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Editorial Reviews

Michael Capuzzo’s The Murder Room is a dark and bloody scrapbook of some of America’s longest standing cases. A gripping experience, it also explains the rise of forensic science to the glamorous discipline now ubiquitous across network television. If the subject matter is disturbing, the treatment is undeniably glamorous, and the contrast between subject and treatment should make for queasy listening. Thankfully, Adam Grupper’s narration acts as a counterbalance to the sensational material: his measured delivery doesn’t dwell on the macabre details, nor does he relish the ghoulishness.

It is surprising how true the clichés of crime literature turn out to be. Here, for example, we have Richard Walter, the cerebral, classics-living forensic psychologist “obsessed with things that decent people were happiest not knowing about”. Frank Bender is his Dionysian opposite, a brilliant forensic artist whose clay models rescue vanished faces, yet whose unconventional private life is given a little too much attention by the clearly smitten author.

Capuzzo’s writing can be compared to contemporary crime masters such as Michael Connelly and Linda Fairstein. Like the forensic experts he chronicles, the author reanimates crimes long-since filed away through the power of his imaginative observations: moments before her death, a victim is “dreaming her thoughts into the bleak grey sky”. He is also good at the time-honored need to reframe senseless crimes through a metaphysical lens. Along the way, there are a few missteps: unhelpfully opaque sentences such as “His was a dark vision, the same one that made Machiavelli and Dostoevsky embittered men and geniuses for the ages,” and head-scratching assertions such as “In the modern media age, Bender was becoming better known in his time than Michelangelo was in his.” The listener will have to decide on his or her own where their level of comfort stands in relation to the license Capuzzo takes in dramatising events unknowable except to the dead and the deranged: it is an irony that a book concerned with establishing facts resorts to so much colorful conjecture.

Another challenge for the listener is the fragmented storytelling: the story dips in and out of several cases as they progress, and it can be a struggle to hold on to the narrative threads. But with barely a pause between each chapter, Grupper’s unfaltering narration drives the listener on through the grim accumulation of bodies. His restraint is his greatest attribute: his uninflected reading gives just enough space to let the true tragedy of each case come across all the more vividly, a respectful tribute to the victims of the crimes chronicled in this morbid yet engrossing book. —Dafydd Phillips

Publisher's Summary

Thrilling, true tales from the Vidocq Society, a team of the world's finest forensic investigators whose monthly gourmet lunches lead to justice in ice-cold murders.

Good friends and sometime rivals William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter—a renowned FBI agent turned private eye, a sculptor lothario who speaks to the dead, and an eccentric profiler known as “the living Sherlock Holmes”—were heartsick over the growing tide of unsolved murders of innocents. They decided one day over lunch that something had to be done, and pledged themselves to a grand quest for justice. The three men invited the greatest collection of forensic investigators ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to the Downtown Club in Philadelphia to begin an audacious quest: to bring the coldest killers in the world to an accounting. Named for the first modern detective, the Parisian Eugéne François Vidocq - the flamboyant Napoleonic real-life sleuth who inspired Sherlock Holmes - the Vidocq Society meets monthly in its secretive chambers to solve a cold murder over a gourmet lunch.

The Murder Room draws the listener into a chilling, darkly humorous, awe-inspiring world as the three partners travel far from their Victorian dining room to hunt the ruthless killers of a millionaire's son, a serial killer who carves off faces, and a child killer enjoying fifty years of freedom and dark fantasy.

Michael Capuzzo's brilliant storytelling gifts bring true crime to life more realistically and vividly than it has ever been portrayed before. It is a world of dazzlingly bright forensic science; true evil as old as the Bible and dark as the pages of Dostoevsky; and a group of flawed, passionate men and women, inspired by their own wounded hearts to make a stand for truth, goodness, and justice in a world gone mad.

©2010 Michael Capuzzo (P)2010 Simon and Schuster Audio

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Beware of staring into the abyss,it stares back

Normally I pass on true crime genre, and I wouldn't have pick this one if I hadn't heard a fascinating interview on NPR's Fresh Air featuring the author, Michael Capuzzo, forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter, and learning of the origins of the Vidocq Society. Capuzzo's work walks us through an American nightmare of psychopaths, sadists, killers, serial killers and more. There are names here we're familiar with from the news, and some we're only dimly aware of from myths, fairy tales, and from our nightmares. All of them true.This is not the typical true-crime drama or quickie csi adventure with neat solutions and families finding hope and closure at the end. Solutions are a long time in coming if at all.
Always gripping, I'd find it hard to describe this as entertainment. This is information disturbing and horrifying for the most part but there is also hope, thanks to the Society. This is knowledge that helps us discover what drives certain individuals; that informs us as to why some people do what they do,such as the members of the Vidocq Society who labor for the dead in order to provide them a voice,in many cases restores an identity,and provides the relief their families longs for.
At fourteen plus hours I found this excellent production much too short and immediately had to listen again. Initially I thought I would be put off by Adam Grupper's sharp, just-the-facts reading but seconds into the audio I found myself swept away into this history of the origins of expert crime analysis. His voice and intonations were perfect for this book.He would make an excellent Sherlock Holmes.This is a book for all the cynics and skeptics who, like I, long to find the goodness buried deep in the the human soul only to find ourselves horrified by the potential for the extreme evil that is buried in us all; that allows us to annililate each other in ways unimaginable, but still providing hope for those who've lost loved ones to murder.
This is an excellent find.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Guaranteed to Fascinate

This is one of the most engaging books I have read on crime in a long time. Capuzzo tells the origins and history of the Vidocq Society, a group of forensic experts who gather together once a month in Philadelphia to hear cold cases. These men and women work pro bono and have solved numerous crimes. The book focuses on the three founding members of the society: US Customs Agent William Fleisher, pre-eminent psychologist and profiler Richard Walter, and the brilliant forensic artist Frank Bender. These men have solved some of the most heinous crimes of the last 50 years.

The topic of the book is fascinating and the true life characters are very intriguing. Perhaps at times too intriguing. Capuzzo, an excellent writer, tends to rabbit trail a little too much and inserts a lot of material that makes the flow of the story choppy and hard to follow at times. Don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. I will give you one warning: this is not for the faint of hear. You have to understand that these men track down psychopaths. Some of the material is brutal. Capuzzo never revels in the horror, but he does describe it. If you want to believe that there are no bad people out there then avoid this book. You will encounter evil.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • M
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 10-24-12

Very disappointing

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The narrator was a significant drawback to my listening pleasure. His reading was flat and lacked emotion and interest. I just simply couldn't bear his droning on and on and on.

What could Michael Capuzzo have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Michael Capuzzo failed to make this story even remotely interesting. His style of switching back and forth between the Vicdocq meetings and the personal biographies of the three men who started the society was confusing and disjointed. The continuous references to Benders unconventional relationship with his wife and multiple mistresses did not advance my understanding of the narrative or did it contribute to the resolution of unsolved cases, ostensibly the purpose behind the book.

Would you be willing to try another one of Adam Grupper’s performances?


Any additional comments?

This book was a total waste of time. I hope that someone else covers the Vidocq society and crafts a more scholarly and interesting work. Thank goodness allows us to return books that were total dogs.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 10-18-10

The Vidocq

This is a book about the Vidocq Society that seeks to solve cold cold crime cases. It is a series of stories relating the group's efforts in solving particular crimes. It is informative and interesting. The writing is good and the narration is very good. The chapters are a little disjointed for my taste and the "solutions" to the crimes always seem to be right on for the society. On the other hand, the book is entertaining and worth the time - particularly if you are looking for an interesting diversion in a commute.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Todd
  • Ludington, MI, United States
  • 08-21-12

A True blue Secret Society

What did you love best about The Murder Room?

I had never heard of Vidocq Society until I listened to the this book! It was unbelievable that a group of detectives existed without society really knowing anything about them and yet they do what they without any fanfare!

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Murder Room?

I loved listening to narrator discuss Richard Walter go after the bad guys! I wouldn't buy any "Green Bananas" is such a great quote! But his Cold Read of a Photo in front of Scotland Yard was Brillant

Have you listened to any of Adam Grupper’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Not yet, but I would! His voice and inflections were EXCELLENT

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

If you think you can get away with Murder! Think again!

Any additional comments?

This was my Favorite Audio book EVER! Great Story! Great Narrator, Great True Crime!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Dan
  • Perrysburg, OH, United States
  • 04-28-12

The Absence of Intrigue

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo is demonstrative of the unfortunate trend in mystery writing in which a few somewhat shocking events replace the experience of intrigue. The word "somewhat" can be consistently applied to this literary effort. The characters are somewhat developed. The story is somewhat developed. The reader remains in a permanent state of waiting to engage in something substantial and memorable. At no time did this reader feel an emotional or even an intellectual connection with any of the characters. The work is mechanical and does encorage personal investment by the reader. -Dan Boos

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The premise of story demonstrated great potential.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

Added intrigue! Further developed the characters. Engaged the reader.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?


Any additional comments?

The story does not draw-in the reader. At no time did I feel that I was experiencing anything beyond a exercise in reading.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Griffith, IN, United States
  • 08-19-10

One of the greatest crime stories ever!

If you like crime fiction, then this non-fiction will blow you away. It reads like a novel. The insights in to crime and the criminal mind make this a must listen. 5 stars all the way.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Aaron
  • Federal Way, WA, United States
  • 12-23-10

90% Hero worship, 10% documentary

Maybe I read the book's description wrong the moment before I bought this, but (from what I understood) this was meant to be an inside look on how top professionals in the crime-solving industry approach their craft to answer tough quesitons/crimes. What comes off instead is a continual (a quickly irritating) reiteration of 'how awesome' these people are, with no in-depth look at how these individuals come to the conclusion they make or why. If a chapter isn't going into how gruesome a crime is, it's basically over-inflating its protagonists (aka the VD society) to be these larger-then-life individuals, and then spends the remaining few minutes to say that the crime is suddenly solved. I didn't know there were so many ways to reiterate how supposedly, awesome, a certain person could be but Capuzzo takes it to a whole new level. In short, if you're looking for an insightful, objectie look into how modern-day crime-solvers are able to handle their craft, this IS NOT that novel. If you're looking for something that borders (perphaps even crosses into) just plain criminal fiction that is hyped up, then give this book a read, but for myself it was a pretty big disappointment almost from the gecko.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

I fell in love with the characters, who would seem over the top in a work of fiction.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

real life forensics

I was captivated from the first page. We meet the Vidocq Society: the world's leading forensic experts and detectives. Meet the living Sherlock Holmes, Richard Walter, the brilliant and eccentric forensic artist Frank Bender and William Lynn Fleisher of the US Customs learn why and how they became among the very best in the world at catching murderers. The Vidocq Society only undertakes cold cases, and murders. Author Michael Capuzzo explains "When the world breaks and needs fixing, the thing to do is find the right three men."

1 of 1 people found this review helpful