Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review of "By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill" By Arthur and Barbara Gelb

Review was first published at the New York Journal of Books on December 1, 2016

Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill was a pioneer of the American theater and led the way for other literary legends such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee. His true legacy is found in his ability to fearlessly tackle social and political values that today continue to inspire countless generations of authors and productions.

Since his death in 1953, O’Neill’s treasure trove of works such as Long Day’s Journey into Night and others have been in constant production around the world. Although he was a very talented writer, O’Neill was a deeply flawed human being, who struggled his entire life with depression and alcohol abuse, which presented challenges in all of his personal relationships.

“But, whatever O’Neill’s personal failings, there is no denying that, as an artist, he stood tall. An idealist and visionary, he bravely endured his years of struggle, demanding to be accepted on his own terms as a dramatist.”

The celebrated and award winning husband and wife team of Arthur and Barbara Gelb have spent 50+ years studying and examining the life of Eugene O’Neill, and their previous works include O’Neill (1962) and O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (2000). Arthur Gelb died on May 20, 2014 and Barbara “wearily polished” the final few pages of their final collaboration, a book they had been grappling with for nearly a decade. Their third and final collaboration in the O’Neill saga, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill, is an 869 page epic, in which the Gelbs examine the last 25 years of the playwright’s life through his stormy relationships with the most important women in his life, primarily his third wife, actress Carlotta Monterey.

The word comprehensive is often used to define thoroughly researched biographies and other works, but this definition doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in the amount of excruciating detail the Gelbs have provided in this volume. The majority of the book is spent discussing his emotionally tempestuous marriage to Monterey, which was dominated by years of alcoholic setbacks, mental and physical decline, and hostile resentment. Within this volume are also discussed some of the longstanding misconceptions of O’Neill’s life such as his battle with alcoholism and depression, as well as his views on feminism and racism.

“He also had a violent and destructive temper, especially when he was on a drinking binge. At those times, he didn’t hesitate to manhandle his lovers.”

Unfortunately, there are only brief discussions of O’Neill’s early marriages and his complicated relationship with his mother.

“When, as an adolescent, Eugene O’Neill realized that his mother, Ella Quinlan O’Neill, blamed her morphine addiction on his birth and confessed she wished him unborn, she betrayed him in a way he could never forgive or forget.”

In this work the authors rely primarily of the previously unpublished diaries and interviews of Monterey as well as material from friends and associates. Monterey gave the authors a melancholy version of O’Neill’s final years as a sick and forgotten man who isolated himself from his family and fans.

“O’Neill hated hotels, she told us, because he had been born in one and had spent the first seven years of life traveling from hotel to hotel while his father toured the country with his acting company. . . .” She repeated what are commonly claimed to be O’Neill’s final words, spoken on November 21, 1953, “Born in a hotel room and God damn it, died in a hotel room.”

By Women Possessed is a captivating and in-depth study of one of America’s most revered literary giants. This volume is a superb example of a skillful, thorough, and cynically examined editorial biography that draws from an exhaustive treasure strove of previously unexploited source material. It offers the reader an extraordinary and thought provoking view on the playwright’s life and works. By Women Possessed is heartily recommend to anyone interested in the American theater, Eugene O’Neill, or biography in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review of Deirdre Bair's "Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 16, 2016

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“Al Capone was a son, husband, and father who was looking for the best way to become a good provider for everyone.”

Nearly seven decades after his death, what is it about Al Capone that captures the imagination? Some lives contain multitudes, and his would seem to be one of them. From his heyday to the present, his life has enthralled the public’s collective imagination.

Born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrant parents, Capone would become one of the most notorious crime figures in American history. During the height of Prohibition, his criminal enterprises dominated the city of Chicago and included bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling.

His long-running turf war with rival gangs came to a bloody and shocking crescendo on St. Valentine's Day 1929. Through it all, the charismatic Capone remained barely above it all, and Federal income tax evasion was his eventual undoing. In 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison but served a little over half his sentence, mostly at Alcatraz. A very ill Capone, suffering from the physical and mental effects of syphilis, was released to live out his final years in Miami.

Deirdre Bair, National Book Award winner and author of numerous biographies, attempts to uncover a more personal side of the infamous crime boss and examines the legend and facts surrounding this intriguing and enigmatic figure in her new biography, Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.

“His ascent in mobdom was phenomenal, his time at the top sensational, and his downfall meteoric. Indeed, his reign did last only six short years, but everything that happened in that brief time still commands worldwide attention, interest, and speculation.”

The book follows Capone’s entire life from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his rise as crime boss in Chicago through his astonishingly swift downfall and imprisonment and death in 1947.

“This is the story of a ruthless killer, a scofflaw, a keeper of brothels and bordellos, a tax cheat and perpetrator of frauds, convicted felon, and a mindless, blubbering invalid. This is also the story of a loving son, husband, and father who described himself as a businessman whose job was to serve the people what they wanted.”

Written with the cooperation of Capone’s family and descendants, Al Capone does a wonderful job of gathering all of the urban myths surrounding his life and career and lays them out side by side with the facts, exposing and demystifying their falsehoods from the realities. “Attempting to reconstruct their truth is much like trying to solve the most complicated puzzle imaginable.”

Although this book is superbly documented and researched, its end results are mixed. The narrative is somewhat dry and uninspiring in its presentation and ultimately failed to uncover any startling new information. In the end, this book is best suited for readers who already have a basic understanding and familiarity with the subject matter. It is recommended for anyone interested in anything related to organized crime, Al Capone, and the Prohibition era in general. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review of Robert Masello's - The Jekyll Revelation

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 8, 2016

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What if the terrifying legacy of Jack the Ripper and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were connected and somehow transported across space and time from Victorian England to present day California? The consequences would be terrifying. Robert Masello, an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the bestselling author of numerous supernatural and historical thrillers that includes The Einstein Prophecy tackles this innovative and thought provoking historical whodunit in his new book The Jekyll Revelation.

Protagonist Rafael Salazar, an environmental scientist on routine patrol in Topanga Canyon, California, expects to find animal poachers but instead discovers a mysterious antique steamer trunk filled with a treasure trove of artifacts that includes a puzzling journal, written by none other than legendary author Robert Louis Stevenson. The journal cryptically reveals chilling details regarding the creation of his classic horror novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an even more disturbing link to one of the most notorious serial killers of all-time. Within the pages of this mysterious journal is disclosed the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

“I begin this journal in high, if somewhat desperate, hopes. I mean to make it a record of my deliverance. If it becomes something other than that, it shall have served as my epitaph. A bookmark . . . or a bookend.”

The journal, unfortunately, wasn’t the only artifact in the trunk, and isn’t the only memento that has been pilfered. A bottle that purportedly contains the last drops of the potion that inspired Jekyll and Hyde and also created London’s most infamous killer has disappeared and fallen into the wrong hands. With parallel story lines set in present day California and 1880s London, The Jekyll Revelation masterfully alternates between reluctant hero’s Salazar and Stevenson as both attempt to stop the terror that has been unleased within their respective time periods.

Masello has done an admirable job of creating recognizable characters, although they tend to be somewhat formulaic. He sticks with the standard literary storyline of man playing God and its catastrophic fallout. The Jekyll Revelation is a fast-paced tour de force through history and contemporary California. It is a heart-pounding page turner filled with loads of action and intrigue.

“The brilliantly executed crime of Jack the Ripper have been laid at a dozen doorsteps, but none of them mine. Nor will they be, not so long as I am alive to be called to account for them. No, I mean to keep this journal, and my souvenirs, intact and unknown. They shall travel with me wherever I go (at this moment, my native California is again striking my fancy), and when, many years from now, my end draws near, I shall consign them to some appropriate grave. An unmarked spot where, in the fullness of time posterity shall rediscover, and perhaps reassess them. I leave that to fate.”

Masello has crafted an exceptional murder mystery with a literary twist that will not disappoint. This novel will most certainly captivate anyone who loves true crime, suspense thrillers, literary history, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Jack the Ripper. A must read and highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review of James Patterson's - Filthy Rich

Original review appeared at the New York Journal of Books on (October 19, 2016)

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In February 2005, 14-year-old Mary (not her real name) was a naïve and impressionable teenager. She desperately sought out attention and wanted to make a good first impression. The money she would earn in one hour for giving an old man a massage was more than her father made in a whole day.

“What she tells herself, over and over again, is: It’s not that big a deal.”

But of course, it is a big deal and her visit to the mansion of eccentric billionaire Jeffrey Epstein would result in one of the most scandalous criminal investigations in Palm Beach history. In Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, James Patterson, one of the world’s most successful thriller authors in collaboration with John Connelly and Tim Mallory, tackle this deeply troubling and captivating case.

So who is Jeffrey Epstein, really?

Epstein was a highly successful financier, investor, and philanthropist who contributed millions of dollars to academic institutions around the globe. He funded numerous political campaigns and hob knobbed with a wide-ranging and diverse cast of characters that included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and many others. He rose from humble origins to the heights of New York City and Palm Beach’s privileged and societal elites.

On the surface he appeared to have it all: fame, fortune, and achievement but behind closed doors he wanted more and for many years successfully concealed a perverse sexual appetite for pretty underage girls. This compulsion would eventually led to his downfall with allegations of abuse by dozens of young women whom he employed as “masseuses” at his opulent Palm Beach estate and other properties.

Backed by a plethora of high powered defense attorneys that included Gerald Lefcourt, Alan Dershowitz, and later, Ken Starr, this dream team masterfully orchestrated a plea bargain for Epstein who avoided serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to felony solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution.

He received a sentence of 18 months and was required to register as a class three sex offender. One other concession was the media would not be alerted to his ultimate release date, which occurred on July 21, 2009. This was a mere slap on the wrist for the atrocious crimes that were committed, and he served less than 13 months behind bars. Following his release there were lawsuits, seven of which were settled for undisclosed amounts prior to going to trial.

Patterson questioningly writes, “There never was any doubt that Jeffrey Epstein was guilty. The question is, what exactly was he guilty of?” Although Filthy Rich provides an adequate overview of the case in general terms it suffers from a lack of in-depth research of Jeffrey Epstein and other key characters. It ultimately fails to provide any definitive answers to the many questions it poses.

The reader must be cautioned that Filthy Rich is gritty and at times unseemly in its narrative, which devotes large sections of text to the lured transcript testimony of Epstein’s alleged victims. These chapters are extremely detailed and tend to wander through an overabundance of sexually explicit scenarios that appear on the surface to be a concerted attempt by the authors to embarrass Epstein, whom they categorically believe got off easy for the crimes he committed.

Although not one of Patterson’s better written books, Filthy Rich is a fast paced read with many chapters less that a page long. But on a useful note it does raise some deeply disturbing and timely questions about the unspoken rape culture and sexually exploitive views of women that exist within some segments of our society. The crimes for which Jeffrey Epstein were accused and ultimately convicted of are truly reprehensible, and the fact that he was able to use a network of well-connected friends to get out of trouble is even more appalling.

This book leaves the reader with a feeling of dread at the shameful realities of our deeply flawed legal system as it pertains to the haves and have nots. Reader be warned, more than soap and water will be necessary to wash away the sleazy grimness of this obscenely shocking tale.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review of "Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case - The Yogurt Shop Murders"

Review first appeared at The New York Journal of Books (October 10/10/2016)

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Seasoned homicide detectives are well aware that high-profile murder cases often attract numerous false confessions. They also know that unscrupulous officers under pressure from the media and other sources can coerce young, suggestible suspects to make false admissions.

“In 1991, Austin was on the verge of becoming what it is today, but back then nobody had a clue. While Houstonians liked to say Austin was hoping to become a grown-up city, too, someday, nobody here took offense. Who wanted to be like Houston? Then came Yogurt Shop. We lost our innocence that night became an official mantra . . . And then, when the crime remained unresolved year after year after year, it became a permanent part of our history.”

On December 6, 1991, the naked, bound-and-gagged bodies of four teenage girls were found shot to death at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in Austin, Texas. This case captivated the Austin community and frustrated both police and the families of the four victims. The search for the killers resulted in numerous suspects.

Eight years after the murders and under intense pressure to solve the case, four young men were arrested and charged with the crimes. Two of the accused were convicted, but the verdicts were later overturned on appeal due to gathering of false statements and coerced confessions. Today, the Austin Police Department insists that the four men arrested for the crimes were guilty of the murders, but the case remains open. Beverly Lowry, the author of six novels and three works of nonfiction that includes Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir (2002), revisits this thought provoking and captivating case in Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.

The author’s gripping examination raises serious doubts about law enforcements handling of the case and after expertly recounting the horrifying specifics of the murders, meticulously scrutinizes the countless blunders encountered by police during the investigation such as evidence gathering errors, inept and unethical interrogation practices, and failure to follow-up on even the smallest of leads.
Although the central narrative of this book is most certainly the coerced confessions of the defendants and reversal of their convictions, this study raises many tantalizing questions, and the reader is left to contemplate highly controversial issues such as police misconduct and society’s role in preventing its youth from committing savage crimes. But in the end, four innocent young girls were murdered in cold blood and their killers remain at large and unpunished.

So who did kill the yogurt shop girls? Lowry has several theories and powerfully states: “How do we know what we know (or even remember) and when can we be, if not certain, at least reasonably persuaded that we’ve hit on the truthful versions of what really happened? Maybe doubt is never reasonable and memories are closer to dreams than accurate recollections. Perhaps facts and solutions exist only in the science lab, and not always even then, and the best we can hope for is a perception that suits our individual temperament. In other words, what we’re prone to believe given genes, upbringing, class, culture and all the rest. And perhaps there’s no such thing as closure, in which case nothing ever ends anyway.”

Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders is well-researched and thought provoking. It is a terror-filled thrill ride which is captivating from start to finish. It is highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime, unsolved murder mystery, or American law enforcement policies and practices.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review of "Murder in The Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?"

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on September 12, 2016

Who murdered the women known as the Jeff Davis 8? Is an unapprehended serial killer stalking the wetlands and byways of rural southern Louisiana? These are intriguing questions that have dogged law enforcement officials for nearly a decade. Located primarily in the southern reaches of Louisiana, the bayou is a defining feature of this unique region of the American South, and unlike the rest of the state, has its own pace, culture, and rules. The swamps and alligators might not be for everyone, but the Cajun people of the bayou feel right at home. Shadowy and often misunderstood, this region is often shrouded in mystery.

In 2014, HBO’s wildly successful and critically acclaimed television series True Detective debuted starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. This series was instrumental in bringing renewed interest to this secretive section of the country. The show focused on a mismatched pair of Louisiana state police investigators hot on the trail of a serial killer who is preying on young women deep in the heart of Cajun country. Although this quirky series is a work of fiction, it is alleged to have been inspired by a series of real life unsolved murders that have occurred in and around Jefferson Davis Parish. These murders are collectively and nationally known as the Jeff Davis 8.
Between 2005 and 2009, the bodies of eight female prostitutes were discovered in and around the outskirts of Jennings, a small town and seat of Jefferson Davis Parish. The bodies of these young women were dumped along highways, dirt roads, swamps, and canals throughout the area. Ethan Brown, an investigative journalist, private investigator, and author examines this riveting and spellbinding case in his new book Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8?

“The many threads that linked the Jeff Davis women in life (sex work) and in death (elevated levels of cocaine and anti-depressants, possible death by asphyxia) led local law enforcement to investigate the Jeff Davis 8 as a serial killer case.” But Brown’s multi-\year investigation has raised serious doubts about such an idea. He provocatively speculates that the Jeff Davis 8 were murdered for “knowing too much,” and that these homicides were the direct result of Jennings' brutal criminal underworld. Although Jennings resembles a sleepy, out of the way place, looks can be deceiving. For many decades the area has been the epicenter of violent criminal activity centered on the Interstate 10 corridor that connects the Texas border to Lafayette.

“To most Jennings residents, the Boudreaux Inn was simply a dingy motel off the interstate. But to workers at the motel and players in the South Jennings underworld, the rundown inn had an outsized reputation. Powerful people, it was whispered, patronized the motel. Those who ran the business were well connected in Louisiana politics.” Brown goes even further, disturbingly suggesting that there is a connection between local law enforcement and other powerful players to keep the case unsolved due to involvement in the profitable drug trafficking and sex trade.

“In life and in death, the Jeff Davis 8 were cast as outsiders by the ruling elite. Sheriff Ricky Edwards infuriated friends and family of the victims by publicly proclaiming that the Jeff Davis 8 all shared a high-risk lifestyle. Most interpreted this to mean that they were unworthy of sympathy or significant law enforcement resources.” Brown goes on to write, “It’s a staggering body count for a town of approximately ten thousand residents. . . . Complex murder cases such as the Jeff Davis 8 can remain open for years, sometimes even decades. But it should have been obvious all along that the Jeff Davis 8 killings were not the handiwork of a serial killer.”

The narrative of Murder in the Bayou is well researched and easy to read. The author uses thousands of pages of public documents and records as well as hours of interviews to doggedly investigate and arrive at his titillating assumptions on how and why each of these women were murdered. This book is thought provoking and explosive. Its mesmerizing allegations and scandalous conclusions revolving around the realities of modern day class division and brutalities of the rural South will captivate true crime enthusiasts as well as anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery with political intrigue.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review of "Existentialism and Excess" by Gary Cox

Review first appeared at on September 7, 2016

“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: With great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spiderman.” Actor Tobey Maguire spoke these words in the final scene of Columbia Pictures 2002 movie blockbuster Spiderman.

The character must have been reading a lot of stuff by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre when he imparted that little nugget of wisdom. Nearly 40 years since his death, Sartre’s philosophical ideas still resonate within modern society and pop culture. He was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers and most versatile writers of his time and alongside his longtime companion Simone de Beauvoir was one of the leading figures in the French intellectual community of the 20th century.

Sartre was a principal proponent of Existentialism, a philosophical theory that stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices. Expanding on the 19th century writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Sartre determined that if man is the maker of his own morality, then his greatest power is the freedom of choice. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sartre through scholarly and fictional works promoted and brought to the mainstream public these existential themes. A complex and captivating figure, Sartre intricately binds together his life, writings, and revolutionary thoughts.

Gary Cox, a Sartre specialist and author of Deep Thought, How to Be an Existentialist, The Sartre Dictionary, and Sartre: A Guide for the Perplexed once again tackles Sartre in Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean-Paul Sartre. This easy to read and thought provoking biography explores all of the key events of the legendary philosopher’s life and skillfully examines the close connections between his radical thoughts and philosophical works. The author reconstructs the existentialist crises that helped shape Sartre’s life and concisely capsulizes his complex philosophical concepts so that they are easy to read and understand.

“Humankind . . . is a futurizing intention. The destiny of each of us is in our own hands. We make ourselves through our choices. We are even free to choose what is happening to us, to take it on board rather than bemoan it, to realize to the full our being-in-situation.”

Throughout Existentialism and Excess, Cox perceptively identifies the major entanglements, love triangles, friendships, and affairs that engulfed Sartre over his lifetime. In an engaging and accessible manner, the author is able to convey these fascinating interactions into simple literary and biographical context.

He draws from a vast array of published writings and other sources to support research that reveals titillating insights into Sartre’s complex persona including the extent to which he juggled, depended upon, and supported his many mistresses and the compulsive need he had to seduce women far more beautiful than he, despite his tepid sensuality. Cox writes, “His sense that he was physically ugly . . . led him to feel that a woman could not really enjoy his body. His successes with various woman gave him new found confidence . . .”

The author also candidly scrutinizes Sartre’s complicated and avant-garde relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. She was the cornerstone of his social circle, an intellectual equal, life-long companion, and philosophical sparring partner. Cox writes, “What is undoubtedly true is that without her [de Beauvoir’s] influence, Sartre’s philosophical contribution would have been different and less impressive.”

This book also studies Sartre’s many political flip-flops, seduction and conversion to Communist ideology, and steady health decline and eventual isolation in the 1960s and 1970s. All intrigues aside, however, Cox concludes, “Despite his (Sartre’s) neurotic desire to become one of the gods and immortals of philosophy and literature . . . his desire to become a name to conjure with the like of Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, Proust, Flaubert or Dickens . . . Sartre was wise and realistic enough to comprehend that there is no such thing as true immorality.”

But Jean-Paul Sartre did create a legacy that is memorable and does not matter simply because he was a great writer, although his exceptional command of styles and genres expertly complemented his purpose. Sartre matters because so many fundamental points of his analysis of the human reality are right and true, and because their accuracy and veracity entail real consequences for our lives as individuals and in social groups.

Gary Cox’s Existentialism and Excess is a remarkably vivid and intimate biography that shows the existentialist legend had feet of clay, without in any way diminishing his contributions and greatness. If you are a fan of Jean-Paul Sartre, French intellectual life, philosophy, or biography, in particular, this first-rate account is highly recommended as a starting point for any study of this great man.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

American Heiress By Jeffrey Toobin

Author: Jeffrey Toobn
Release: August 1, 2016
Publisher Doubleday
Pages: 368
Genre: Nonfiction, History, True Crime, Legal History

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On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Patricia Campbell Hearst, a junior, majoring in art history at Cal Berkeley and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a motley group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries known as the Symbionese Liberation Army.
The sensational and shocking story that unfolded over the next year and half would take many peculiar turns. The immense media attention surrounding the case transfixed the nation and was an integral piece of the puzzle that helped define the 1970s, a decade of perverse violence, political failures, and extreme pessimism. Jeffrey Toobin, bestselling author of Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, CNN senior legal analyst and a staff writer at The New Yorker tackles this fascinating and complex story in American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst.

Riveting and definitive American Heiress is the story of one the most notorious crime cases of the 20th century. In an easy and captivating style Toobin describes the peculiarities, madness, psychology, and legal maneuverings of the events that surrounded the kidnapping, crimes, and trial of Patty Hearst and others.

The reader is taken on a wild ride that vividly captures the atmosphere and craziness of the SLA radicals and their lethal mix of politics, violence, and sex that shrouded Hearst throughout her entire ordeal. Although she did not cooperate with the book, generally, it is a fairly sympathetic chronicle of her plight. Her fear, tenacity, and ideological conversion are dramatically conveyed within its pages.
“Disoriented, frightened, cold, and alone, Patricia, had no idea where they were going or why. Still, it was in her nature to resist. A more timid teenager might have remained frozen in terror, but Patricia, while still in the dark of the trunk, shucked off her restraints and blindfold. As Bill Harris learned when she howled for help and nearly escaped in her driveway, this woman was a fighter.”

From Randolph and Catherine Hearst’s make shift news conferences to their ill-advised attempt to secure their daughter’s freedom by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; to the astonishing photographs capturing Patty or “Tania” brandishing a machine gun during a bank robbery and her stress-filled year on the lam; to the largest police shoot-out in American history and the first news event to be broadcast live on television; and Patty’s ultimate capture and circuslike trial in which the phrase "Stockholm syndrome" entered the modern vocabulary.

Toobin’s dramatic and engaging style of writing brings to life the many characters and truly bizarre and astonishing events. His meticulous examination and analysis of the evidence is based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of previously unpublished documents.

As Toobin powerfully writes, “The legacy of the SLA itself may be nonexistent, but its story provided a kind of trailer for the modern world. The kidnapping of Patricia Hearst foretold much that would happen to American society in a diverse number of fields.”

Few people in American history have been subjected to as dramatic a transformation of circumstances as Patricia Hearst. In an instant, her life of privilege was gone, replaced by a nightmare of unadulterated horror. And then, most oddly, she reacted to this trauma with ferocious tenacity by becoming a full-fledged member of the very group that had kidnapped her rejecting the very principals with which she was raised.

“Patricia, in the grip of a cold fury, wanted revenge, even more than her remaining captors turned colleagues. She lived off cigarettes and snacks. Days and nights of hiding in grimy motels and squalid apartments gave her a sickly pallor, but adversity for the woman called Tania, made her stronger. In this, there was, despite everything, a hint of her former life.”

Was Hearst a willing participant in the SLA or did she pretend for over a year to keep herself alive? Did her family's money and political connections help her avoid a lengthy jail sentence despite armed robbery, bombings, attempted murder, and felony murder? These questions that have doggedly shadowed the case were unfortunately left mainly unanswered which was somewhat disappointing.
Overall, Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress is an informative, compelling, and insightful summer read. A thrill ride that will mesmerize anyone who is fascinated with the social and political complexities of the 1970s, legal history, American crime, or anything related to Patty Hearst.

Michael Thomas Barry is a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books. He is also the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is also a columnist for

The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris


Author: Shaun Harris
Release: July 18, 2016
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Pages: 240
Genre: Fiction, Historical Thriller, Humor

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In early December 1922, Ernest Hemingway was in Switzerland on assignment as a correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star, covering the Lausanne Peace Conference. The journalist and editor Lincoln Steffens was also there. Apparently, Steffens was impressed with Hemingway’s writing and asked to see more.

Hemingway cabled his wife, Hadley in Paris and asked her to bring all of his writings to Switzerland. She quickly packed all of his fiction and poetry, including carbon copies that she could find and hurried off to Gare de Lyon train station. At the station, she got a porter to carry her luggage to the train compartment. During the very brief period when the bags were out of sight, the valise with the manuscripts was stolen.

So what did the thief do with the valise once he realized it only contained the scribblings of an unknown writer? Did he throw it into the Seine? Burn them? Hide them away in an attic? Or is there a more provocative and unforeseen twist? Of course, this is one of literatures great mysteries, these lost manuscripts of one of America’s greatest authors that today would be worth more than their weight in gold. But what if they did survive? Shaun Harris tackles this literary “what if” in his debut novel The Hemingway Thief.

Henry “Coop” Cooper is a successful but discontented romance novelist who is questioning the trajectory of his career. He yearns to become a serious writer and is in need of a jumpstart that will propel his literary credibility.

To clear his mind he’s taken refuge at a low budget beach resort in Baja, Mexico, where he befriends the motel’s eccentric owner, Grady Doyle. The duo soon become entangled in a deadly escapade involving the theft of Ernest Hemingway’s original manuscript to A Moveable Feast, a rare piece of literary history that reveals provocative and unpublished clues to the possible location of a suitcase which contains a treasure trove of the author’s early unpublished works that were stolen in 1922.
In this suspense filled and surprisingly humorous novel of cat and mouse, Coop and company trek across the cartel-laden Sierra Madre in a ramshackle RV in search of Hemingway’s fabled suitcase, finding themselves out of their element at every turn. For Coop this experience could become the storyline of a book of a lifetime . . . that is if he can live long enough to write it.

On a whole the plot construction of this south-of-the-border historical themed thriller was a little silly and occasionally confusing, although it most certainly was not predictable, which is always a pleasant surprise with a debut novel.

The story is filled with stereotypical crime thriller type characters, which is not a bad thing. The overall tone of sarcasm of the good guy protagonists Coop, Grady, and their cohorts (who are always ready with a witty wisecrack), reveal them to be more smart alecky than tough guys was a little bit over the top. Many readers will find the bloodthirstiness of antagonist, Newton Thandy, a conman, gunrunner, and rare book collector to be particularly unique and entertaining given that these “vocations” normally don’t coexist.

On a whole the narrative moves swiftly along and is filled with numerous comical and poignant pop culture references. The premise of the book is quite exceptional, a blend of literary history and suspense, mixed with a pinch of comedy, buddy adventure, and crime thriller. Overall, The Hemingway Thief is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone interested in an amusing crime thriller or anything relating to Ernest Hemingway.

Michael Thomas Barry is a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and is the author of seven nonfiction books. His most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. Michael is also a columnist for

The original review appeared at the New York Journal of Books website on July 18, 2016 and can be found at the following link: