Some of you might remember one of my Library Loot postings in which I mentioned my desire to read David Grann’s 2010 book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession after seeing the author interviewed on the Charlie Rose show. Even though I was successful in finding Grann’s book at my public library, I’m embarrassed to say that it took my almost two months to finally start reading it. Fortunately, once I did I ripped through it in what felt like no time at all. If you like reading high-quality and in-depth nonfiction pieces one might find in magazines like The New Yorker or the The Atlantic, then Grann’s book is for you.
From what I can tell, most if not all of the pieces features in this collection originally appeared in The New Yorker, with two-thirds of them dealing with crime-related matters. Even though I don’t consider myself a big true crime aficionado, it was these stories which I liked the most. His expose of the surprisingly corrupt city of Youngstown, Ohio I found particularly fascinating, as well as his piece on the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. I think his most memorable selections happened to be those which were in-depth pieces about one particular individual, whether it be a serial imposter, an aging stick-up man or Haitian émigré linked to human rights abuses. In my opinion, Grann’s most fascinating one, “Trial by Fire”, told the story of a Texas father who, after losing his two young children in a house fire, is later charged with their murders, found guilty and executed. Based on information presented by Grann, because of the prosecution’s complete misuse of science (not to mention the defendant’s incompetent defense attorney) in all likelihood an innocent man was executed. Of the non-crime stories, I enjoyed Grann’s piece on New York City’s vast underground aqueduct as well his chapter on one man’s quest to capture a giant squid.
Last month I posted a review of Jonathan Fenby’s Dealing with the Dragon. In my review, I wrote that Fenby’s book was one of books “you could spend reading on a quiet winter’s eve, with a glass of your beverage of choice by your side as you idle the hours away.” Enjoyable to read and with no shortage of substance, I’m thinking Grann’s book could easily be placed in the same category.