Deception–Amanda Quick

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This is one of my favorite of her books. Amanda Quick does historical romances.

In this one, we have Olympia Wingfield, a bluestocking trying to raise her three orphaned nephews. Jared Chillhurst is a viscount who is after a family diary that Olympia’s father has sent to her.

His initial plan was to offer to buy the diary, once she decodes it. However, when he saw the chaos in the household, he decided to take a more personal approach to the project. He announces that her dad has hired him as a tutor for the boys and quickly proves to be an excellent tutor and brings her entire household into order.

When she decides to take the family to London, disaster inevitably strikes when people discover them living in the same home and they are forced to announce their marriage and then get married to make it true.

She is not pleased with his large amount of deception, but she does love him. He loves her too, and protects her from the various threats that face them. She does in the end translate the diary, make peace with a longstanding family feud, and sends the most annoying members of the family off on a travel trip to find an ancient buried treasure.

This is a charming book, as indeed are all of Amanda Quick’s romances.

The Perfect Poison–Amanda Quick

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I love these books. Amanda Quick does, in my opinion, the best historical romances with a touch of mystery. I appreciate the mysteries because it gives the story some bite, beyond just plain romance.

In this one, we enter into a bit of a crossover situation. The author has a series under the name Jayne Castle, which are futuristic and paranormal. This book is a historical romance but part of a series with paranormal aspects.

In this case, Lucinda Bromley is a gifted (psychically gifted) botantist and has recognized a rare fern that was stolen from her conservatory in a deadly poison. She teams up with Caleb Jones, who runs the detective agency for the psychical society and they track the poisoner, who is well known to the psychical society for various other unpleasant crimes.

It appears as though he is trying to create the “founder’s formula” which is a potion that should enhance and increase the psychical abilities of the person who takes it. Unfortunately the problem is that the founders formula, in every iteration, works briefly and then works as a poison, driving people crazy before killing them.

So it’s a bit of a race against time. The poison creator is working for some richer men, who are using their psychic powers to kill people and as they get more crazy from the formula, they will become exponentially more dangerous.

Meanwhile, sparks are flying between Lucinda and Caleb.

This is an enjoyable book. I recommend it.

The Last Victim–Jason Moss

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This book made me a little queasy.

John Wayne Gacy always does, but this was especially awful.

In this book, the author, Jason Moss, as a freshman in college, decides to do his independent project on serial killers, and so he starts writing letters to serial killers. He designs each one to appeal to each killer specifically and got some good responses.

He started with Gacy, but he also wrote to Manson, Ramirez (the night stalker) and Dahmer.

In the end, Gacy was taking up so much time he had to let the other ones languish for a bit. Gacy was sending him letters every day. He was calling him frequently. He was sending him money and presents.

Finally, Gacy invites Moss to come spend three days visiting him. You would think a serial killer on death row would have a very secure visiting situation but apparently not so much at that location and time. Gacy would bribe the guards for privacy. Moss was alone in the cell with Gacy, Gacy was touching him, exposing himself, threatening to rape and murder him, the entire gamut of awful things.

Moss made it two days out of the three.

He had nightmares for a long time afterwards, even (especially) after Gacy was executed.

In the book he talks extensively about wanting to work for the FBI, maybe as a profiler, and that this is part of his attempt to show them he’s good. Naturally, I wondered if he did make it to the FBI, so I googled him.

He did not. He became a defense attorney. And he killed himself at the age of 31. I can’t help but wonder how much Gacy factored into that. He set himself up like a victim to lure Gacy, but did he actually become the last victim of Gacy’s murderous insanity? I don’t know, but it’s distressing and disturbing regardless.

I don’t really want to recommend this book. It’s interesting but so sad. So creepy. If that’s your thing, maybe this is a good choice. Otherwise maybe not. I’m not squeamish–I read true crime, I listen to true crime podcasts, I watch true crime documentaries, I can even look at the crime scene photos without too much of an issue (mostly) but this, despite not being that graphic, was just so disturbing to me.

 

Turbo Twenty-Three–Janet Evanovich

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The new Evanovich!

Well, new is relative. It’s the most recent Evanovich.

Here’s the thing. I used to really love these books. But they’ve become so formulaic it’s not fun anymore. It’s just…another one of these books. It’s like paint by numbers for mysteries, which is sad because this was such a unique concept when she first started them.

Checklist for a Stephanie Plum mystery:

  1. Find a dead guy in a weird and creepy way. Check, she found an ice cream factory guy in a stolen refrigerated truck, covered in chocolate and nuts like an ice cream bar.
  2. Still torn between Ranger and Morelli? Yep. Double dipping a little bit? Yep.
  3. Wacky side gig for Lula? Check, she and another recurring character are working on an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid” which involves a lot of random activities and hijinks.
  4. Grandma Mazur side plot? Yep. Involving dating? Yep.
  5. Stephanie has to take an undercover job she’s terrible at? Yep.
  6. Poorly executed attempts at capturing felons? Not so many as usual but still present.

I just want to see some progress. SOMETHING. Can we get a little movement on anything? Character growth? Circumstances changing somewhat? A DIFFERENT PLOT LINE, PLEASE I AM BEGGING YOU.

If you like to read the same book over and over, this is a great addition to the Plum series.

 

Helter Skelter–Vincent Bugliosi

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This book is a true crime classic, written by the prosecutor in the Manson trial.

You probably know the broad strokes of the Manson crimes, because they are so famous and so much a part of our shared past.

But if you don’t, this is the basic story. In the 1960s, Charles Manson gathered around himself a bunch of young people, mostly young women, and created a cult where he convinced them he was God.

He did this by keeping them pretty heavily drugged, mostly on LSD, and breaking down their moral boundaries by insisting that nothing was wrong and pushing them to do things that violated their initial taboos. It was basically a continuous drug-fueled orgy over there.

Eventually they take up residence at a ranch that was used for Western movies filming back in the day, and they would scavenge for food in town and rob people.

They also did a thing he called “creepy crawling” where they would break into homes at night and move around, stealing things or moving things around, to prove they could do it without waking up the people in the house.

He had this theory that there was going to be a race war in the near future and that African-Americans would win but then ultimately be unable to rule, so they would come looking for him. He and his followers would be living in an underground world, the entrance to which was hidden somewhere in the desert around the ranch.

Eventually he decides that the race war is taking too long to start, so he decided to kick-start it by killing some rich people, which would somehow be attributed to the Black Panthers? I still don’t really see how he was going to shift blame that way.

Regardless, he sent a bunch of people out to Roman Polanski’s house, and they killed everyone in the house. That was Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was 8.5 months pregnant, plus three of her friends, and a guy that was there to see the caretaker that lived in the guest house.

The next night they broke into a home in a different neighborhood and killed the couple they found in there.

Eventually they caught some of the people that committed the crime, but the real trick was bringing it home to Manson. He had, as far as anyone could tell, not explicitly told them to kill those people. He was never in the house.

They were convicted, Manson and the three girls who were on trial for the murders with him, and they were sentenced to death. But then California abolished the death penalty so they had their sentences commuted.

This is an excellent book about the Manson crimes. If you want more information than the book can provide, I highly recommend the “You Must Remember This” podcast. One of their seasons was Manson’s Hollywood, which explained Manson’s connections with Hollywood people prior to the murders and really gave a lot more context for the crimes and Manson’s state of mind.

 

Redefining Realness–Janet Mock

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For those who do not know, Janet Mock is a well known trans activist. You may have seen her on various news and talk programs. This is her autobiography, the story of her childhood through her transition in young adulthood, mostly.

She had a hell of a life, let me tell you. She struggled against her dad’s resistance to her feminine side, of course, but she had bigger issues. Her parents divorced and she spent part of her life in Hawaii with her mom before being sent to her dad in California. He got addicted to crack cocaine and her stepbrother molested her repeatedly. It got better when they moved to Texas and her dad’s female relatives were more accepting of her feminine preferences.

When she was sent back to Hawaii, all was well for a while. And then her mom got involved with a meth user and became addicted to meth as well.

Janet found some very unpleasant but resourceful ways to pay for her hormone treatments and her eventual surgery.

Her mom eventually got clean and they got their life back together, but it was still a hard, tough road.

What makes this book so lovely is that she has such a delicate, careful and nuanced hand when she writes. These are delicate topics, all of them–her gender identity and medical interventions, her family issues, the drug issues, the sexual abuse, the poverty–and she handles them all with scrupulously fair and sometimes brutal honesty without losing her thoughtful tone.

She is a model for how to write about difficult topics. I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in trans people and their lives.

 

Who Killed These Girls–Beverly Lowry

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Things I learned this week about the criminal justice system that I find very disturbing:

  1. If you are being questioned by the police and someone hires you a lawyer, the police do not need to let you know that, or that the lawyer is there, or that you can talk to them. Only if you ask to contact a lawyer can you get access to one.
  2. Actual innocence is not a constitutional basis for overturning a conviction.
  3. Until this week, it was legal for police in Michigan to have sex with sex workers they were busting. I have no idea if it’s still legal in other places.

None of that seems right.

The first thing on that list I learned from this book and it is very messed up. This book is about the most famous unsolved murder in the history of Austin, Texas. In 1991 two high school girls were closing up a frozen yogurt shop. One of the girls had her little sister there with her, and her sister’s friend was also there, on a sleepover. The little ones were 13 and 14 and the older girls were 17.

They were found in the early hours of the morning, when the fire department came to put out the fire in the yogurt shop.

As it turns out, the girls had been raped, murdered and then the yogurt shop was set on fire to hide the evidence.

Years passed. Detectives worked on the case to the point of burnout. New police chiefs came and went. No arrests.

Finally, 8 years later, they get a report of a boy who had been talked to at the time of the murders. He’d been seen at the mall with a .22, the same kind of gun used in the murders. They had tested the gun at the time and it was not a match but they decided to talk to him again. They spoke to him, and to the other three guys who were with him that night.

The guy with the gun and one of the other boys refused to talk at all. The other two talked to the cops for hours, one without being informed of the lawyer his dad had hired. At some point one of the policemen held a gun to the back of one of their heads to “jog his memory.”

The two guys who talked eventually confessed. Their confessions contradicted each other and the evidence, but regardless, the cases are set for trial.

At trial, they did this weird thing. I’ve seen this before in true crime books, and it ALWAYS seems weird. They do this to allow confessions to be admissible even if they implicate co-defendants or co-conspirators. What they do is, they redact the confessions to only include references to the defendant himself. The problem with this is that it creates a very different impression of the confession from the original.

In this case, one of the confessions was 8 pages long and consisted of a lot of statements like, “And then he threatened me if I didn’t, so I shot the girl.” But the redacted version just read, “I shot the girl.” That’s just an example, but it’s like that. The redacted version was less than a page. They did this at both trials.

During the appeals process the Supreme Court decided that these redacted confessions are not legal, and the convictions were overturned.

ALSO during the appeals process, better DNA testing became available and they tested the DNA found in the girls. Two male DNA donors, neither of which matches anyone associated with the case. Completely unknown profiles.

Amazingly, this does not phase the prosecutors at all. They say, well, they must have had two other accomplices. Despite the fact that this is in direct contradiction with the confessions they have, which is the only basis for their arrest and trial. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.

They’ve decided not to pursue another trial, but they also have not exonerated those boys.

And to this day, 25 years later, no one knows who killed the girls in the yogurt shop that night.

It’s so sad.