The Feather Thief by Kirk W. Johnson

The Feather ThiefNon-fiction books are a wonderful way to learn more about the world and the people who live in it.  In The Feather Thief, I learnt more than I thought was possible about the world of fly-fishing, or more specifically fly-tiers who have a passion for Victorian fly tying designs and a commitment to recreating them.

It’s a passion that led to one man, Edwin Rist, breaking into the British Natural History Museum and steal over 200 rare birds specimens.  Scientists consider the specimens priceless.  And, while Rist said that the theft had nothing to do with money and was all about his art, he ended up making thousands of pounds from the brightly coloured feathers he harvested and sold on.

A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson

23510407On 7 November 1974, a nanny named Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death in a Belgravia basement. A second woman, Veronica, Countess of Lucan, was also attacked. The man named in court as perpetrator of these crimes, Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, disappeared in the early hours of the following morning. The case, solved in the eyes of the law, has retained its fascination ever since.

Maybe it’s being a child of the 70’s but I have always been slightly fascinated by Lord Lucan and the fact that he disappeared so completely after so obviously (or so I thought) killing his nanny when he meant to be killing his wife.  Maybe it’s that his name still appears in the papers, magazines and books regularly as people try and figure out just where he went after that fateful night.

Whatever the reason for my fascination I’ve never not read an article I’ve come across but till now I’ve never read a book on the subject.  So, when I came across this at the local library and given my recent interest in reading true crime books I thought I would give it a go.  I can’t say it was the best decision I have ever made, though I did learn some interesting facts about Lord Lucan and understood a little more about him and his wife by the end of the book.

Why wasn’t it the best decision?  Because the book is long, it is overly wordy and it flits around so much that I struggled to keep the story straight in my head.  Tales of Lord Lucans of the past and their own misdeeds are woven throughout – this was confusing and, at times, didn’t seem to easily link back to the period in which the Lucan I was interested in way living or his actions (though I think that was the point).

It doesn’t help that Thompson uses language that is academic at times before slipping into a conversational tone and then back again.  Her sentences can be long and I found I was re-reading some passages just to understand exactly what she was saying…and when I did understand I’m not sure I exactly got the point.  It felt like she had so many facts, so much detail, had done so much research that she was determined to get everything in regardless.  A 100 pages shorter and this book might have been a lot more interesting.

The final thing that frustrated me is that, whilst I didn’t expect to get any closer to the answer, Thompson seems to have her own opinion on what happened but doesn’t want to just come out and say it so she skirts around it.  I wanted to either be presented with the facts to make my own decision or be presented with a scenario, an argument that I could either agree or disagree with.  I got neither.

It isn’t all bad, like I said, I did find out some things about Lucan I wasn’t aware of before and I did get a feel for the life he and his friends were living – one outside of that most people were living at the time – but it just feels like it could have been so much better.  A shame but I was left feeling deflated by the book and disappointed – not for me.

Emma

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

imageIn May 2010, 24 year old Shannan Gilbert went missing. Despite a frantic call to 911, police were slow to respond, possibly because Shannan was an escort and so – it could be assumed – not worth the police’s time.

After ongoing pressure from her family, a search was finally carried out. Shannon wasn’t found…but the bodies of four other women were, all just skeletons and all carefully wrapped in burlap.

The bodies were Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello. All were escorts, prostitues who met their clients through Craigslist. And all had been missing for months or years.

Long Island, it seemed, had a serial killer. One whose body count grew as more and more bodies were found (11 in total) whilst police seemed incapable of making progress or making an arrest. This despite some questionable behaviour by residents of the gated community alongside where the bodies were found.

Robert Kolker tells the story from when Shannan went missing to a conclusion that isn’t a conclusion because the killer has still not being found. He opens, though, with each dead girls life, taking you back to where they were born, how they were raised, who their families were. And how they ended up as escorts.

They are incredibly detailed and touching portraits. Kolker does a great job of getting you to see beyond the label of prostitute and understand what drove each woman and see how she ended up where she ended up. Theirs are story of foster care gone wrong, abuse, family breakdown but also a desire to make more of themselves, to earn enough money to help themselves, get an education, care for their family.

Theirs are not stories that should be ignored. And yet, they were because of who they were. Which is the other part of this book. It shines the light on how the police failed to investigate properly, how they didn’t take family and friends who filed missing person reports seriously, who ignored 911 calls and lost time finding vital clues. It is shocking and sad. And it wouldn’t have happened if these women hadn’t been prostitutes.

I don’t normally read true crime but this caught my eye at the library. The stories of the women drew me in. The who-dunit element kept me reading. Kilmer approaches it with his journalistic eye and writes in a clear, journalistic, style. It worked, though it didn’t mean it was without emotion. It was – sad and tragic and frustrating in equal measures. For a horrid subject, I enjoyed reading it and felt I learnt a lot about a case I knew nothing about. For those who like true crime, this would be a recommended read.

emma