points before it turned into Holy Disproportionate Retribution Batman.

The City of Ice (Gates of the World #2)

22033888Title: The City of Ice
Author: K. M. McKinley
Series: Gates of the World #2

Deep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise.

The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages.

As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.

Industry and magic, gods and steampower collide in the captivating sequel to The Iron Ship.

Rating: C+

We all wear masks – some for others, some for ourselves. Some are placed upon us without our knowing.

I had some issues with The Iron Ship, the first book in the trilogy but was intrigued enough that I wanted to read the second book as well. One of the things that bothered me in the first book was that it was all so slow-going. A lot of it was either people preparing for a journey or people already on a journey (and only in some cases I had a vague idea about what expected them at the end of the journey). But the end promised that in the next book there would be more action.
Well. Trassan, the character who prepared to go on a journey in the last book, goes on that journey. It takes most of the book. Then, towards the end of the book, something big happens. Guis, one of my favourite character from the first book, barely appears (he only has one chapter). Katriona, my other fave, got furious about the lack of laws forbidding child labour and did something about it. She was awesome. Just like in the previous book where she dealt with embezzlement. No, I’m not being sarcastic here, I love that we get a female character like her in a fantasy novel. But I still have no idea how her story connects to the larger plot.
Garten, the character who spent the last book with lots of bureaucracy and diplomacy, does more diplomacy. Then, towards the end of the book, something big happens. Aarid who got worried about something in the last book and went somewhere to discuss his worries finally arrived there. He waited for a while and then something unexpected happened. (Not towards the end. More halfway through. But then we didn’t hear from him anymore). Rel, who spent the last book getting from one point to another, continued traveling. By the end, he has arrived somewhere. I think.
We also got new characters. Like the immortal guy who is into BDSM but has some trouble with the ‘sane’ and the ‘consensual’ bit of it. He was also an ass in general and while there was some entertainment value in a fantasy novel talking about “a series of sexual practices outlawed in many kingdoms” I just didn’t see the point of that plotline at all. It could have definitely been shortened a lot.

So overall, I feel conned after reading this book. Because it was just like the first book. Long stretches of not much happening, right until the end where things go boom (literally in some cases) and you are promised that things get more exciting in the next book.
And I feel even more conned because of course, I’m going to read the final book. I want to know what happens next. Even if there’s a danger that 200 pages of it are going to be people traveling through the ice/the dessert and discussions of a minimum wage before something happens. Because I really want to know hat is going to happen to those characters (and that world in general).

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of Book 1

The Spirit Heir (A Dance of Dragons #2)

23477260Title: The Spirit Heir
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2

Drenched in darkness and surrounded by the echo of screams, Jinji waits deep in the dungeons of Rayfort, haunted by the memory of the knife stabbing Rhen, plagued by a foreign voice whispering through her mind. A few floors above, Rhen rests trapped in a coma, about to wake to a changed world–a world where his best friend is a woman, his nephew is the king, and an enemy army surrounds him on all sides.

But human wars are insignificant compared to the darkness gathering unseen. Memories of lives she never lived flash through Jinji’s thoughts, hinting at a past that cannot be repeated. A mysterious phantom visits Rhen, carrying cryptic messages of the future. And somewhere out there, the shadow continues to lurk in silence.

Startled by their altered relationship and tempted by new feelings, Rhen and Jinji must find a way to work together. The fate of humanity rests on their shoulders and the real battle has only just begun…

Rating: D-

“And at least soldiers chose to fight, chose to risk their lives in combat”

Do you really want to go there? Are you really saying that in ye olde pseudo-medieval fantasy world everybody joined the army because they just loved fighting/their country/both so much? Nobody did it out of necessity, because they couldn’t find another job but needed the money or just because it was a family tradition or simply anything but Duty. Honor. Courage.?
Nope. Our soldiers are the good ones, our enemies have the evil ones/the poor slaves that are forced to fight (delete as appropriate…the book can’t make its mind up either).

There are good bits in this book. It still occasionally makes good points about sexism and racism. And it has a great scene when Jinji – who is in the palace and feels very uncomfortable among the nobility because they are all so racist – basically wins a staring contest with the queen and thinks that now nothing the other nobles do can bother her anymore. Only a few pages later it’s again mentioned how uncomfortable she is and the scene with the queen is never mentioned again.
However, my favourite bit of the book is when Jinji gets captured and imprisoned again very shortly after she has been chained up in a dungeon for three weeks. Does that bother her? No, but immediately afterwards she throws a hissy fit of jealousy because Rhen talks to another woman. Because fuck PTSD and trauma, what’s really important are you pants-feelings.

Talking about Jinji and her WTF-decisions/emotions: she’s hearing a voice in her mind and the voice claims she wants to help Jinji fight the mysterious Shadow that’s causing all the problems in the book (well…all the problems not caused by evil, sexist fantasy Arabs). Jinji is not convinced and worries that the voice in her head is actually the Shadow who is trying to trick her and refuses to listen. Until she hears that the Shadow has attacked people after she started hearing the voice. Clearly, a mysterious magical entity that has enough power to force people to attack their loved ones can’t be inside Jinji’s head and somewhere else. That would be illogical.

Despite all that I’m still less bothered by this than by the novellas about Leena inventing feminism, and we finally got dragons in this book. About bloody time. And I just didn’t hate it enough for one star.
ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5
Review of book 1
Review of book 1.5

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane

28817930Title: Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder: The Unsolved Murder that Shocked Victorian England
Author: Paul Thomas Murphy

On April 26th, 1871, a police constable walking one of London’s remotest beats stumbled upon a brutalized young woman kneeling in the muddy road, her face smashed and battered. The policeman gaped in horror as the woman stretched out her hand to him, collapsed in the mud, muttered “let me die,” and slipped into a coma. Five days later, she died, her identity still unknown.

Within hours of her discovery, scores of Metropolitan Police officers were involved in the investigation, while Scotland Yard sent one of its top detectives to lead it. On the day of her death, the police discovered the girl’s identity: Jane Maria Clouson, a sixteen-year-old servant to the Pooks, a respectable Greenwich family. Hours later, they arrested her master’s son, twenty-year-old Edmund, for her murder.

An epic tale of law and disorder, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is the story of a criminal case conducted at the time of the birth of modern forensic science. It is the story of the majesty–and the travesty–of the nineteenth-century British legal system: the zealous prosecutors determined to convict young Pook; and the remarkable lawyer equally determined to obtain his acquittal by any means possible. At the heart of this story are the alleged killer and his alleged victim: Edmund Pook, the young Victorian gentleman caught up in a legal nightmare, and Jane Maria Clouson, the young maid whose hard life before her tragic death serves as a bracing corrective to Downton Abbey fantasies about the lives of British servants.

Using an abundant collection of primary sources, Paul Thomas Murphy creates a gripping narrative of the police procedural and the ensuing legal drama, with its many twists and turns, from the discovery of the body until the final judgement–and beyond. For while the murder of Jane Clouson has for nearly one hundred and fifty years remained unsolved, much of the evidence remains, and Murphy, applying contemporary forensic methods to this Victorian cold case, reveals definitively the identity of Jane Clouson’s murderer–and provides the resolution that Jane’s angry supporters long ago demanded.

Rating: C

The blurb of this book is misleading. I had expected a straight true-crime story but the book goes beyond that. That’s because the murder wasn’t ‘just’ a murder. The author has to go beyond that and also delve into Victorian society and explain why it was such an issue that a middle-class man was put on trial for murdering a working class girl (that used to be his family’s servant) but not convicted. Without more context, some of the events following Jane’s death are incomprehensible to the modern reader.

However, the author overdoes the ‘going beyond the case’ sometimes. There are quite extensive details of two other trials that made headlines back then but the only connection to Jane’s murder trial is that they had some of the same personnel. A few sentences about that would have been enough. Instead, we get almost a chapter that just deals with these cases and none of it adds anything to the story of Jane’s murder. And it doesn’t remain the only aside where I couldn’t see the point of (though the others aren’t quite as long).
Well, and for the “Murphy carefully reviews the evidence in the light of 21st-century forensic science in order to identify Jane’s killer”-part. Well…the forensic evidence consists of blood-stained clothes that we don’t have anymore so the author has to rely on descriptions that might or might not be accurate. Granted, together with some eyewitness testimony that wasn’t accepted as evidence in the trial he makes a good case. I’ve had authors try to convince me that a certain person is Jack the Ripper on much less but the blurb makes it sound as if the author had identified the killer beyond reasonable doubt and that is certainly not the case. (To be fair: that is pretty much impossible in such an old murder).

Overall the book was interesting, and I don’t even mind the ‘wrong packaging’ because some social context is necessary for understanding the case. But not as much as the author gives.
ARC received from NetGalley

The Iron Ship (The Gates of the World #1)

23492427Title: The Iron Ship
Author: K.M. McKinley
Series: The Gates of the World

The order of the world is in turmoil. An age of industry is beginning, an age of machines fuelled by magic. Sprawling cities rise, strange devices stalk the land. New money brings new power. The balance between the Hundred Kingdoms is upset. For the first time in generations the threat of war looms.

In these turbulent days, fortunes can be won. Magic runs strong in the Kressind family. Six siblings strive – one to triumph in a world of men, one to survive murderous intrigue, one to master forbidden sorcery, one to wash away his sins, one to contain the terrible energies of his soul.

And one will do the impossible, by marrying the might of magic and iron in the heart of a great ship, to cross an ocean that cannot be crossed.

Rating: C+

The Iron Ship captured me pretty quickly because of its fascinating world-building. Instead of the generic medieval-ish setting, so many fantasy novels go for. The setting reminds more of the industrialization. Just with added necromancy.
Talking of this: Magic takes an active role in the book. It’s not just a vague presence like in some high fantasy novels. Wizards exist in this world and they aren’t even that rare. Now I’m not saying that magic in fantasy always needs to manifest in the form of spell-casting. I’m just saying that I enjoy it if it does happen to manifest in the form of wizards who can raise people from the dead and ask them questions.

There are also amazing characters: the novel mainly revolves around five siblings who have all chosen different careers. A soldier, a playwright, an engineer, a businesswoman and a guider (a wizard who can guide the spirits of the dead into the afterlife…and also do necromancy). The playwright has OCD and depression. This is clearly stated in the text and even influences the plot, something I never saw in a fantasy novel.
Their sibling-relationships are also really well portrayed: they agree, they disagree but they do care about each other.

However, pretty soon there were a few buts that clouded my enjoyment. The world-building was great but it was again a world where women don’t count much. I am getting tired of worlds that have two moons, talking dogs and magic that can reanimate the dead but women being considered as important as men is apparently outside the realm of the possible.
Similarly: the main characters? Two women and almost a dozen men. It’s sad because those two women? They are amazing. (Towards the end a third one appears who will probably become important in the following books but that still doesn’t balance it out).

Then there’s the matter of the plot. For a long time, not that much happens. People move from one place to another. A big ship is built. A fraud is uncovered. A woman invites a man to visit her observatory (both, not a euphemism and very much a euphemism). Vague references to necromancy, magic in general and dead gods are made. I don’t think fantasy always needs to have huge things happening but all this is…well. Very little. And there weren’t even many hints about larger things to come. I kept reading and wondering what would happen eventually but couldn’t do more than make vague guesses. Something must happen with the ship. After arriving at point B something must happen to the character who went there.
And it stays like this for over 3/4 of the book. And then suddenly a lot of things happened. Most of them bad and most of them ended with lots of people dead.
But even then I still didn’t have a much clearer idea of where the plot will be going in the following books. Yes, some things are hinted at but overall it feels more like I read a prologue and the first few chapters of a book instead of all of it.

But despite this, I still enjoyed the book and plan to read the next one (hoping that the pacing will be better). I am unhappy with the treatment of the female characters but most other things are refreshingly different from many generic fantasy-novels. The author’s prose just flows and she manages to convey enough about the world without ever resorting to infodumps.

ARC received from NetGalley


The Silver Key (A Dance of Dragons #1.5)

25727975Title: The Silver Key
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1.5

Weeks have passed since King Razzaq discovered Princess Leena’s affair and banished her lover from the kingdom. So when Mikza suddenly appears in the golden palace, chained and bound, Leena is floored. Even more mysterious is the man he travels with—a redheaded prince of Whylkin.

Unable to control her curiosity, Leena follows the strange convoy, hiding in the shadows as they meet with her father. But what she witnesses will the change the course of her life, and the world, forever.

Taking place parallel to the events in THE SHADOW SOUL, read Leena’s side of the story as she teams up with Jinji to save Rhen’s life and seeks to escape her father’s hold once and for all.

Rating: E

What do you think the men fighting these battles would want? To live, knowing they helped my father destroy thousands of lives? Or to die at the hands of something greater?

Well, I would guess they would want to make that choice for themselves instead of a sad, spoiled princess making it for them but what do I know? After all, they are just peasants. And non-noble characters are just there for the canon-fodder (and to make Leena feel a bit bad on occasions). Noble men are just there to remind us constantly that this society treats women horribly. As in ‘let’s take the worst of every really existing society and mix in some bad dystopias’-horribly. Which is a) annoying because come on. This is fantasy. You can make up everything and come up with women being utterly worthless? and b)

Because this society is clearly based on a middle-eastern/Arab one and in the previous book we saw the white guys treat their women better (still not equal but definitely better) and I’m just saying the author should have thought more about their world-building.

Now when it comes to noble women: we only see Leena. Who invented feminism. And who is still the only one who sees something wrong with this society. Other women are just too vapid and silly for that. At least that’s what I assume since no other women is even mentioned (except Tragically Dead Mom(TM)). Leena has no friends, isn’t close to her sisters…nothing.


ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series
Review of book 1 in the series

Did They Really Do It?

27850354Title: Did They Really Do It? From Lizzie Borden to the 20th Hijacker
Author: Fred Rosen

Nine of the most controversial violent crimes in America’s history are reexamined in these compelling stories of true crime
Dr. Samuel Mudd set John Wilkes Booth’s broken ankle, but was he actually part of the larger conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln? Did Lizzie Borden brutally murder her own parents in Massachusetts? Was admitted jihadist Zacarias Moussaoui really involved in the terrorist plot to destroy the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001? In a series of provocative and eye-opening true crime investigations, author Fred Rosen revisits some of the most shocking and notorious crimes in America over the past two centuries to determine once and for all . . . did they really do it?
Applying logic and techniques of modern criminology while reexamining the crime scenes, official police records, and the original courtroom testimonies of witnesses and the accused, Rosen explores nine infamous crimes that rocked the nation and the verdicts that were ultimately handed down. From Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s execution for treason to the kidnapping and killing of the Lindbergh baby to the Ku Klux Klan slayings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi to 9/11, the alleged perpetrators get another day in court as Rosen calls into question the circumstantial evidence and cultural context that may have determined guilt or innocence in each case.

Rating: D

It feels a bit like the author picked out some true-crime cases that interested him and then tried think of something that could link them together and came up with ‘Did they really do it?’ even though in some cases that is not the most burning question. A more accurate link is probably that in most cases the circumstances and the time had huge influences on the trial and the verdict.

And if Rosen had just gone down that road, delved deeper into the Rosenbergs, Zacarias Moussaoui etc. and thrown out Lizzie Borden, the Boston Strangler and Bruno Hauptmann which all feel like badly done filler this might have been a much better book. Instead, we get a very mixed bag.
So, according to Rosen, Lizzie Borden did kill her father and step-mother. The proof? She never married.

Yes, you see Lizzie was abused. Physically by her step-mom and her father didn’t do anything about it or sexually by her father and the step-mom didn’t know/care/do anything. Or perhaps both. He isn’t quite clear on that. But that’s why she killed both. And then ha suddenly decides that she was sexually abused and that’s the reason she never married. Because as we all know that is the only reason why a woman would never marry. All others just have to throw herself at the first guy that comes along…

And that is actually all the “proof” we get for his conviction that Lizzie Borden was a killer which is…weak.

When it comes to Bruno Hauptmann he thinks that he was rightfully convicted of abducting and (accidentally) killing Charles Lindbergh Jr. He might have had a partner but that’s not what the chapter is about. The chapter is actually about Lindbergh Senior’s antisemitism and support for Hitler. Now I’m not saying these things should be ignored because of what Lindberg did and what happened to him but it has no relevance for the question of whether Hauptmann was innocent. The abduction happened in 1930. Lindbergh only declared his sympathy for Hitler and his views years after that. There is no connection between that and the death of his child and therefore no need to spent over a third of the chapter on it.

Now the chapter on the Boston Strangler really does take the cake for ‘useless filler-chapter’. Yes, Albert DeSalvo did commit some of the murders but not all of them. (He reaches that conclusion, not by a meticulous study of the sources but because by now there has been DNA-testing was done that exonerates him in one case). So the Boston Stranger were most likely Stranglers. How many were there? Which murders were most likely to be DeSalvo’s doing? Who knows or cares? But apparently, the author has a minimum page-count he needs to reach…

And that is a shame because the chapters that are more about how time and circumstances like the Red Glare, racism and antisemitism or the post 9/11 chaos influenced the courts: they’re pretty good. Though to come back to one of my initial complaints: One of the chapters is about three murdered civil rights activists in 1960s Mississippi and from the way the case is presented I didn’t get the impression that there was ever the question ‘did they really do it?’ The problem was rather that due to racism, the way the justice system worked back then, more racism and even more racism it wasn’t possible to get convictions for everybody that was involved in the murders. At least that’s how I (who had never heard of this case before this book) understood it. So either there were more doubts than the author let on which means he did a bad job at presenting the case, or the case was pretty clear-cut. In that case, he did a bad job when he decided to include it in a book that’s supposed to be about cases where there’s doubt about the true guilty party.

If that book was a paper that got handed in for grading it would come back with ‘missed the topic’…