Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review of The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness & Obsession

The blurb:
The world's most renowned Sherlock Holmes scholar, hot on the trail of a priceless cache of long-lost Arthur Conan Doyle papers is found garroted. Was he murdered?

A serial French importer pretends to be a missing American boy and is taken in by the boy's real family. Is he the perfect conman, or is he the one being conned?

In Texas a father is about to be executed for setting a fire that killed his children. But could he be innocent?

A Polish detective, while investigating a brutal slaying, stumbles upon a postmodern novel by a darling of the avant-garde. Does this book hold the key to solving the crime?

Sherlock Holmes once said that "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent." In that same spirit of curiosity and discovery, David Grann sets out to solve a dozen real-life mysteries in these hypnotic accounts. Whether he is reporting on the infiltration of U.S. prisons by the murderous Aryan Brotherhood, riding a cyclone-tossed skiff with a scientist in search of elusive giant squid, or descending into the secret world of sandhogs hundreds of feet below New York City, Grann explores the nature of obsession and those caught in its grip. The unforgettable characters display the full power, and ofthe the perversity, of the human spirit. The Devil and Sherlock Holmes is a gripping and supremely entertaining work -- a mosaic of ambition, deception, passion, and folly.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession is an unusual and fascinating collection of true stories. Each story is carefully researched and rich with detail.

We learn about:
  • Mysterious Circumstances: The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic Richard Lancelyn Green, the foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes, sought to find a missing collection Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's letters, diaries, and manuscripts. Before the papers are found, Green is found to have died in a mysterious fashion. Grann takes us to Green's life, his quest, his rivals, and the mystery of his death.
  • Trial by Fire: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Grann examines the case of Todd Willingham who was accused and convicted of having murdered his three daughters by arson. Decades after the fire, a scientific expert is able to determine what had caused the fire and to evaluate Willingham's guilt.
  • The Chameleon: The Many Lives of Frederic Bourdin Frederic Bourdin successfully adopts a variety of ages, professions, and nationalities - American, French, Spanish...
  • True Crime: A Post Modern Murder Mystery Described by the Polish press as "the perfect crime" the murder of a 35-year old businessman is linked to the graphic and shocking novel "Amok".
  • The Squid Hunter: Chasing the Sea's Most Elusive Creature Grann recounts man's encounters with and search for the Giant Squid from ancient times to today. From descriptions in the Bible to Roman encyclopedias and Homer's Odyssey, descriptions of giant squid are plentiful and encompass different continents. Grann accompanies Steve O'Shea, a marine biologist from New Zealand in his quest to capture and raise giant squid.
  • City of Water: Can an Antiquated Maze of Tunnels Continue to Sustain New York? Grann explores the caverns and tunnels over 600 feet underground to understand the system of waterways and pipelines that pump billions of gallons of water into New York City daily.
  • Giving "The Devil" His Due: The Death Squad Real-Estate Agent Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, known in Haiti as "the devil" had terrorized his countrymen with organized violence and mass murders. When Toto Constant forced out of power and facing criminal charges, he escaped to the United States. Toto Constant lived in the open in New York City, worked as a real estate agent and mingled with fellow Haitians despite the clamor for his arrest and execution. Grann interviews Constant, his American allies, and the Haitians who seek his imprisonment for his crimes - and paints a fascinating account of Toto Constant.
  • The Brand: The Rise of the Most Dangerous Prison Gang in America. I'm almost afraid to mention the Aryan Brotherhood, especially after reading about their organization, their methods, and their willingness to murder and maim with impunity. Based on interviews and research, Grann describes how the organization developed, expanded, and solidified its power base. The intricate methods of communication, the bloodthirsty acts of revenge, and the intentional intimidation have all built a terrifying organization of criminals with vast resources.
The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction certainly applies here. David Grann's carefully selected stories are intricate, complex and fascinating. These are stories that you'll read and want to share with those around you - whether to tell them about giant squids or the reach of the Aryan Brotherhood or the case of Todd Willingham, I am certain that this is a book that readers will want to recommend to friends and family. I recommend it highly myself to anyone with an interest in nonfiction, mysteries, or searching for something informative and fun to read.

ISBN-10: 0385517920 - Hardcover $26.95
Publisher: Doubleday (March 9, 2010), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author, courtesy of the publisher:
David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of the bestselling The Lost City of Z, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. His stories have appeared in many best American writing anthologies, and he has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Republic.

Want your own copy? Sign up for my giveaway - it ends on April 30.

A huge thank you to Judy and DoubleDay for my review copy and for sponsoring this giveaway!

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