Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

evanzz1The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm X, shed light on many dark secrets tsurrounding the assassination of Malcolm X (1925-1965) on February 21, 1965 as he began a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem, New York.   In the wake of the murder, three men were convicted for the crime.  Talmadge Hayer and Norman 3X Butler (now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz) are still alive but Thomas 15X Johnson died in August, 2009. It is known today that Hayer was one of five assassins who executed Malcolm X. Of the four, high focus was paid on the late Ali Mustafa Shabazz, known then as William X/William Bradley.  In his affidavit provided to attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995), Hayer claimed that “William had the shotgun”.  In spite of the new revelations in 1970, Malcolm’s murder is considered a solved homicide.  The Netflix series revealed a wealth of information as did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of ReinventionHowever, the examination of the murder presented here by author Karl Evanzz, is a gem of its own.  

Surprisingly, the book is not solely focused on Malcolm’s murder. In fact, the actual assassination is addressed at the beginning and end of the book.  But in between, Evanzz discusses a range of topics related not only to Malcolm’s murder but other events that took place during the turbulent 1960s.  What can be gleaned from the book is that a crucial part of the plot to kill Malcolm might have been related to political change in the continent of Africa.  As I read through the book, I thought to myself that this part of the discussion is almost always left out. And once readers have digested the full magnitude of what Malcolm had been planning at the time of his death, the assassination will be seen in a much different light.   

In the Netlix series, the tension and eventual falling out between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) is discussed extensively.  However, there were somethings that were not included in the final editing process.  Evanzz provides a significant amount of information on the inner workings of the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) and Muhammad’s personal life including the legal issues of at least two of his sons. And for readers interested in the history of the NOI, Evanzz revisits examines the story of the once elusive Wallace Fard Muhammad (1877-1934), the prophet who established the Temple of Islam, the forerunner to the NOI.  Fard was never seen again after 1934 and we can only guess as to what happened to him.   In the wake of his death, Elijah Muhammad established himself as the unquestioned leader of the NOI.  On the surface, he presented himelf as an all-loving leader fully committed to the well-being of black men and women but below the surface as we see in the book, Muhammad was protecting many dark secrets.  

As I read through the book, I felt that the murder of Malcolm X is really a small part of the full story.  The author did an incredible job of taking the reader back into time to understand how the United States and the world was changing at the time.  Malcolm was without a doubt the NOI’s rising star and heir apparent to Muhammad. But over time the friction between the two developed on account of Muhammad’s personal life which became a hot topic in NOI circles.  The fallout that ensued revealed the bitterness between teacher and former student.  And once the rift develops, a dark cloud is cast over the story as the NOI ramps up its attacks on Malcolm, who realizes that death is coming for him.  But what Malcolm says about who wants him dead threw me for a loop and raised my suspicions about a number of things. Readers familiar with the NOI”s inner circle might blanch when they read through this part. 

I truly cannot say enough good things about this book.  Evanzz looked at the murder for many angles and left no stone unturned.  Secrets emerge regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) COINTEL program, the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Servicess (“BOSSI”) and the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).  And even within the NOI, disturbing facts come to light about life as a follower of Muhammad.  The Netflix series did feature John Ali, who held several different titles in the NOI. What is learned about him in the book just might make some readers stare in belief at the pages in front of them.  Evanzz’s words are beyond sobering and highlight just how deep the division between Malcolm and the nation was.  However, a statement Malcolm makes about the forces he believed were pulling the strings behind the attempts on his life should cause readers to take notice.  If is almost as if Malcolm knew there was a far more sinister plot in the works. In the weeks leading up to his murder, his actions which are retraced here, show a man who knew the end was coming but continued on his path even with a bullseye on his back. 

Marable’s book on Malcolm’s life is far more extensive than what is found here. However, Evanzz did not write a biography and solely focuses on Malcolm’s demise. As a result, the discussion is shorter but also more streamlined.  Regardless, it is a fascinating look into what really was taking place in the weeks leading up the assassination. The book is riveting, informative and also tragic. But it is a great source of information for the last few years of Malcolm’s life.  Good read. 

ISBN-10: 1560250496
ISBN-13: 978-1560250494

General Reading


On occasion, I find myself coming back to the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). His assassination remains one of the America’s darkest moments and officially, the crime is still an open case for the Dallas Police Department. Some may express surprise at that statement but it should be remembered that no one was ever convicted for Kennedy’s murder. A twenty-four year-old former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was convicted in the court of public opinion as the assassin but was himself murdered before he could stand trial in a Dallas courtroom. Roughly forty-five minutes after Kennedy’s murder, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (1924-1963) was shot to death after stopping a pedestrian walking in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Oswald was arrested at the Texas Theater and charged with Tippit’s murder. But due to his death at the hands of nightclub owner Jack Ruby (1911-1967), he was never officially tried and convicted of Tippit’s murder, which is still an open homicide case. The Warren Commission established that Oswald committed both murders before hiding in the Texas theater and for years many have accepted the “lone gunman” theory. But if we look closer, there are many things about both murders and Oswald himself that just do not add up. Author Joseph McBride has spent thirty years researching and writing this book that takes us into the nightmare that occurred on November 22, 196,3 in Dallas, Texas. And what he has to say might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

The book opens with a recap of McBride’s childhood in Wisconsin during 1960 when Kennedy was ramping up his campaign for the presidency. McBride’s parents were both reporters and his mother was part of the local Democrat committee. Her position in the committee provided McBride to meet Kennedy on several occasions and during one of those occasions, McBride took a photo which is included in the book, of Kennedy in what could be described as an unguarded moment. On the day of Kennedy’s murder, McBride relates that information presented during news broadcasts raised his suspicions about the crime Those seeds of doubt grew into a life-long quest to find the truth about Kennedy’s murder. I should point out that McBride’s focus here is primarily on the murders of Oswald and Tippit. The book is not a broad discussion of the crimes such as Jim Marrs’ best-selling classic Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, but a more streamlined approach to examine what former commission member David W. Belin (1928-1999) called the “Rosetta Stone” of the case.

Seasoned researchers into the Kennedy assassination will know that there has been a lack of focus on the life of J.D. Tippit. He has typically been portrayed as the simple yet heroic officer who tried to stop Lee Harvey Oswald and died in the line of duty. On the surface it fits the narrative of the good cop/bad suspect line that we are taught from a young age. However, if Tippit was attempting to arrest the man who allegedly had just shot the president, then why did he not have his gun drawn as he got out of his squad car? And how would he have known to stop Oswald when Dallas Police had yet to learn Oswald’s name according to the official timeline? There are seemingly endless mysteries surrounding both Tippit and Oswald regarding their alleged encounter. McBride journeyed down the rabbit hole and provides what I have found to be the most in-depth analysis of what may have taken place in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas on that fateful day.

I believe that by putting his focus on the Tippit murder, it allows readers to digest critical information without being overwhelmed by other events that took place in and around Dallas that day. Tippit’s murder undoubtedly is the Rosetta Stone of the case but not for the reasons that Belin believed as McBride makes clear. To be clear, McBride is not a conspiracy theorist. In fact, what I found is that he remains unbiased and does not shy away from presenting contradictory evidence when addressing a topic. I believe that makes the book even more fascinating. McBride presents an honest and thorough discussion of the Tippit murder. And at no point, did I feel he has moving too far in one direction but rather he moves through the book like a veteran detective with an eagle’s eye for clues. And frankly, the amount of information he provides about Tippit’s personal life is just staggering and has caused me to see the murder in a very different light. And although secrets remain about Tippit’s murder, the version presented in the Warren Commission’s report should be taken with a grain of salt. If you want to learn about the real J.D. Tippit, this is without question a book that you need to read.

Although Tippit’s murder is the nexus of the book, McBride does focus on other strange events that day after shots rang out in Dealey Plaza. The most telling are FBI reports from field agents in Dallas that reveal some very surprisingly decisions taken by Dallas officials. And the discussions between J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and former President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) underscore the problems Dallas detectives faced in making their case. Further, a particularly deeply distburbing fact comes to light about the attitude of Dallas police towards Kennedy’s murder. I found myself staring in disbelief and what former detective Jim Leavelle (1920-2019) reveals about the effort to solve Kennedy’s murder. Before leaving Washington, Kennedy had been briefed on the right-wing climate of hate in Dallas and was advised not to travel there. But he insisted on doing so to show that the President of the United States cannot be afraid to travel within his own country. It was his fate to go to Dallas but the local police owed him far more of an effort than what is shown in the book.

The revelations of the numerous problems of proving Oswald’s guilt, provide the context for a discussion on the many problems with regards to the lone gunman theory. Capt. William Fritz of the Dallas Police Department was certainly aware of this and as McBride shows, most officials knew that making a case against Oswald would be a monumental task. Of particular interes are McBride’s notes of his discussion with former Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (1914-2001). The statements by Wade in response to McBride’s questions are nothing short of mind-boggling and a sharp defense attorney would have made a name for himself picking apart the indictment against Oswald. However, that is only a small piece of the puzzle that McBride puts together to show the lack of evidence, planted evidence, hidden information and various other anomalies that make the lone gunman theory even more ludicrous.

There has always been confusion as to what Tippit was doing before he was killed. According to the Warren Commission report, there exist at least forty-five minutes between the shooting in Dealey Plaza and his murder in Oak Cliff. But much of what Tippit and Oswald were doing during that time remains shrouded in mystery. To piece the story together, McBride draws on several sources that include Tippit’s widow Marie, witnesses near Oak Cliff who spotted Tippit prior to his death, Dallas Police Department radio transmissions and witnesses to the murder, some of whom were never called to testify by the Warren Commission. As I read through the statements and series of events, I felt a chill run down my spine as I realized that there was a lot more to the events in Oak Cliff that we have been led to believe. Not only was Tippit out of his assigned area but his murder took place near the home of Jack Ruby who shot Oswald live on national television on November 24. Questions have persisted if Oswald, Tippit and Ruby knew each other. While I would stop short of saying that there is a smoking gun, what we do learn raises suspicion that many figures in Oak Cliff were more connected than the Warren Commission wanted to acknloweledge.

McBride’s analysis of the murders that day is spellbinding and anyone that has doubts about the official story should absolutely read this book. There are no outlandish theories or witness bashing. It is simply an honest and open discussion built on facts discovered by the author through meticulous and exhaustive research. I guarantee that after you have finished this book, you will find yourself looking at the murder of John F. Kennedy in a completely different light.



Between 1930 and 1931, rival factions of the crews headed by Joe “the Boss” Masseria (1886-1931) and Salvatore Maranzo (1886-1931) became entagled in a bitter feud that is known today as the Castellammarese War. The bloodshed and senseless violence convinced the younger mafioso composed of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962), Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Frank Costello (1891-1793) and Bugsy Siegel (1906-1947) among others, that the old guard would have be removed in order for business to flourish. Both bosses would be murdered in the conflict but Luciano had no interest in taking on the title of “Capo Di Tutti Capi” and instead created the Five Families with the boss of each to sit on a “Commission” that would mediate diasgrements, expand criminal plans and if necessary eliminate those who violated Mafia rules. Today they are known as the Gambino, Bonanno, Lucchese, Colombo and Genovese families. The organizations known as borgatas, established a stronghold of criminal empires over the Big Apple for several decades and its incredible story is chronicled hered by New York Times investigative journalist Selwyn Raab that is bound to leave readers spellbound.

Part of my childhood in Brooklyn was composed of news broadcasts reporting on the murders of Italian-American mobsters across the Five Boroughs. The grisly images of Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) sprawled out on the pavement in front of Sparks Steakhouse on December 15, 1985, are still shocking nearly thirty-five years later. However, the pair were only two of hundreds of mobsters that met a grisly demise in a life of crime. The gritty details of the scores of gangland murdres are included here helping Raab drive hom the point of the murderous nature of Mafia members. Some readers will find the murdes disturbing but the stories are true and the images of fallen mafioso taken over the years confirm the violence that permeated through life in the mob.

The book is exhaustive researched and it shows in the staggering amount of information that will surely result in a significant number of notes. Readers highly familiar with Mafia history will know many of the facts in the book. Personally, I knew a good amount of the information provided but even learned some new things myself. As a native New Yorker, I have the benefit of remembering when stories of mob escapades were plastered across newspapers, radios and television screens, making them hard to forget. I vividly recall the multiple trials of John Gotti (1940-2002) whom the media began calling the “Teflon Don”. Readers who are learning about these events for the first time will be both shocked and appalled at what transpires over the the course of the story. But this is what did happen and all of the savagery and thirst for blood is included to drive home the point that there are no “good guys” in the mob. And inspite of the glamorization of their lives by Hollywood, being a mobster is akin to playing Russian roulette with nearly every cylinder loaded.

In the collection of films that I have at home, are the masterpieces The Godfather and The Godfather II . The films are simply breathaking in all aspects of production but not entirely accurate portrayals of everday day life in a crime family. They are great cinema but the actions of Joseph Colombo (1923-1928) while the film was in pre-production and the stark reality shown in the book, will undoubtedly prove to readers that the Mafia was far deadlier and that the films were largely smoke and mirrors. Real mobsters lived with the constant threat of death and most did not want their children in the life. In book, we witness an incident where Vincent “The Chin” Gigante (1928-2005) expressing disappointment that John Gotti’s son known was Junior had entered the life of crime..

I cannot stress enough just how much an influence the Mafia had over New York City. My father has told me stories from the times he worked in a printing shop that was infiltrated by mobsters. The parties he described were nothing short of jaw dropping. And what is even more surprising is that my father was not much older than 16 years of age at the time. He did say they paid well and he and my uncle asked no questions about anything. But what he remembers cleary is that money was not an issue and there was plenty to go around. Today he laughs about his experiences but as a 16 year-old teenager, I can only imagine how intimidating some of these figures must have been. They had power, money and frightening reputations but curiously, they remained carefully hidden from public light but during the 1950s the layers of secrecy were slowly peeled away revealing what many Americans were oblivious to.

For most of his time as director of the Federal Buurea of Investigation (“FBI”), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) had publicy refuted any ideas of a “Mafia” operating in the United States. As we know now, he eventually changed his tune but for reasons even he could not control. Raab breaks down the Hoover aspect of the story and explains how the FBI eventually came to see the mob as an American menace. And as a primer to the discussion on Hoover, we revisit the formation of the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management led by Senator John L. McClellan (1896-1977). Commonly known as the McClellan Committee, the senator and his team that included future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), confronted the existence of a Mafia in America and at that point the genie was out of the bottle. However, many years would pass before the United States Government developed a tool to dismantle the Mafia but when it did, the fallout was catastrophic.

As the book moves towards the 1970s, the Mafia is moving full steam ahead and generating millions of dollars. The FBI does not have much of an arsenal to fight the growing threat and Hoover’s refusal to cooperated with Harry J. Anslinger (1892-1975) and his Bureau of Narcotics had left the agency in the dark. But the FBI proved to be a quick learner and the creation of a revolationary crime law changed the game completely. It is at this part of the book that the stage is being set and the United States Government declares that it is open season on La Costa Nostra. The pace of the story picks up when prosecutors become aware of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. This statute which is simply known as the RICO Act, proved to be the most damaging tool the government would use as it dismantled the Mafia piece by piece. Raab covers the investigations into the bosses and underlings, explaining in detail how each case developed over time. And like a domino effett, after the first major conviction by use of the RICO Act, prosecutors in both the Southern District of New York and Eastern District of New York hit the ground running. However, they would have their own feuds and Raab also discusses that backstory and how overzealous prosecutors bungled many things. Famed former federal prosecutors Rudolph Giuliani and Edward McDonald also make appearances in the story. But make no mistake, the RICO Act takes center stage and the as each mobsters turns into government witness, I found myself struggling to keep up with the number of defections. La Costa Nostra was coming apart at the seams.

The last chapter follows the downfall of the Chin, a mainstay since the formation of the Commission and one of the last old-school bosses to fall victim to federal proecutors. Following the conclusion, Raab provides a further discussion of each family and also provides a timeline of the bosses in power in each family over the years. I found it to be a great reference guide for names and times. The exhaustive amount of work that went into this book has resulted in one of the best books I have ever read about the Mafia. To be sure, there are others about the mob, some of which I have reviewed such as Colombo: The Unsolved Murder by Don Capria, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi and Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci. I strongly recommend all three in addition to The Mafia Hitman’s Daughter by Linda Scarpa, For the Sins of My Father by Albert DeMeo and Deal with the Devil by Peter Lance. There are others of course, far too many to list here. However, the others are focused on either one person in particular or one family. Raab’s work here is by far the best widespread account of New York City’s Five Families. If there is one part of the book that I could take away from it is that with regards to the Lucchese Family, there is no discussion about Paul Vario’s (1914-1988) crew which included Henry Hill (1943-2012), James Burke (1931-1996) and Thomas DeSimone (1950-1979), all of whose lives were portrayed on screen in Goodfellas. However, I believe that if Raab had went into exensive detail about their exploits, he would have drifted off topic. Vario is mentioned in the book but only in passing. Further, other notorious figures such as Roy DeMeo (1940-1983) are mentioned in passing as well for obvious reasons. The main subjects here are the familes and the bosses. Discussions about each crew and their capos could easily be composed into a separate book. Raab makes sure to stay on course here and as a result, the story never drifts or stalls. I found that I could not put it down once I had started reading. For those who have a fondness for Mafia lore and true crime about the mob, this book is a must have.


Organized Crime

20200519_212040One of the things that I love about books is that there are so many that I have yet to read.  Many of them will be classics that I will never forget.  I had always been aware of Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) but remained in the dark about this classic book which was published in 1952.  I noticed that I had it on my shelf and decided to see for myself why it remains so highly regarded. Having finished the book, I now understand why Ellison was ahead of his time and why this book is still relevant to this day.

The main character is the invisible man who begins by explaning that he lives in the basement of a building and gets his electricity by tapping into a power source.  We are not sure why he is in the basement or for how long he will be there.  He has very keen observations about society and its inablity to see him for the man that he is.  It is clear that he has a story to tell and to do that he first tells us the story of his time in college.  The short story about the incidents involving Mr. Norton set the course for the rest of the book and each development occurs almost like a chain reaction.

One day he is assigned to drive a trustee around the campus, however Mr. Norton as we soon learn,  is not interested in the campus as he helped build the university.  Mr. Norton desires new sights and the two take a detour on the back roads outside of school grounds.  They soon encounter a farmer named Trueblood who has been ostracized by the larger community for an act which might make some readers recoil.  Mr. Norton is mesmerized by his story but the tale leaves him physically exhausted and he asks for whiskey to revive his spirits.   The duo continue to drive on eventually stopping at the Golden Day, a watering hole patronized by black students and others nearby.  However the bartender refuses to let the whiskey leave the premises and Mr. Norton is brought inside to be revived.  Once inside, he comes to and witnesses complete mayhem before once again becoming physically depleted. He is taken upstairs where he rests on a bed while a character names Supercargo tends to his condition.  Mr. Norton soon comes around and engages Supercargo in a discussion.  Towards the end, Supercargo turns slightly hostile and the pair leave hastily with Mr. Norton not exactly in the best condition. Upon arriving back at the school,  the invisible man is forced to tell Dr. Herbert Bledsoe that Mr. Norton had an incident.   Bledsoe is furious and although Norton is forgiving, Bledsoe tells him that he will give him a chance by sending him to New York to earn money for the following year’s school fees but that he is to leave school grounds in two days.

Ashe departs for New York,  the invisible man finds himself on the bus with Supercargo and another passenger named Crenshaw.  They engage in discussion and we learn that Supercargo is being transferred to Washington D.C. Crenshaw also gets off in Washington.  At first Supercargo seems to be just a rambling character but he gives the following advice which later proves to be accurate:

Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it — that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a strait jacket or a padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way — part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate — I wish I had time to tell you only a fragment. We’re an ass-backward people, though. You might even beat the game. It’s really a very crude affair. Really Pre-Renaissance — and that game has been analyzed, put down in books. But down here they’ve forgotten to take care of the books and that’s your opportunity. You’re hidden right out in the open — that is, you would be if you only realized it. They wouldn’t see you because they don’t expect you to know anything, since they believe they’ve taken care of that.

The invisible man arrives in New York with seven letters given to him by Dr. Bledsoe under the guise of finding a job.  Surprisingly, none of the people whom the letters are addressed to respond. So taking matters into his own hands, he decideds to see the last recipient, Mr. Ellison for himself.  However, Ellison’s son meets with him and in the course of their conversation, he drops a bomb that shatters the invisible man’s whole existence and sets him on the path that takes him to the very place we find him at the beginning of the book.

The invisible man be a country boy but he soon learns the ways of the north and through a shrewd act, lands a job at Liberty Paint in Long Island.  After a series of mishaps at Plant No. 1, he is sent down to the lower levels to work under Lucius Brockway. But a misunderstanding and accident lands the invisible man back in New York City where he meets Mary Rambo who is literally at the right place at the right time.  On a night out, he comes across an elderly black couple being evicted and gives a speech before the angry crowd surrounding the marshalls. His oratorical skills do not go unnoticed as soon he is approached by a mysterious character named Brother Jack who is part of the Brotherhood.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up in speed significantly as he becomes more involved in the movement.

As I read through the second half of the book, I felt a chill go down my spine because although the book was published in the 1950s, the scenes that take place could have very well been written today.   The internal battles in the Brotherhood, brutality by the police, frustrated spouses and people trying to find themselves and sense of purpose form a toxic stew that threatens to consume anyone in its path.   The invisible man is by far the most talented of the Brotherhood and rises to become a hero to the people of Harlem, akin to the late Malcolm X (1925-1965).  However he is no Muslim nor does he seem to be religious at all.  He is simply committed to the Brotherhood and truly believes in what he is doing.  But every hero has an antagonist and in the story here, it is in the form of Ras the Exhorter, an extremist who believes in using violence when needed.  The battles between the Brotherhood and Ras were some of the chilling parts of the book and after the first encounter, it is clear that Ras will come back later in the story to wreak the havoc he so desperately seeks.

The invisible man continues to make a name for himself in-spite of petty jealousies within the organization.  And even when he focuses on the Woman Question while becoming familiar with Brotherood member George’s wife Sybyil,  he is at the top of his game intellectually.  But little by little the facade begins to crumble and the events surrounding Brother Clifton set the ball in motion for the book’s final act.  Clifton’s story is one that has played out across America over the years and some readers will simply feel a sense of digusts.  It is almost as if Ellison predicted these events and the rise of Black Lives Matter.  While I read the part about Brother Clifton, the hair on my neck stood up as I thought about the actions of law enforcement towards people of color.  Further, the response by the Brotherhood and private lecture by Brother Hambro serve as the catalysts that make the main character focus in on the concept of what it truly means to be invisible.

Towards the end of the book as the invisible man is attempting to part ways with Sybil for the night, a series of events occur in Harlem that bring everyting building up in the book to the surface and what transpires next is nothing short of shocking.  But it is critical to understanding the plight of the invisible man.  By the time the book finished, I felt as if I had just stepped off an aircraft on a long journey full of bumps and surprises.  The story is simply breathtaking and a critical look at American society.  And I find it be a testament to Ellison’s genius that his words here can still be applied to modern day America.  Great book. 


General Reading

ethelI am constantly amazed that in spite of all of the things I learned in school and through my own studies, that there are endless stories from the Civil Rights Movement that are continuing to be told.  Amazon recommended this biography of Ethel Lois Payne (1911-1991) and as I looked at the cover, I recalled the name but the face did not ring a bell.  My curiousity continued to pull me in and I knew that I had to learn more about this intriguing woman.  Author James McGrath Morris has called her the first lady of the Black press.  It is quite the title but as I learned while reading the book, the title was not only earned but it may in fact may be an an understatement.

Payne’s story begins in Chicago, in the year 1911 when she enters the world becoming the fifth child of William and Bessie Payne.  Jim Crow and segregation were alive and well making life for Blacks unbearable at times.  And although racism does exist today, the America in which we live stands in stark contrast to the America in which Payne navigated as she made a name for herself as a respected journalist.  Chicago is a rough city but those of us familiar with it already know that.  And putting aside the modern day shootings that place, violence has been a part of Chicago’s history for well over 100 years. Morris recounts some dark moments in the city’s history which show the tense racial climate the pervaded throughout the city and America.  But Payne is unfazed and determined to blaze her own path.  After the conclusion of World War II breaks, the military comes calling and Payne finds herself as foreign correspondent in Japan. This first major assignment would kickstart the career that lasted until her final days in 1991.

Upon returning to the United States, she accepted a post with the Chicago Defender and eventually earned her White House press credentials.  The act in itself was almost unheard and Payne wasted no time in stirring the pot.  A tense question and answer session with President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) brings her more press than she could have bargained for but at the same time, earned her the wrath of supervisors.  Nonetheless it was the point of no return and Ethel Payne kept moving forward.  And what followed is a journey across several continents that included meetings with U.S. Presidents, foreign leaders and activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). It was an incredible journey, beautfilly told here by Morris.

I also found that the book provided interesting tidbits about American history.   And while the author does not present the book as a reference book for American history, he does bring the events of the past back to life which highlight the progression in civil rights made by America in the past several decades.  Surely, there are dark moments in the book where progressive minds come face to face with hardened racists.  Birmingham and Little Rock are just two cities whose names will be burned in the memories of readers.  The acts that are committed are horrific and will make some readers pause.  Personally, I find it difficult to fathom why people were filled with so much hate towards each other solely based on differences in physical characteristics.  But that was how things were and sadly, the events detailed in the book did happen and many lives were lost in the struggle for equality.  Payne’s voice through the Chicago Defender, was a bastion of hope that America was listening to what its black citizens were trying to say.

Throughout the story, there are big name figures who helped changed the course of American history.  Some are former presdients John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994).  Further, the passage of the almost powerless Civil Rights Bill of 1957 is addressed as American continues to struggle with equality.   The back stories to the public facades are interesting and Payne’s obversations are spot on.  She possessed incredible acumen about the Washington and future of American’s black citizens.  In fact, as we see in the book, there were times where she was correct in her analysis without even knowing the underlying facts that proved her to be correct.

In later years after she moved away from Washington, her work was not done and Morris shows her continuing efforts at promoting civil rights not just at home but wherever possible.  And although her physical descent becomes apparent towards the later part of the book, she never slows down but instead keeps going as she always has.  Admittedly, the end of the book is without question the saddest as Morris chronicles here life that increasingly fades away from the spotlight.  And in her final moments, the reality of where she ended up is strikinigly real.  And I found myself scratching my head and the direction her life had taken as she continued to age.  However, that is only small part of a life that was nothing short of incredible.

What I did notice in the book is that Payne never married nor did she have children. She did however, care of a nephew for a short time but he was not totally reliant upon her.  The lack of a love interest becomes apparent in the story but the topic is only lightly discussed.  That might be due to Payne keeping her persona life highly guarded or in the alternative, her busy life made romance impossible.  I did feel a bit down regarding this part of the story and wished that she could have found someome to share her life with.  But she is long gone and the reasons she had for her single life have gone with her to the grave.  Notwithstanding this side-story, the book is still a very uplifting account of Payne’s accomplished life.

James McGrath Morris has certainly provided us with a fitting biography of Payne’s life that was a mixture of success, tragedy and defining moments in history.  Today her name is never mentioned and younger generations will most likely have the faintest idea about who she was and why she was important.  But I encourage anyone interested in American history and in particular the American Civil Rights Movement to read this book.  Highly recommended.



reefe1The eyes on the cover of this book are some of the most expressive I have seen although only half of the person’s face is exposed.  As they stared back at me from the cover, I felt a chill because I knew they were the eyes of someone who did not fear death.  I did not know who the person was but I found myself compelled to learn more.   As I opened up the book and began to read, I soon learned the name of the woman on the cover whose story is one of several that are interwoven. Her name was Dolours Price (1951-2013) and this truly is a story of murder and memory.

The story begins with the abduction of a widowed housewife raising several children named Jean McConville (1934-1972).  She is taken away and never seen alive again.  There is no explanation given by her captors and her children are forced to fend for themselves without any adult supervision. This incident sets the theme of the book and her murder would come to haunt those involved for years to come.  We are soon introduced to Dolours and her sister Marian, who attend a rally in support of the movement for a united Ireland.  Mayhem ensues as British troops and loyalist forces push back agaisnt the protestors.  The experience leaves the sisters jarred and they make the decision to join the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”).   From this point on, their lives are never the same and the story becomes even darker.

I have to assume that most readers who pick up this book will have some familiarity with the conflict. But for those who do not, I strongly recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s 1916: The Easter Rising , which provides a thorough discussion of the uprising and seizure of the Dublin Post Office.  The events contained therein would later result in the founding of the Irish Free State and the paritioning of the six counties within Ulster Province that compose Northern Ireland.  For the Catholics in Ulster, life became a constant battle to resist discrmination by the Protestant majority and proclaim Northern Ireland part of the Irish Republic. And in this struggle, the IRA became the loudest voice for unification through acts of force and through the voices of figures such as Gerry Adams  Brendan “The Dark” Hughes (1948-2008) who are firmly entrenched in the story at hand.

As Dolours and Marian become deeper involved in the Republican movement, they are given more important task including one that shocked London on March 7, 1973.  In the aftermath, the sisters along with their conspirators, were sentenced and incarcerated in a British prison. Back in Ireland however, the British were ramping up their efforts to break the IRA chain of command and Keefe takes us back to the story of Adams and Hughes, both of whom join the most wanted list of IRA members.  Adams repeatedly denied being a part of the group and readers can make their own assessments.  What is clear is that both sides were playing for keeps and not adverse to using deadly measures to prove their point.

While moving through the book, I noticed that the book is really several smaller stories compiled into one.  There is the disappearance of McConville, Adams and Hughes, the Price Sisters, the Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Project.  They are all interconnected and Keefe connects them towards the end of the book with the right amount of suspenses and everything comes full circle. There are others who enter the story as well, in particualr Bobby Sands whose win in parliament and participation in the second hunger strike made him a martyr in the eyes of the IRA and its supporters.  And for those readers curious about Sands’ life, I strongly recommend Dennis O’Hearn’s The Life and Times of Bobby Sands, which is by far the definitive biography of Sands’ incredible story. Each story on its own is gripping and full of eye-opening events.  But it is when they all come together that the complete picture is formed and one of the darkest secrets of the IRA comes to light. 

Fittingly, the end of the book makes a return to the beginning as McConville becomes the focus once again.  Hughes and Dolours Price are now deceased, and unable to make any statement in regards to Keefe’s work, but before their deaths they spoke at length in private interviews and some of they revealed is discussed unraveling the mystery surrounding McConville’s final moments.  And when readers learn what did happen, some will be staring in disbelief while others will be shaking their heads.   Had it not been for the actions of Edmund “Ed” Maloney and the members of the Belfast Project, the death of Jean McConville might have remained a deeply buried IRA secret.  Undoubtedly, there are probably some parts of the story that remain hidden to this very day.

The author did provide another aspect of the conflict which I have not seen in other books and that is the issue of the men and women on the Republican side who disappeared during the Troubles.  Jean McConville was one of many who simply vanished after taking the final ride to their deaths.  Keefe revisits a few of the most notorious cases which did result in the closure sought by the victim’s surviving famly members.  However, other families were not as fortunate and have never fuly healed.  It is often said that war is hell.  For the McConville family and others hurt or killed in the conflict, these words are hauntingly accurate.

Opinion of the IRA will certainly vary according to who you ask.  After finishing the book, I have come to see that the IRA, while committed to its goal of a united Ireland, also suffered from internal rivalries, paranoia and in some cases outright murder.  The seriousness of their mission and the infiltration of British spies raised tensions putting all on edge.  The MRF intelligence unit of the British Army has its role in the story and previously, I did not know about its existence.  The revelations regarding the group’s work and who the informers were within the IRA will leave some readers spellbound.  It is simply an unbelievable account of the IRA struggle in the North of Ireland.  However, for the children of Jean McConville, the conflict is a wound that may never heal.

The conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” remains the focus of intrigue as more books are published regarding a dark time in Irish and British history.  And while the violence of the past has subsided, divisions between Protestants and Catholics remain in place to this day.  But perhaps at some point in the future, Ireland will be unified and the IRA will no longer have a reason to exist. Highly recommended.


Northern Ireland

20200510_190852The mere mention of his name was enough to cause fear and apprehension.  Politicans, film stars and celebrities of all sorts had learned that he knew all of their secrets.  Exactly how many secrets he knew is still a mystery as his most sensitive files were destroyed when he died.  But what is certain is that John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) stands out as one of the most feared figures from his time as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”).  During his time in office, he witnessed six presidential administrations and three wars, the latter of which would continue after his death. His reign was supreme and no one deared to challenge it out of fear that they would wall fall victim to the wrath of one of America’s most powerful investigators.  The public facade carefully crafted by Hoover, served him well in masking the many dark secrets he kept closely guarded. Curt Gentry peels back the layers in this look at the life of the legendary FBI director.

The book is exhaustively researched and is quite extensive, topping out at 760 pages including the epilogue.  But contained within, is an incredible account of Hoover’s life that will leave readers spellbound.   Some may be familiar with the FBI’s actions in the past, many of which came to light after Hoover’s death.  In fact, today we are still learning of the seemingly endless number of informants and secret investigations carried out under Hoover’s directions. The Freedom of Information Act has proven to be invaluable in the research that has been conducted in order to fully understand the nefarious actions of an agency under the control of a power hungry tyrant.

The book starts off on the morning of Hoover’s death, as driver James Crawford notices that something is not quite right at the director’s home.  Although he was seventy-seven, Hoover had refused to retire but age and time had caught up with him.  The news of his death spreads quickly, sending shockwaves throughout Washington, D.C., and across the nation.  Gentry provides the dramatic opening scene to the suspensful drama that developes as the book progresses.  We are provided background information on Hoover’s early life in the nation’s capital.  But the story picks up pace as he joins the Bureau of Information which is later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Although he could not have known it at the time, he had found the organization that he would call home the rest of his life.

What I found to stand out is that the book is not just a story about Hoover, but a good look at American history.  Figures of the past come into the story such as former presidents, attorney generals and intelligence figures.  Some would be allies and others would become bitter enemies such as the legendary William J. Donovan (1893-1959), the former director of the Office of Strategic Services.  The bitter feud between Donovan and Hoover is one of the most bitter fights I have ever read of.  Hoover was never short on enemies, and Donovan is only one of many who appear in the story.  The battles are fierce and filled with backstabbing and petty jealousy.  Gentry revisits many of them  showing the lengths to which Hoover went to make his authority absolute.   Also discussed is Hoover’s obsession with communists and the morality of those who did not live up to his rigid standards.

Clyde Anderson Tolson (1900-1975) is well-known as not just the former associate director of the FBI, but as Hoover’s closest friend.  Some have even proffered that Tolson and Hoover were even “closer” than many suspected.  And although homosexual rumors have persisted about the two, to date there has not been any semblance of irrefutable evidence that the two were lovers. Gentry addresses the topic but does not stray off track nor does he give into simply gossiping about the matter. It is discussed and quickly put to rest.  The author leaves it up to the readers to decided what may or may not be the full story regarding the pair’s relationship.   It is a shot in the dark, but their wills, discussed in the epilogue, may give some clues about their relationship.

As the story develops, Hoover’s importance in some of the key events in American history become apparent, some in disturbing ways.  In particular, his actions during World War II might send some readers over the edge.  I found myself staring the author’s words in disbelief and the shock that had settled in which also  took some time to wear off.  And if that were not enough, Hoover’s actions towards those who dared to challenge him, leave no doubt about his abuse of power. Further, his actions towards his own agents in particular famed outlaw pursuer Melvin Purvis (1903-1960), is just simply absurd. The stories are shocking and will undoubtedly leave readers shaking their heads.

Hoover ruled the FBI for over forty years and during that time six presidents came and went.  All had their opinions of the director and their true feelings about Hoover are also discussed revealing some very interesting facts about what really did happen behind the scenes between the FBI director and the commanders in chief.  Hoover proved to be even more devious than any of them could have ever suspected. However, his thirst for power and tendency to savor gossip about the sexual lives of those he surveilled, reveal a much darker and perverse side of Hoover that the public never saw.  But as those who worked for him would later admit, Hoover was bigoted, homophobic and a bully among many other things.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Gentry pulled out all of the stops here and no stone is left unturned. The battles between Hoover and those he despised take center stage.  Some of the people on his “hit list” such as Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1925-1968) fully recognized the man they were dealing with. When Roosevelt made it clear that she did not approve of the director’s methods, she became a constant target of Hoover’s rage as detailed by the author.  These two iconic figures are a small sample of a long list of figures featured in the book who became enemies of Hoover and in the process had their lives placed under constant surveillance by the FBI in direct violation of United States law.  These methods used by the FBI is perhaps one of the darkest stains on the records of J. Edgar Hoover.

There is one part of the story that I found to be highly interesting even though it is more a sub-story than anything else.  For all of the information that the author does provide on Hoover and the FBI, what emerges is that the director does not have very much of a personal life.  What I realized and what the author makes clear, is that the FBI was his life and when looking at things in that context, his dictator like methods are eaiser to understand.  Without the FBI, there was no J. Edgar Hoover and he himself realized that and did whatever he felt necessary to retain that power.  However, like all dictators he would fall from grace and had he not died, he eventually would have been removed from his post.  And it might have happened during the administration of the last president he served, Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994).  This part of the book is when we finally see that Hoover is on borrowed time.  But the seasoned directly pulls a few tricks from up his sleeve first.  The drama that unfolds is captured with the right amount of suspense by Gentry and readers will be on edge waiting for the climax to arrive. And in a suprising revelation, Hoover’s relation to the Watergate scandal is explained putting Nixon’s actions into a whole new light.

The fallout from decades of Hoover’s rule over the FBI is stunning and for all involved, the gloves were off.  William Sullivan (1912-1977) emerges as the new arch-enemy and pulls no punches whene he goes after the FBI after resigning.  His statements and the later investigations by the Justice Department after Hoover’s death, will leave some readers speechless.  Corruption might just be an understatement.  The story is almost surreal and if you had any doubts about Hoover’s character before reading the book, then they will surely be confirmed.  The conclusion of this epic story highlights the biggest irony of Hoover’s life and readers will not fail to notice.

So far I have discussed many of the dark aspects of the book which are abundant.  If I had to choose a bright spot in the book, it would be that Hoover did in fact make the FBI the respected organization that it came to be and no one can take that away from him. However, the backstabbing, vindictiveness and illegal actions at his command, make it difficult to show him in a highly positive light.  Quite frankly, after finishing the book, I found myself repulsed at what I had learned.  If you are looking for a story of power in the wrong hands, look no further, this is it.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B00630Z8GM
ISBN-10: 0393321282
ISBN-13: 978-0393321289


20200427_182446The City of Chicago has earned a reputation as being a tough metropolitan landscape in which winters are harsh, politics fierce and the streets are dangerous.   In recent years, the rise in shootings on the south side of the city have made news headlines across America. The violence has been featured in documentaries and articles that are both eye-opening and horrific.  No one yet knows if or when the violence will end but authorities in Chicago continue to grapple with gun violence that shows no signs of slowing down.  The battles are reminiscent of another era in American history where blood flowed on Chicago’s streets as gangsters gunned each other down during the 1920s and 1930s.  Of all the gangsters that called Chicago home, only one has retained a permanent place in American pop culture as the icon for organized crime.  His name was Alphonse “Al” Capone (1899-1947) and this is the story of his life by author Robert J. Schoenberg.

Although he died in 1947, Capone still remains an egnimatic figure that many have come to view as the prime example of  the dark legacy of Italian-American organized crime.  Several films have attempted to tell his story, including Brian DePalma’s 1987 box office hit The Untouchables starring Robert DeNiro as Capone.  The film is good entertainment but not completely accurate historically.  Nonetheless, it is classic DePalma and I have it today in my collection of films.  I firmly believe that there is still more to Al Capone that we may never learn but there does exist enough material in the form of public records, newspaper articles and even Capone’s own statements that help compose a picture of his life. Schoenberg took on the monumental task of researching all of those materials and more which are presented here  in a gripping account that will keep readers glued to the book from begining to end.

Similar to other larger than life figures, there is much about Capone’s life that has probably been either miscontrued or possibly even fabricated.  In pop culture, he is seen as a ruthless killer who had enemies wiped out regularly.  In reality Capone was indeed a brutal gangster when necessary, but his eagerness to kill and for gratuitous violence is perhaps quite overblown.  But make no mistake, Chicago was violent and Capone was firmly entrenched right in the middle  of the gang wars.  However, before he reached Chicago, he was another product of my own New York City where he entered the world on January 17, 1899, the fourth son of Gabriele and Theresa Capone.  The young couple could have never imagined that their fourth son would become the most notorious gangster in American history.

The early part of the book is more on the routine side, explaning Capone’s early family life.  But it soon changes when he meets Frankie Yale (1893-1928) who introduces Capone to his calling.  And after an encounter in a bar with an Irish gang member, Capone is dispatched to Chicago where Johnny Torrio (1882-1957) is eagerly waiting.  At this point in the book, the story takes on a whole new dynamic as the roaring 20s come to life. Readers are advised to buckle up because business certainly does pick up.  It is a roller coaster ride that is told in a way that makes you feel as if you are right there next to Capone.  Fans of DePalma’s film might find it difficult at first to separate fact from fiction.  However,  movie buffs will recognize the changes made by Hollywood during production to the actual story.  But I do feel that to truly enjoy this book, it is necessary to cast aside any pre-conceived notions about the story one may have.  Frankly, for some it may feel as if they are re-learning Capone’s story for the first time. But that can be a good thing as it forces us to pay closer attention to details that may have been ignored by mainstream media in recreations of the era’s critical events.

Any story about Al Capone would not be complete without a discussion of his feuds with the North Side Gang lead by Charles Dion O’Banion (1892-1924) , Joseph Aiello (1890-1930) and several others.  The events leading up to each are detailed here, allowing the reader to see how and why Capone took certain actions.  Alliances with Yale, the infamous Genna brothers and Jack “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn (1902-1936) helped Capone reign supreme over Chicago. Fueled by prohibition, rackets, prostitution and other vices,  the streets of Chicago ran red with blood.  Capone soon became public enemy number one, even attracting the attention of President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964). Today, it may be hard for some to imagine one man being so powerful but Capone had risen to the stop of the crime world and his ascent is captured justly by Schoenberg.  The recreation of key events is told with the right amount of suspense and not once did I feel that the author was either weak in his telling of the story or too reliant on shock effect.  The deaths are violent but the violence is never glorified and neither is Capone.

If there is any area where the book comes up short is with regards to Capone’s life at home which is discussed sparingly.  Schoenberg does provide glimpses of the Capone family home where the mobster lived with wife Mae Capone  (1897-1986) and their son  Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone (1918-2004).  But the bulk of the book isfocused on his public persona as the head mafia boss in Chicago.   I do warn readers that Capone comes off in his own words as the villain you hate and love at the same time. He was a charismatic figure who fully embraced the public light.  Some of his public statements and good will gestures are included showing the well constructed public facade he used to cover his underworld dealings.  As I read the book, I felt as if Capone was the preview for future mobster John Gotti (1940-2002), whose public displays bravado were straight out of the Capone playbook.

I mentioned before that Brian DePalma did take certain liberties when making his film, but some parts of the film were accurate.  Capone was indeed indicted for income tax evasion but the real method in which the case developed is less impressive but still highly important in understanding Capone’s downfall.  The composite characters created in the film will be not be found here but the inspirations for them are.  And readers who have seen the film will quickly pick up on this.   Ironically, prohibition would not as a big of a role in his downfall as one would think.  The incredible story is told here with rich details although nowhere close to being as spectactular as the silver screen.  And yes, Elliot Ness (1903-1957) is part of the story as well, just as one would expect.

As Capone serves his time, another enemy emerged, this time from within and he would not be able to fix it.  Schoenberg makes it clear that the disease which afflicted Capone later in his life most likely came from a certain source although the jury may still be out.  Putting that aside, he does explain how Capone’s condition deteroriated. and whether or not it should have reached the point that it did is left up to readers who may be highly familiar with it through medical training of their own.  The progression of the disease and Capone’s descent stand in stark contrast to the earlier parts of the book where he reigned as king of the Windy City.  Schoenberg does not drag out the downfall but tells the story at just the right pace, including only the most important details as the end nears. And when Capone made his final depature, it felt as if I had just stepped on a ride that moved at full throttle from start to finish.  And as a bonus at the end of the book, the author provides a follow-up on all of the important figures who did survive the Capone years.  Their fates are a mixed bag that will leave some readers in shock and others content.

I do not believe the world will ever see another Al Capone.  The era in which he lived is long gone.  Crime will always exist and racketeering  will be an attractive and lucrative career in crime for gangsters.  But the personality and seductiveness of a figure like Capone is from a bygone era never to return.  And as much as we can persecute him for the havoc he wreaked on the streets of Chicago, we can also study him as a master manipulator, dedicated father and a Robin Hood figure beloved by those who knew him well.  If you want to learn more about the real Al Capone, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 9780688128388
ISBN-13: 978-0688128388


A big thank you to Rebecca of Fake Flamenco for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I appreciate her choosing Free Thinking Bibliophile for this award. Please take a moment to look through her blog.  When I first started this blog, I was not sure how far it would go or if I even had the time to devote to it.  Nearly five years and hundreds of posts later, I look back on it as one of the best decisions I have ever made. And I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone that has followed its progression.  I hope that everyone is safe and in good health during what are surely strange and scary times.

Rebecca asked all nominees to answer her Fibbing Friday questions. My creative answers:

  1. What event became known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”?  Cannon fire after Covid-19 is contained.
  2. What exactly is a duvet?  Proof that you’re not a bachelor in his early 20s.
  3. What was “The Man in the Iron Mask” about?  A couple who took role playing a bit too far.
  4. Divan, Chesterfield, settee, and Davenport are all examples of what? Items that 95% of people couldn’t pick out in a photo.
  5. Why was the Eiffel Tower built?  The French were bored.
  6. The Harry Potter series wasn’t about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard. What was it about?  Testing the stamina of readers.
  7. What was Moby Dick about? A terrible first impression.
  8. What was “The King’s Speech” about?  The right to remain silent.
  9. If you go to a pub and ask for a “black & tan”, exactly what do you get?  Silence and a lot of stares.
  10. What is “shepherd’s pie”? A dessert for sheep.

And Now for The Official Rules Of The Liebster Award 

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:

  1. thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. display the award on your blog — include it in your post and/or display it using a “widget”. (Note: save the image to your computer, then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. answer 11 questions about yourself, provided by the person who nominated you.
  4. provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. nominate 5 – 11 blogs you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note: you can ask the blog owner; not all blogs display this information!)
  6. create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. list these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then:
  8. Inform the people/blogs you nominated them for the Liebster award and provide a link to your post so they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)


Eleven Facts About Gerard of Free Thinking Bibliophile:

1. What makes you smile? Genuine empathy, one of hardest emotions to show.
2. Favorite book as a child? The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
3. Last book you’ve read? I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
4. Favorite spring flower: Tulips
5. Favorite landscape? Natural landscapes, mountain views
6. Favorite view? Mountains near Moab, Utah
7. Analog or digital? Analog mostly with occasional digital.
8. Horse or bicycle? Horse, one of the most magnificent creatures on earth.
9. First non-essential place you’d go after living shut-in for a while?  The movies.
10. Monument you’d like to live in for a weekend? Taj Mahal
11. What musician plays your life soundtrack? Marvin Gaye


I nominate:

Try to Get It 

Book ‘Em, Jan O

The Miniread

People & History

The Historical Diaries

If you’d like to accept the nomination, please answer the some or all of the questions I did above under “11 Facts” or come up with your own list of facts about yourself.  And  also feel free to answer the Fibbing Friday questions as well.



General Reading

MMac1When I started reading this book, I was not sure if I should continue as I felt that the subject matter was darker than even I am used to. But something inside of me said to keep going and listen to what the author is saying.  Less than ten minutes into the book, I realized that I would not be putting it down anytime soon.  In fact, the book pulled me in so much that I finished it one day.  I simply could not get enough of the story.  Initially, the book came as a recommendation on Amazon.  Like many others, I was aware of other killers in Californian history.  The Zodiac? Check.  Richard Ramirez? Check.  Golden State Killer? I had no clue about this menace who terrorized southern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  But as I read through the beginning of the book, I soon realized that author Michelle McNamara (1970-2016) was about to take me deep inside the story of the “Original Night Stalker”.

I feel compelled to point out that this book is not for the faint at heart. Anyone who is sensitive to graphic descriptions of crime scenes or uneasy reading true crime will probably want to avoid the book.  But for those who enjoy true crime and are curious about a killer that has been overshadowed by the Zodiac and Ramirez, this is the book you have been searching for.  To be clear, McNamara was not a police officer. Yet she spent a staggering amount of time and resources putting together a trove of information that impressed even the most skilled detectives.  She was so respected that she had developed rare bi-directional channels of communication with cold case detectives. And when she died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, she left behind several chapters of this book that were not only saved, but compiled into this gritty and gripping account of the mission to catch a killer.

Out of respect for some victims or possibly at their request, some of the names have been changed as we learned at the end of the book. However, the crimes were real and retold as they happened.  And although more than forty years have passed since some of the crimes have taken place, McNamara’s writing makes it feel as if they happened yesterday.  At first, the crimes seem like isolated incidents until similarities creep up and the invention of DNA testing reveals that more than one crime is the work of a single invidual.  He struck at night, using the element of suprise to inflict physical and sexual assault before disappearing in the night.  His crimes come hauntingly back to life as McNamara tells the story. It is true crime at its best.

The book early on does read like a typical true crime novel until DNA testing enters the picture.  It is at that moment that the book picks up pace and suspense settles in through McNamara’s words.  Det. Larry Pool and Criminologist Paul Holes become her unofficial partners in search of the elusive killer whom they believe will be caught through DNA.  And although suspects do come up, they do not hit paydirt. McNamara is not deterred and even obtained thirty-seven boxes of files from Orange County prosecutors.  The Golden State Killer had become her only goal and she freely discusses the effect the case has had on her life, in particular her marriage to actor Patton Oswalt.   The case becomes her obsession, filling her thoughts as the insomia she developed took hold in late night hours.  And in the days before her death, she was moving full steam ahead and prepared to examine the files she had placed upstairs after unloading two SUVs full of boxes. I believe that there was no doubt in her mind that the killer would one day face justice.

At the time of McNamara’s death, the Golden State Killer remained at large. However, two years after her passing that all changed.  In April, 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody and charged with multiple murders, kidnappings and other crimes. His arrest would have been just another cold case that had been solved. However there was something different this time around.  DeAngelo had been brought to justice through the very tool that McNamara believed was the key: DNA.   The closure of the case is a final testament to her unwavering committment to solving one of the darkest murder mysteries in American history.  Had she not died so untimely, I believe she might have uncovered DeAngelo’s name at some point.   Her exhaustive efforts and this book based on her unpublished writings, is the definitive account of the race against time to stop a lunatic with a thirst for mayhem.  And while I could describe the power of this account in several ways, I think famous author Stephen King says it best:

“What readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.” —Stephen King

Good read and highly recommended.


True Crime