THE MURDER ROOM

Written by Michael Capuzzo

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.


THE MURDER ROOM
Michael Joseph
RRP: £7.99
Released: 16th August 2011
Pbk

This is a terrific study of determination and obstinacy. It is also an antidote for the crime novel enthusiast who sometimes wonders why so much ink is spilled on the process of killing and so much less on the process of investigating.

The Murder Room is 20-year to date story of the Vidocq Society, founded in  Philadelphia triumvirate of super sleuths. They are Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist, police officer William Fleisher and the most exotic profession of the three facial reconstruction specialist Frank Bender, who also sees dead people, according to Capuzzo.  The three are like a super-group, the Travelling Wilburys of the detecting world.

Capuzzo’s art is to weave the stories of some of their higher profile resolved cases with the men’s personal stories, all of this around the stories of some of the people who joined Vidocq over the years.

Each of the cases would merit (and in some cases has merited) its own book. All related to murders in the United States, they are some of the eeriest and often most vile examples of late 20th century American Gothic . One awful story is that of Marie Noe, from Philadelphia, mother to eight children who succumbed to “cot death” over a 19-year period. Brought to the Vidocq Society by writer Stephen Fried, the case had been dormant for thirty years.  It would be unfair to reveal how the case was ultimately resolved but those eight deaths did not result from an odds-defying curse on the Noes.

Another chilling case reviewed by the Vidocq team was that of Scott Dunn, a young man killed in Texas. Again revealing the outcome would be unfair to Capuzzo and his readers but the black widow prototype from that case shows a potential for darkness in the female psyche that is beyond terrifying.

But the most heartbreaking case is surely that of the Boy in the Box whose battered body was first found in 1957. It was one of the impetuses behind the creation of Vidocq and illustrates the compassion of the men and their fellow members.

Fleisher, Walter and Bender are deftly brought to life with journalistic skill – there is not too much detail on their personal lives or foibles but enough to keep one rooting for them.

One minor quibble in that Murder Room is surely both an interesting read that could double as a research tool. While the bibliography is extensive, there is no alphabetical index of cases or victims. Not a huge problem for the casual reader but problematic for anyone using The Murder Room as a research tool.  But otherwise, this is  a great read for anybody interested in the work of these men and their cold eyes for evil and/or the cold cases they refused to let fade away.

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