Skip to content

The Murder of the Century- A Review

August 9, 2011

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins 

WAS THIS REALLY THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY? 

So this guy whom I’ve never heard of in1897 New York is murdered, and his body gets sawed up into several pieces and hidden (not very well) in various places (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s at the very beginning of the book).  If nobody has heard of the murder, can it really be a murder of the century?  Keep in mind this was in the 19th century, so here are some other prominent murders from the 1800’s. 

  1.  Abraham Lincoln- Maybe it’s considered an assassination, but murder is murder, and the United States is still feeling the political effects of it. 
  2. Jack the Ripper- Some might say that since he’s British, he doesn’t count, but he was one of the first documented serial killers (that I know of).  Too bad there were no Londoners who could “think like a serial killer to catch a serial killer” back then.  
  3. Lizzie Borden- Yeah, she was acquitted, but she still probably did it.  The murder trial was very sensationalistic, and she has a cool children’s rhyme about her murder.  If kids make a rhyme about you, you might have committed the murder of the century. 

This book is called The Murder of the Century:(plus a lot of other words), not just because of the crime, but also because of the effect it had on police work and investigative journalism.  It’s kind of like Casey Anthony/OJ Simpson meets The News of the World hacking scandal, only the hacking part is way, way worse. 

AND YOU THOUGHT HACKING INTO PHONES WAS BAD 

Today’s journalists have nothing on the investigative reporters of 1897.  Most journalists today just hang out with other journalists and either wait to interview somebody important or interview each other.  If they try to investigate, like hack into phones or jump a fence to take a picture, it’s considered criminal (for good reason, I guess). Back in 1897, journalists arrested suspects, stole property from suspects, cut wire of competitors, and paid off police officers and witnesses (I’ve heard that still goes on).  These 1897 guys wouldn’t have just hacked into phones (if they had existed); they would have stolen the phones, used them before the theft was reported (probably to impersonate the original owner), and then would have been praised for doing it.  

WHY YOU SHOULD READ THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY 

It’s a fast-paced book with lots of details that don’t slow down the story at all.  There are a bunch of interesting characters: detectives, witnesses, bystanders, suspects, reporters, newspaper publishers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, cellmates, jailors, and despite all these characters, I only had to go back once to remind myself who somebody was.  Also, the reader gets a sense of what New York was like with physical descriptions and lots of references to events of that time period. 

This book is good enough to be a bestseller, but it probably won’t become one.  I, however, will most likely buy the author’s next book, as long as he doesn’t rush it and publish it within the next year.  Take your time, Paul Collins, take your time. 

WHY YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ THE MURDER OF THE CENTURY 

As well-written as it is, there is no central character.  That doesn’t bother me, but it might bother readers who are used to one person examining every clue and solving a mystery.  This story isn’t like that.  Also, the tone is very different from what we are used to with our own “murders of the century.”  With OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony, there was a polarization and a sense of outrage that the case in this book doesn’t seem to have.  The public seemed more fascinated with the murder rather than outraged, and I don’t know if that’s the way it was in New York City at the time or if that was simply the tone the author chose to use.  Since I hate the cop-out answer (“It’s a little bit of both.”), I’d guess New Yorkers were more fascinated than outraged.  If you don’t like morbid humor (some from the participants, some from the author), then you might want to avoid this book. 

HOW DO WE RATE THIS BOOK? 

4.5 stars out of five.  Two thumbs up.  Highly recommend.  This would be a great summer read, but summer’s almost over. 

TWO POSITIVE BOOK REVIEWS IN A ROW? 

We don’t want you to think that Dysfunctional Literacy is going soft, so here is a short list of books that were so bad I couldn’t finish them (or read enough to give a fair review). 

Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich-  More like Sucky Seventeen.  Yeah, that’s a poor attempt at humor, but Janet had to know somebody was going to say it. 

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron – I’m the only person I know who doesn’t like this book (and I love dogs).  It reads like it’s written for middle school kids, and I give dogs way more credit than that. 

Betrayal of Trust by J.A. Jance- I dislike books where authors assume the readers are already good friends with their main characters, and I’m not going to start at book one of this series just to get acquainted. 

Hopefully that’s enough unfair criticism of current books to get you to our next review.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: