BOOK REVIEW: Portrait Of A Killer – by Patricia Cornwell

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Title: Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper – Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Genre: History, Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: 2002
Finished Reading: June 12th 2014
Pages: 383
Rating 2,5

“And suddenly the world was filled with wooden faces and flat voices – and, you were alone.”

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I have to admit that before I started reading Portrait Of A KillerI didn’t know much more about the Jack The Ripper case other than that he was quite a violent serial killer and mostly attacked prostitutes. It is also the first time I’ve read something by Patricia Cornwell, and I have the feeling this nonfiction investigation of the 19th century killer didn’t show me a complete image of Cornwell as a writer. Although the story started interesting, I soon started wondering whether the subtitle Jack The Ripper – Case Closed would have been a bit of an exaggeration. I couldn’t help but feel the evidence she presented was mostly circumstantial and the explanations sometimes quite shaky while she was trying to convince the reader the true identity of Jack The Ripper: a famous painter called Walter Sickert. Cornwell used modern technology when trying to find more physical evidence to build her case, but most results came back inconclusive. And after finishing Portrait Of A Killer, I don’t think Walter Sickert would have ever been convicted of the murders if she presented the case as described in her book to court. Yet another big Ha Ha from our fiend Jack The Ripper…

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The story about the life in Victorian England and France itself was quite interesting. Cornwell was able to give us an insight into the life as it would have been like during the 19th century. In describing the lives of Sickert, the various victims and the cops trying to find the killer, we were able to see how different social classes lived before, during and after the killings taking place in 1888-1889. The killings are brutal and close to butchery, and it is scary to even think that a human being would be able to afflict that kind of damage without feeling remorse. But then again, Jack The Ripper was nothing less than a monster, although a brilliant one.

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I just wished Cornwell would have kept her opinion slightly to herself instead of trying to force the identity of Jack The Ripper on us. Sure, after all she told about Walter Sickert he definitely looks suspicious. But without accompanying evidence, her claim of whodunnit for me wasn’t rightfully made. Or at least not when selling the book as a nonfiction investigation. Sickert might have done it, but the facts are more than a hunderd years old, and for now there is no way to be certain. I would go for reasonable doubt, not case closed.

If you want to learn a bit more of the lives of the victims and Walter Sickert, this still might be an interesting read. Just beware of the circumstancial evidence and be sure to regularly take a step back and look critically at the conclusions Cornwell draws. I don’t think this was the best example of her work though. I will be reading one of the Kay Scarpetta novels by the same author lined up in my TBR list in the near future so I can see what her fiction writing is like. As for Portrait Of A Killer, for me it’s book closed and locked away…

BOOK REVIEW: The Lovely Bones – by Alice Sebold

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Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Genre: YA, Mystery, Crime, Drama
First published: 2002
Finished reading: June 1st 2014
Pages: 328
Rating 3

“Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain. It was that day that I knew I wanted to tell the story of my family. Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.”

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When I was browsing for new books to add to my readinglist a while back, I saw a lot of contradictory reviews of The Lovely Bones. People seemed to either absolutely hate or love this book by Alice Sebold, and it made me want to check it out for myself to see what all the fuss was about. And although I found the end to be not credible at all and even a bit fantastical, I was able to like the general idea of the story. Alice Sebold describes us her version of the afterlife, where its residents in Heaven can create the world they would have liked to live in when they were still alive…

The Lovely Bones doesn’t have a lot of action in it; the story is more about the different emotions and ways of cooping with such a terrible loss. Unfortunately the different characters are behaving in a stereotypical way, which made the story less original. A father blind with grief, a mother in the middle of a midlife crisis, a little brother who has an imaginary friend, a girl who is into ghosts and other dark stuff… Sure, the fact that Alice Sebold is telling the story through Susie is original, but the other characters just felt a bit flat and not credible. Especially with the mother Abigail I had serious problems; I felt her character wasn’t well described and I just couldn’t believe or understand why she would do and act the way she did. Sure, grief can make you to do strange things in order to take the pain away. But when I was reading what Abigail was doing during all those years, I couldn’t stop asking myself: Seriously?!

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The Lovely Bones introduces us to Susie Salmon, who was murdered one day walking back home after school. Her body was never found, but we as readers know exactly what happened to her because it is Susie who tells us the story from her own personal Heaven. Although the body was never found, there was no doubt left Susie was murdered. She follows her family she left behind as well as the killer and various others that were important to her, although she is unable to contact any of them directly.  Both the police and her father Jack are trying desperately to find the killer or at least more physical evidence, but they seem to fail… Jack thinks his creepy neighbor George Harvey did it, but he has no proof and the policemen quickly become tired of his phonecalls. Abigail drifts away from her family and the kids grow up mostly with their father and grandmother. Susie watches them struggle and grow up from Heaven, and seems to want to continue living through the lifes of the ones she loved. The killer was able to escape town, and the authorities try hard to find him. And next comes the end, the terrible end…

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The end for me destroyed a story that could have been so good, if only it would have been written differently. I’m not sure whether to recommend The Lovely Bones; the general idea is interesting, but for me it didn’t make up for the flaws I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book. I just didn’t love it either.

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Run – by Erica Spindler

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Title: Dead Run
Author: Erica Spindler
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime
First published: May 28th 2002
Finished reading: April 14th 2014
Pages: 466

Rating 3

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Dean Run is in many ways just another of those crime thrillers that doesn’t really stand out from the rest. A lot of cliches are used in describing both characters and the plot, which was kind of a turn off. But although I normally detest stories with too many cliches, in this case I will forgive Erica Spindler because of the plot twists. It is easy to read and would serve perfectly on a rainy night with a cup of hot chocolate… Or on vacation for that matter.

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It all starts when Liz decides to move to Key West to find out what happened to her sister Rachel. Rachel, the local pastor of Key West, had disappeared mysteriously, but not before warning her sister that she uncovered something and that she was in trouble. Everybody seems to believe that Rachel just ran off, but Liz knows something happened to her sister. Soon after she arrives at Key West, people began showing up dead. The women brutally murdered and showing signs of a ritualistic murder similar to the style of the “New Testament” serial killer now on death row. Together with an ex-cop Rick, who is still friends with the local police, they try to reveal the truth, but nobody seems to believe them… At a point even Rick doesn’t believe the conspiracy theories Liz believes in anymore and she is left alone to uncover some hidious secrets.There is something evil on the loose, and will there be somebody to stop it?

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I must say the final chapters made me change my opinion about this thriller by Erica Spindler. Although I still find Dead Run rather cliche for various reasons and the relationship between characters like Liz and Rick too obvious and on the verge of boring, I must say the end surprised me. Spindler was able to use various twists in her story, and I wouldn’t have guessed the identity of the killer until the very last.