Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
The real focus of this book is New York City at the turn of the 20th century. A ghastly crime and the ensuing investigation, trial and denouement serve as the occasion for the narrative, but the book uses these central events to immerse the reader in a very wide ranging evocation of the time and place. As melodramatic as many of the events and details may be, in the end this is a piece of well researched cultural history which gives one the sense of being set down in the middle of the chaos, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the swirling energy at the vortex of American turn-of-the-century dynamism.
This New York has spawned a gaggle of newspapers engaged in a cutthroat struggle for survival. It is a rich, bubbling brew of newly arrived European immigrants finding their place in a brash society which has just gotten a grip on its confidence and is changing at the speed of avaricious inspiration. It is a time when trial reports are transmitted to anxious newsrooms by both telephone and carrier pigeon. Scientific "experts" are finding their way onto witness stands, and American jurisprudence is celebrating its first superstar criminal attorneys. In short, this is an extremely interesting city!
If you are looking for a gripping true crime investigation, penetrating character studies or a probing examination of the newspaper wars, you will be somewhat disappointed. If you would be delighted to be delivered by time-machine to a fascinating city where a diver in a newfangled helmet is searching the bottom of the river for a severed head and where the grisly aspects of the recently introduced and quite inefficient electric chair are being hotly debated, this may be your cup of tea.
I found William Dufris' narration to be a bit labored and overwrought, perhaps in keeping with the lurid nature of some of the content. Still I would recommend the book to anyone who will enjoy a colorful and detailed glimpse of a moment in history.