From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro
I have up to now thoroughly enjoyed historical fiction, yet sometimes they have a tendency to drag just a bit. While I had been excited to discover this book, and even while the beginning did hook me, I found about midway that I was losing interest and simply wanted to finish the book so as to see how it would end, the whodunit, as it were. To be quite honest, I am still a little dismayed at the verdict.
The book begins even before the contents page with a reproduction of an ad from the newspaper seeking information on missing persons. The murder of the century (the 19th to be exact) begins with the discovery of body parts found along the East River, and then a frantic search for the identity of the body. All possible identifying marks have been removed from the torso. There were no witnesses and dozens of false identifications. What I found most interesting is the way in which the police have to go about identifying the body and piecing together this mystery going on almost no evidence, and no head. It’s 1897, so there is no fingerprint database; forensics was in its infancy, and without a figurative smoking gun, they have almost no leads.
Besides the murder, there is also the story of the newspaper wars. While we may think that the sensationalization of murder and crime and the subsequent fame of the perpetrators by the media of our society are relatively new phenomena, in fact these are things that have been happening for some time now. The warring newspapers knocked each other over to get at this story. In fact, most times it was the help of the journalists that moved the investigation along. They were often first to discover some new lead or evidence. They were trying everything and anything to be first at the scoop, including using carrier pigeons during trial and wiring the courtroom to the printing press to instantly relay stories to get them out first. The trial took place every day to a full house, with even more curious onlookers waiting outside. People were fascinated with it, with the defendants, curious about them to the point of admiration. They literally had fans! The people could not get enough and the newspapers were catering to it.
One of the things that the reader may have to do, as I did, is to make a list of characters. There are so many detectives, captains, journalists, and their respective newspapers, and other characters to keep up with. It was a lot to remember.
While the trial comes down to two defendants, both pointing the finger at the other, we are left to wonder, “So who did do it?” I felt that by the end of the book that justice was in fact not done. I still had questions. Was it in fact the lover of Augusta Nack? Did they do it together? Or was Mrs. Nack herself alone the murderess? Was the right person punished?
Not a bad book overall, though it did not get great critical reviews, just not the best I have read in the true crime genre. 3.5/ 5