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

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

by David Grann


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Features “Trial by Fire,” the basis for the true crime major motion picture starring Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern, Emily Meade and Jeff Perry 

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon comes this “gripping” (The Miami Herald) and “hilarious” (EW) collection of real-life mysteries about people whose obsessions propel them into unfathomable and often deadly circumstances.

Whether David Grann is investigating a mysterious murder, tracking a chameleon-like con artist, or hunting an elusive giant squid, he has proven to be one of the most gifted reporters and storytellers of his generation. In The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, Grann takes the reader around the world, revealing a gallery of rogues and heroes with their own particular fixations who show that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307275905
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/11/2011
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 113,535
Product dimensions: 5.14(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the bestselling author of The Lost City of Z, which has been translated into more than twenty languages. His stories have appeared in many anthologies of the best American writing, and he has written for The New York Times MagazineThe AtlanticThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic

Read an Excerpt

Mysterious Circumstances

Richard Lancelyn Green, the world’s foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes, believed that he had finally solved the case of the missing papers. Over the past two decades, he had been looking for a trove of letters, diary entries, and manuscripts written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Holmes. The archive was estimated to be worth nearly four million dollars, and was said by some to carry a deadly curse, like the one in the most famous Holmes story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

The papers had disappeared after Conan Doyle died, in 1930, and without them no one had been able to write a definitive biography—a task that Green was determined to complete. Many scholars feared that the archive had been discarded or destroyed; as the London Times noted, its whereabouts had become “a mystery as tantalizing as any to unfold at 221B Baker Street,” the fictional den of Holmes and his fellow-sleuth, Dr. Watson.

Not long after Green launched his investigation, he discovered that one of Conan Doyle’s five children, Adrian, had, with the other heirs’ agreement, stashed the papers in a locked room of a château that he owned in Switzerland. Green then learned that Adrian had spirited some of the papers out of the château without his siblings’ knowledge, hoping to sell them to collectors. In the midst of this scheme, he died of a heart attack—giving rise to the legend of the curse. After Adrian’s death, the papers apparently vanished. And whenever Green tried to probe further he found himself caught in an impenetrable web of heirs—including a self-styled Russian princess—who seemed to have deceived and double-crossed one another in their efforts to control the archive.

For years, Green continued to sort through evidence and interview relatives, until one day the muddled trail led to London—and the doorstep of Jean Conan Doyle, the youngest of the author’s children. Tall and elegant, with silver hair, she was an imposing woman in her late sixties. (“Something very strong and forceful seems to be at the back of that wee body,” her father had written of Jean when she was five. “Her will is tremendous.”) Whereas her brother Adrian had been kicked out of the British Navy for insubordination, and her elder brother Denis was a playboy who had sat out the Second World War in America, she had become an officer in the Royal Air Force, and was honored, in 1963, as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

She invited Green into her flat, where a portrait of her father, with his walrus mustache, hung near the fireplace. Green had almost as great an interest in her father as she did, and she began sharing her memories, as well as family photographs. She asked him to return, and one day, Green later told friends, she showed him some boxes that had been stored in a London solicitor’s office. Peering inside them, he said, he had glimpsed part of the archive. Dame Jean informed him that, because of an ongoing family dispute, she couldn’t yet allow him to read the papers, but she said that she intended to bequeath nearly all of them to the British Library, so that scholars could finally examine them. After she died, in 1997, Green eagerly awaited their transfer—but nothing happened.

Then, in March, 2004, Green opened the London Sunday Times and was shocked to read that the lost archive had “turned up” at Christie’s auction house and was to be sold, in May, for millions of dollars by three of Conan Doyle’s distant relatives; instead of going to the British Library, the contents would be scattered among private collectors around the world, who might keep them inaccessible to scholars. Green was sure that a mistake had been made, and hurried to Christie’s to inspect the materials. Upon his return, he told friends that he was certain that many of the papers were the same as those he had uncovered. What’s more, he alleged, they had been stolen—and he had proof.

Over the next few days, he approached members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, one of hundreds of fan clubs devoted to the detective. (Green had once been chairman.) He alerted other so-called Sherlockians, including various American members of the Baker Street Irregulars, an invitation-only group that was founded in 1934 and named after the street urchins Holmes regularly employed to ferret out information. Green also contacted the more orthodox scholars of Conan Doyle, or Doyleans, about the sale. (Unlike Green, who moved between the two camps, many Doyleans distanced themselves from the Sherlockians, who often treated Holmes as if he were a real detective and refused to mention Conan Doyle by name.)

Green shared with these scholars what he knew about the archive’s provenance, revealing what he considered the most damning piece of evidence: a copy of Dame Jean’s will, which stated, “I give to The British Library all . . . my late father’s original papers, personal manuscripts, diaries, engagement books, and writings.” Determined to block the auction, the makeshift group of amateur sleuths presented its case to Members of Parliament. Toward the end of the month, as the group’s campaign intensified and its objections appeared in the press, Green hinted to his sister, Priscilla West, that someone was threatening him. Later, he sent her a cryptic note containing three phone numbers and the message “please keep these numbers safe.” He also called a reporter from the London Times, warning that “something” might happen to him.

On the night of Friday, March 26th, he had dinner with a longtime friend, Lawrence Keen, who later said that Green had confided in him that “an American was trying to bring him down.” After the two men left the restaurant, Green told Keen that they were being followed, and pointed to a car behind them.

The same evening, Priscilla West phoned her brother, and got his answering machine. She called repeatedly the next morning, but he still didn’t pick up. Alarmed, she went to his house and knocked on the door; there was no response. After several more attempts, she called the police, who came and broke open the entrance. Downstairs, the police found the body of Green lying on his bed, surrounded by Sherlock Holmes books and posters, with a cord wrapped around his neck. He had been garroted.

“I will lay out the whole case for you,” John Gibson, one of Green’s closest friends, told me when I phoned him shortly after learning of Green’s death. Gibson had written several books with Green, including “My Evening with Sherlock Holmes,” a 1981 collection of parodies and pastiches of the detective stories. With a slight stammer, Gibson said of his friend’s death, “It’s a complete and utter mystery.”

Not long after, I travelled to Great Bookham, a village thirty miles south of London, where Gibson lives. He was waiting for me when I stepped off the train. He was tall and rail-thin, and everything about him—narrow shoulders, long face, unruly gray hair—seemed to slouch forward, as if he were supported by an invisible cane. “I have a file for you,” he said, as we drove off in his car. “As you’ll see, there are plenty of clues and not a lot of answers.”

He sped through town, past a twelfth-century stone church and a row of cottages, until he stopped at a red brick house surrounded by hedges. “You don’t mind dogs, I hope,” he said. “I’ve two cocker spaniels. I only wanted one but the person I got them from said that they were inseparable, and so I took them both and they’ve been fighting ever since.”

When he opened the front door, both spaniels leaped on us, then at each other. They trailed us into the living room, which was filled with piles of antique books, some reaching to the ceiling. Among the stacks was a near-complete set of The Strand Magazine, in which the Holmes stories were serialized at the turn of the twentieth century; a single issue, which used to sell for half a shilling, is now worth as much as five hundred dollars. “Altogether, there must be about sixty thousand books,” Gibson said.

We sat on a couch and he opened his case file, carefully spreading the pages around him. “All right, dogs. Don’t disturb us,” he said. He looked up at me. “Now I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Gibson said that he had attended the coroner’s inquest and taken careful notes, and as he spoke he picked up a magnifying glass beside him and peered through it at several crumpled pieces of paper. “I write everything on scraps,” he said. The police, he said, had found only a few unusual things at the scene. There was the cord around Green’s neck—a black shoelace. There was a wooden spoon near his hand, and several stuffed animals on the bed. And there was a partially empty bottle of gin.

The police found no sign of forced entry and assumed that Green had committed suicide. Yet there was no note, and Sir Colin Berry, the president of the British Academy of Forensic Sciences, testified to the coroner that, in his thirty-year career, he had seen only one suicide by garroting. “One,” Gibson repeated. Self-garroting is extremely difficult to do, he explained; people who attempt it typically pass out before they are asphyxiated. Moreover, in this instance, the cord was not a thick rope but a shoelace, making the feat even more unlikely.

Gibson reached into his file and handed me a sheet of paper with numbers on it. “Take a look,” he said. “My phone records.” The records showed that he and Green had spoken repeatedly during the week before his death; if the police had bothered to obtain Green’s records, Gibson went on, they would no doubt show that Green had called him only hours before he died. “I was probably the last person to speak to him,” he said. The police, however, had never questioned him.

During one of their last conversations about the auction, Gibson recalled, Green had said he was afraid of something.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Gibson told him.

“No, I’m worried,” Green said.

“What? You fear for your life?”

“I do.”

Gibson said that, at the time, he didn’t take the threat seriously but advised Green not to answer his door unless he was sure who it was.

Gibson glanced at his notes. There was something else, he said, something critical. On the eve of his death, he reminded me, Green had spoken to his friend Keen about an “American” who was trying to ruin him. The following day, Gibson said, he had called Green’s house and heard a strange greeting on the answering machine. “Instead of getting Richard’s voice in this sort of Oxford accent, which had been on the machine for a decade,” Gibson recalled, “I got an American voice that said, ‘Sorry, not available.’ I said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I thought I must’ve dialled the wrong number. So I dialled really slowly again. I got the American voice. I said, ‘Christ almighty.’ ”

Gibson said that Green’s sister had heard the same recorded greeting, which was one reason that she had rushed to his house. Reaching into his file, Gibson handed me several more documents. “Make sure you keep them in chronological order,” he said. There was a copy of Jean Conan Doyle’s will, several newspaper clippings on the auction, an obituary, and a Christie’s catalogue.

That was pretty much all he had. The police, Gibson said, had not conducted any forensic tests or looked for fingerprints. And the coroner—who had once attended a meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society to conduct a mock inquest of the murder from a Conan Doyle story in which a corpse is discovered in a locked room—found himself stymied. Gibson said that the coroner had noted that there was not enough evidence to ascertain what had happened, and, as a result, the official verdict regarding whether Green had killed himself or been murdered was left open.

Within hours of Green’s death, Sherlockians seized upon the mystery, as if it were another case in the canon. In a Web chat room, one person, who called himself “inspector,” wrote, “As for self-garroting, it is like trying to choke oneself to death by your own hands.” Others invoked the “curse,” as if only the supernatural could explain it. Gibson handed me an article from a British tabloid that was headlined “ ‘curse of conan doyle’ strikes holmes expert.”

“So what do you think?” Gibson asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said.

Later, we went through the evidence again. I asked Gibson if he knew whose phone numbers were on the note that Green had sent to his sister.

Gibson shook his head. “It hadn’t come up at the inquest,” he said.

“What about the American voice on the answering machine?” I asked. “Do we know who that is?”

“Unfortunately, not a clue. To me that’s the strangest and most telling piece of evidence. Did Richard put that on his machine? What was he trying to tell us? Did the murderer put it there? And, if so, why would he do that?”

I asked if Green had ever displayed any irrational behavior. “No, never,” he said. “He was the most levelheaded man I ever met.”

He noted that Priscilla West had testified at the inquest that her brother had no history of depression. Indeed, Green’s physician wrote to the court to say that he had not treated Green for any illnesses for a decade.

“One last question,” I said. “Was anything taken out of the apartment?”

“Not that we know of. Richard had a valuable collection of Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle books, and nothing appears to be missing.”

As Gibson drove me back to the train station, he said, “Please, you must stay on the case. The police seem to have let poor Richard down.” Then he advised, “As Sherlock Holmes says, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ”

Some facts about Richard Green are easy to discern—those which illuminate the circumstances of his life, rather than the circumstances of his death. He was born on July 10, 1953; he was the youngest of three children; his father was Roger Lancelyn Green, a best-selling children’s author who popularized the Homeric myths and the legend of King Arthur, and who was a close friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien; and Richard was raised near Liverpool, on land that had been given to his ancestors in 1093, and where his family had resided ever since.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was the American consul in Liverpool in the eighteen-fifties, visited the house one summer, and he later described it in his “English Notebooks”:

We passed through a considerable extent of private road, and finally drove through a lawn, shaded with trees, and closely shaven, and reached the door of Poulton Hall. Part of the mansion is three or four hundred years old. . . . There is [a] curious, old, stately staircase, with a twisted balustrade, much like that of the old Province House in Boston. The drawing-room looks like a very handsome modern room, being beautifully painted, gilded, and paper-hung, with a white-marble fire- place, and rich furniture; so that the impression is that of newness, not of age.

By the time Richard was born, however, the Green family was, as one relative told me, “very English—a big house and no money.” The curtains were thin, the carpets were threadbare, and a cold draft often swirled through the corridors.

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Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
David Grann, the author of "The Lost City of Z", has brought us a collection of true stories he has researched. Ranging from the apparent murder of the foremost scholar of Arthur Conan Doyle and his stories of Sherlock Holmes, to the rise of the Aryan Brotherhood throughout the U. S. prison system. We are fascinated by the story of a New York firefighter who was the soul survivor from his ladder company on Sept 11, yet due to a head trauma, he has no first hand memory of what occurred that day and is haunted by self doubt and survivor's guilt. These and many other fascinating stories comprise this excellent book. Mr Grann writes with an easy flowing style that gently moves you through stories of hope and hazard, crime and punishment. Some of his subjects are winning and sympathetic, while others will make you question man's humanity.
gl More than 1 year ago
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 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.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
David Grann has taken a collection of stories that he had written for The New York, put them all together and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes was born. I liked the fact that these stories were based on true events and real people, but after the first story, "The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic", I wasn't thrilled by what I read. "The Chameleon" held some interest, but overall this collection was just okay.
readeranna More than 1 year ago
Some stories were great, interesting, mind-boggling... but others were just so-so, and one I never even finished reading. He is a great journalist though and I look forward to his next work!
keywestnan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific collection of nonfiction pieces from Grann's magazine work -- 9 of the 12 appeared in The New Yorker. They're all great tales, most of them about obsessives. You can see how Grann got interested in explorer Percy Fawcett and the people who tried to figure out what happened to him, subject of Grann's excellent 2009 book "The Lost City of Z." There are a number of chilling incidents and characters in this book but the one that stands out, for me, is the account of a Texas arson case where it appears quite likely that an innocent man was executed on charges that he murdered his daughters. That's chilling enough but what really creeped me out was learning 1) That Antonin Scalia believes we've never executed an innocent person and 2) Arson investigation is far from the scientific and fact-grounded field I, for one, had assumed it was. Great reads, though, and not all quite so scary. It's wonderful to see long form journalism done so well; I hope Grann writes a lot more magazine articles and books in his career.
dk_phoenix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is one to be read slowly... savored, piece by piece, story by story, until you find yourself so in awe of the discoveries Grann made during the course of his research that you truly wonder where the line between fiction and real life begins.There are twelve tales in this book, all true stories. The narrative is clear and readable, but the subject matter is what will really have your jaw dropping: Hunting the giant squid; investigation into the thousands of miles long network of underground tunnels in New York that really exist and which may literally collapse at any moment; the infiltration of the Aryan Brotherhood into the U.S. prison system; and more.If ever there was proof that truth is stranger than fiction, this collection is it. I'll admit that I enjoyed the stories in the first half of the book more than the second, but I think that might have been personal preference. I've gone on to recommend this to numerous people since reading it, and I plan to re-read it sometime soon simply because the stories were so fascinating that I bet I'll get even more out of it on a second run through.I had no idea what I was getting into when I received this book... but if this is indicative of Grann's journalistic abilities, I hope he has a long and very lucrative career! He definitely knows how to chase down a story... and how to tell it, too.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: I loved David Grann's debut book "The Lost City of Z" and really wanted to read this when I heard about it.An extremely interesting book on a variety of different topics. A collection of previously published articles mainly from "The New Yorker" magazine, with three being from other magazines. These are investigative journalism where the author goes out to meet the people involved, shadow them as they go about their business, and interviews criminals in jail, in search of the truth behind a mystery that has never been solved or never quite to satisfaction or just why somebody would do what they do. It makes very fascinating reading. Each article gives a small one liner to let you know the topic of the article and to me personally, some of them I was eager to read, while others didn't seem like they'd be my cup of tea.However, out of the twelve stories there was only one I didn't enjoy and that was one that was about a baseball player and the game. I don't like sports and that story just had nothing else to offer so for me it was a dud. Otherwise, whether I initially thought the subject would interest me or not, I was fascinated with the remaining eleven articles. Even one which is about the old water tunnel system below New York City and the building of the third tunnel. Sounds like something engineering folks might like but I was fascinated with the history of the building of the tunnels which have been worked on since the early 1900s, the dangers, and the personal stories of the men who work down there, often generations of the same family. Other stories include the mysterious murder of a famous Sherlock Holmes scholar, a Frenchman who serially poses as orphaned teenage boys, trying to track down the truth of a man about to be executed for murdering his children who swears he is innocent, a man who was obsessed with capturing the first live giant squid, and the life story of a stick-up man who committed his last robbery at age 79 but who enjoyed escaping from prison more than committing the crimes, and so on.The mysteries and murders I was immediately pulled into, knowing I'd enjoyed those stories. But even the first couple that made me wonder whether they'd be my thing also pulled me in quickly as David Grann is a wonderful writer. From that point on I was eager to read each and every story. He gets up close and personal with his subject; he follows the people he is writing about and he gets in there with them doing the things they do (or standing beside them, watching) and explaining how he feels. He's been in more than one situation where he's admitted that he was scared. He can also pick up on all the different angles of a story so that no matter where a reader's interests lie they will find an angle that interests them. Most of the stories were riveting, the rest were very interesting, and, for me, I struck out with the baseball story. (There just was nowhere else Grann could go with that one and I realise that.)I read the book slowly. Reading one story a night, taking the time to savour and appreciate each story. David Grann is certainly a talented writer who has a way with engaging his reader, and I do hope he is currently working on another book length story for us.
FionaRobynIngram on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review is from: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession (Hardcover) Inspired by a review on Galleycat, and being a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes, I purchased this book with eager anticipation. I have mixed feelings about it because I really did want more of Sherlock Homes. Only the first story deals with the famous detective, but I already knew that from the review I'd read. However, the book is riveting adventure reading. An acclaimed New Yorker staff writer, David Grann does not disappoint when it comes to giving the reader electrifying reading material. This is a magnificent collection of spellbinding true stories about murder, madness, and the kind of obsession that grips the human psyche. Sherlock Holmes once said that "life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent." David Grann leads the investigation in a true spirit of discovery as he sets out to solve a dozen real-life mysteries. The stories are unforgettable, as are the true characters that populate them. Entertaining and compelling!
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
and now for something completely different. I've had my eye on this book ever since I learned that it was going to be published, and probably pre-ordered it months ago. The author, David Grann, is the author of Lost City of Z, one of my all-time favorite books. Grann isn't a novelist, but rather he writes wonderful essays, and has been featured in the New Yorker. So you should assume immediately that this book isn't going to be another Sherlock Holmes pastiche, because it's not. Instead, it's a book of essays, but don't let that put you off. It is absolutely delightful.Grann has this thing about people who are absolutely obsessed about what they do, a fact you already know if you've read his splendid Lost City of Z. In this book, he takes his readers on a journey through a dozen different profiles, all completely true, all dealing with different types of obsessions. You have to admire his ingenuity in picking such different cases, yet having them all tie together so wonderfully. Structured in three parts, all headed by quotations from various Sherlock Holmes stories, the first section is subtitled "Any Truth is Better Than Infinite Doubt." Here's the guy whose lifelong ambition was to write the ultimate and the definitive biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. After there was a dispute over some of Sir Arthur's papers, the subject of this essay was found dead under some murky circumstances. Was it murder or suicide? Then there's the incredibly sad and horrifying case of the Texas man who may or may not have set his own home on fire, killing his children, and who may have paid the ultimate price due to the zealousness of certain arson investigators. The third entry in this section is the odd story of a French man that reads along the lines of Tey's Brat Farrar or even the movie "The Changeling," leading into the strange account of a man who may or may not have been guilty of murder, based on a book he wrote. Finally, there's the story of a firefighter who lost all memory of what happened to him on 9/11 as his unit went into the towers before they collapsed.Part Two, entitled "A Strange Enigma is Man," contains four stories: one about one man's obsession with giant squids, one about the Sandhogs deep under the streets of New York City, one about a man whose life was spent as a criminal, and the fourth relating to why a championship baseball player won't give up. Part Three, "All that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe," contains three essays. The first of these is about the Aryan Brotherhood and how it got its start, as well as its impact on prisons and law enforcement. The second focuses on Youngstown, Ohio, a city long under mob control. The final essay in this section (and in the book) stopped me cold. It focuses on a known Haitian political and death-squad leader who somehow ended up in New York as a real-estate agent. Even though the US government knew that this guy was an assassin, for "political" reasons, he's still free here in our country. If this one doesn't creep you out about the political system in our country, nothing will. Grann is an absolutely fabulous writer and his essays will keep you interested up to the minute you turn the last page. His approach is different and definitely holds your attention, and the added bonus is that you get a chance to learn a lot about things you probably had no clue about otherwise. I can most highly recommend this book and this author.And as a sidebar, if you have not yet read his other book, run, do not walk, and go get it.
starnarcosis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of articles from the New Yorker and other magazines. Title is a bit misleading in that I thought it was more a collection of true crime type stories. All very well written, I look forward to picking up Mr Grann's other book, The Lost City of Z.
SwampIrish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From the mysterious murder of the world's foremost Sherlock Holmes scholar to a Haitian death squad leader walking free in the streets of New York, this is an interesting collection of magazine articles. Some more so than others and some can only loosely be tied to the thesis implied by the somewhat long book title.
scroeser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting stories, but not particularly well-written.
patrickgarson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Grann is one of the finest journalists working today, and this collection - gathered from his contributions to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New Republic - highlights his facility well. A stricter adherence to the collection's theme (predominantly, obsession) would have probably made for a slightly stronger book, but nonetheless it's quite a treat. Grann's stories typically follow men preoccupied with a range of things from the eponymous Holmes, to giant squids, and the Aryan Brotherhood. The pieces range in length from a couple of thousand words, to going over ten, though with the exception of the last one - focussed on an Haitian war criminal - you'll be left pining for more. Why is this? Mostly, I think because Grann is deeply committed to keeping himself out of the story; a talent sadly lacking in many latter-day feature writers. This is not to say Grann isn't present, on the contrary: whether braving swells in the Coral Sea or venturing into a maximum security prison, he is prepared to go beyond his references in order to get the story. But in doing so, he keeps his own emotions and reactions to an understated minimum. This lends the prose a kind of limpid simplicity, but don't be fooled. There are rich subtexts behind most of these pieces, and the simplicity belies the delicate construction, sharp analysis, and rich context there. Indeed, Grann's knack for finding incredible stories and then telling them so efficiently will leave you hungry for more. He flashes different people, ideas and situations at you like facets on a twirling diamond. These stories are so rich - any one of them could make a whole book, and there were few that left me feeling truly satiated at the conclusion - even with Grann's short "updates" for publishing. This is not to say I was dissatisfied; rather, it was as if I had an incredible slice of cake, and I wanted to eat the whole thing - whether I could or no. Only the last piece - one of the longest - left me somewhat cold. But with such a rich cornucopia, who am I to complain? This is a great collection that will stand the test of time.
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
This great collection of non-fiction—most of which first appeared in The New Yorker—will appeal to anyone who enjoys tales of the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction variety. Although each of the twelve articles is intriguing for different reasons, some pieces are stronger or just more compelling than others. For example, “Trial by Fire,” the second piece in the collection, recounts the ordeal of a Texas man who was accused of killing his children in a fire (it’s currently being adapted as a film starring Laura Dern). And “True Crime,” about a Polish postmodernist author who is accused of murder largely based on evidence from his own novel, is utterly fascinating. Other selections, such as “Stealing Time,” which focuses on the waning career of Rickey Henderson, and “The Squid Hunter” are quirky fun. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys well-written non-fiction.
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