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.