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It is surprising how true the clichés of crime literature turn out to be. Here, for example, we have Richard Walter, the cerebral, classics-living forensic psychologist “obsessed with things that decent people were happiest not knowing about”. Frank Bender is his Dionysian opposite, a brilliant forensic artist whose clay models rescue vanished faces, yet whose unconventional private life is given a little too much attention by the clearly smitten author.
Capuzzo’s writing can be compared to contemporary crime masters such as Michael Connelly and Linda Fairstein. Like the forensic experts he chronicles, the author reanimates crimes long-since filed away through the power of his imaginative observations: moments before her death, a victim is “dreaming her thoughts into the bleak grey sky”. He is also good at the time-honored need to reframe senseless crimes through a metaphysical lens. Along the way, there are a few missteps: unhelpfully opaque sentences such as “His was a dark vision, the same one that made Machiavelli and Dostoevsky embittered men and geniuses for the ages,” and head-scratching assertions such as “In the modern media age, Bender was becoming better known in his time than Michelangelo was in his.” The listener will have to decide on his or her own where their level of comfort stands in relation to the license Capuzzo takes in dramatising events unknowable except to the dead and the deranged: it is an irony that a book concerned with establishing facts resorts to so much colorful conjecture.
Another challenge for the listener is the fragmented storytelling: the story dips in and out of several cases as they progress, and it can be a struggle to hold on to the narrative threads. But with barely a pause between each chapter, Grupper’s unfaltering narration drives the listener on through the grim accumulation of bodies. His restraint is his greatest attribute: his uninflected reading gives just enough space to let the true tragedy of each case come across all the more vividly, a respectful tribute to the victims of the crimes chronicled in this morbid yet engrossing book. Dafydd Phillips
Good friends and sometime rivals William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter—a renowned FBI agent turned private eye, a sculptor lothario who speaks to the dead, and an eccentric profiler known as “the living Sherlock Holmes”—were heartsick over the growing tide of unsolved murders of innocents. They decided one day over lunch that something had to be done, and pledged themselves to a grand quest for justice. The three men invited the greatest collection of forensic investigators ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to the Downtown Club in Philadelphia to begin an audacious quest: to bring the coldest killers in the world to an accounting. Named for the first modern detective, the Parisian Eugéne François Vidocq - the flamboyant Napoleonic real-life sleuth who inspired Sherlock Holmes - the Vidocq Society meets monthly in its secretive chambers to solve a cold murder over a gourmet lunch.
The Murder Room draws the listener into a chilling, darkly humorous, awe-inspiring world as the three partners travel far from their Victorian dining room to hunt the ruthless killers of a millionaire's son, a serial killer who carves off faces, and a child killer enjoying fifty years of freedom and dark fantasy.
Michael Capuzzo's brilliant storytelling gifts bring true crime to life more realistically and vividly than it has ever been portrayed before. It is a world of dazzlingly bright forensic science; true evil as old as the Bible and dark as the pages of Dostoevsky; and a group of flawed, passionate men and women, inspired by their own wounded hearts to make a stand for truth, goodness, and justice in a world gone mad.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Melvin Lindsey on 08-18-10
Beware of staring into the abyss,it stares back
Normally I pass on true crime genre, and I wouldn't have pick this one if I hadn't heard a fascinating interview on NPR's Fresh Air featuring the author, Michael Capuzzo, forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter, and learning of the origins of the Vidocq Society. Capuzzo's work walks us through an American nightmare of psychopaths, sadists, killers, serial killers and more. There are names here we're familiar with from the news, and some we're only dimly aware of from myths, fairy tales, and from our nightmares. All of them true.This is not the typical true-crime drama or quickie csi adventure with neat solutions and families finding hope and closure at the end. Solutions are a long time in coming if at all.
Always gripping, I'd find it hard to describe this as entertainment. This is information disturbing and horrifying for the most part but there is also hope, thanks to the Society. This is knowledge that helps us discover what drives certain individuals; that informs us as to why some people do what they do,such as the members of the Vidocq Society who labor for the dead in order to provide them a voice,in many cases restores an identity,and provides the relief their families longs for.
At fourteen plus hours I found this excellent production much too short and immediately had to listen again. Initially I thought I would be put off by Adam Grupper's sharp, just-the-facts reading but seconds into the audio I found myself swept away into this history of the origins of expert crime analysis. His voice and intonations were perfect for this book.He would make an excellent Sherlock Holmes.This is a book for all the cynics and skeptics who, like I, long to find the goodness buried deep in the the human soul only to find ourselves horrified by the potential for the extreme evil that is buried in us all; that allows us to annililate each other in ways unimaginable, but still providing hope for those who've lost loved ones to murder.
This is an excellent find.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful
By David I. Williams on 02-18-12
Guaranteed to Fascinate
This is one of the most engaging books I have read on crime in a long time. Capuzzo tells the origins and history of the Vidocq Society, a group of forensic experts who gather together once a month in Philadelphia to hear cold cases. These men and women work pro bono and have solved numerous crimes. The book focuses on the three founding members of the society: US Customs Agent William Fleisher, pre-eminent psychologist and profiler Richard Walter, and the brilliant forensic artist Frank Bender. These men have solved some of the most heinous crimes of the last 50 years.
The topic of the book is fascinating and the true life characters are very intriguing. Perhaps at times too intriguing. Capuzzo, an excellent writer, tends to rabbit trail a little too much and inserts a lot of material that makes the flow of the story choppy and hard to follow at times. Don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. I will give you one warning: this is not for the faint of hear. You have to understand that these men track down psychopaths. Some of the material is brutal. Capuzzo never revels in the horror, but he does describe it. If you want to believe that there are no bad people out there then avoid this book. You will encounter evil.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful