ARC REVIEW: The Scholl Case – by Anja Reich-Osang

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Title: The Scholl Case
Author: Anja Reich-Osang

Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: October 3rd 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Finished reading: October 27th 2016
Pages: 213
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“No one could imagine that he has killed his wife, he was the former mayor of Ludwigsfelde, an honourable man. And yet here in the courtroom you often get to know sides of a person that no one could previously have conceived possible.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Text Publishing Company in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’m normally a bit wary when it comes to true crime stories, but this case sounded quite interesting and I decided to give it a go. Now I’ve finished The Scholl Case, I’m not sure what to think of it. Because rather than being a proper true crime story that sticks to the neutral facts behind the case, this book by the German journalist Anja Reich-Osang reads more like a fictional crime thriller loosely based on the case. It focused more on the history of both the mayor and his wife and the murder case itself was forced into the background. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure up to what point the story of their past can be considered neutral. In the chapters, there is a lot of talk about the feelings and thoughts of both Heinrich and Brigitte, and I’m having a hard time to believe they could actually be completely accurate. Sure, the story is without doubt a lot more entertaining and attractive to the public this way and I can understand why the author took this road. But I don’t think this story can actually be called ‘non fiction’ as a whole. The pace was pretty slow as well, and the flashbacks were a bit confusing at times. All in all The Scholl Case wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, although I can’t deny it’s still a decent read.

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In December 2011, the body of a woman was found in a forest in Ludwigsfelde, a small town south of Berlin. The body was hidden between pine trees and covered with leaves along with her dog. And the community was shocked when they find out the victim was the sixty-seven year old Brigitte Scholl, cosmetician and wife of Ludwigsfelde’s former mayor Heinrich Scholl. There are a lot of rumors around her death, which escalate as the police decided to arrest the victim’s husband three weeks later. The residents were shocked, as Heinrich Scholl was a well respected man and regarded as the most successful mayor of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He seemed to be having it all: a successful career, influential friends and a longlasting marriage… But behind closed doors, both the mayor and his wife had been hiding a lot of secrets.

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I’m not saying The Scholl Case is such a terrible read, but I’m not sure to what level this story can actually be called ‘non fiction’. It’s more of a mix between historical fiction and a crime thriller, and the main focus is on the history of both the mayor and his wife rather than the murder case. This way it is without doubt a lot more entertaining to read, but it wasn’t the true crime story I was looking forward to. Combined with the slow pace I can’t say it was one of the best true crime stories I’ve read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Tell Mummy – by Toni Maguire

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Title: Don’t Tell Mummy
Author: Toni Maguire
Genre: Memoir, True Crime
First published: 2006
Finished reading: May 13th 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 4

“The smile on his lips was always the smile of the nice father, but in his eyes I could see the nasty one, the one invisible to everyone else, the one that lived inside his head.”

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This memoir is not for the weak-hearted and will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Toni Maguire didn’t have an easy childhood. Or more precisely said: a childhood from hell. Growing up with an abusive father, a mother who prefers to look the other way and family and friends who don’t see what’s happening behind closed doors… A recipe for every young child’s worst nightmare. The author was very brave to let her skeletons out of the closet and admit all those horrible facts actually happened to her all those years ago. Don’t Tell Mummy is a truly heartbreaking story that will definitely move you… It’s not a happy story, but one that has to be told as there are so many cases of child abuse still out there. Without doubt a memoir I would recommend; it’s very well written and not only tells us the facts of the abuse, but also the way people judge her when the truth comes out.

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The first few years of Toni Maguire’s life were almost perfect, but things change when they decide to move back to Ireland where her father is born. Their new idyllic life is marked by a terrible secret… When Toni is six years old, her father made his first improper move on his daughter and he doesn’t stop there. He warns her not to tell anyone, because they would end up blaming her for allowing him to do those things… And in the end even her mother prefers to look away. When Toni finally gathers the courage to tell her father’s little ‘secret’,  her mother simply says to never talk about it again. Soon Toni is alone and isolated from friends and family, with nobody to turn to. The abuse goes on for years, and even ends up in a pregnancy; the abortion almost killing Toni. And when people find out, they end up doing what her father warned her they would do: the end up judging and rejecting her for what he has done…

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This memoir tells a truly shocking story that will leave you without words and reaching for a box of tissues. Toni Maguire has had a horrible childhood and she is very brave to write down her story. The acts of her father nearly destroyed both her and her childhood, and it’s shocking that nobody noticed something in all those years before her pregnancy. Don’t Tell Mummy is a true eye opener and a very well written story that I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy reading memoirs and true crime stories. Beware: this is not a happy story and it won’t be for everyone…

BOOK REVIEW: Reel To Real: The Video Store Murders – by Joyce Nance

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Title: Reel To Real: The Video Store Murders
Author: Joyce Nance
Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: July 29th 2014
Finished reading: May 5th 2015
Pages: 283
Rating 4

“It is always the best policy to speak the truth — unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar.”

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When I saw this non fiction story as a free Amazon kindle deal last month, I was immediately intrigued by it and had to order it straight away. Reel Or Real: The Video Store Murders is based on a true story and tells us what happened before, during and after the brutal Hollywood Video store murders in Albuquerque back in 1996. Joyce Nance does a great job of getting inside the head of the killer and his accomplice. There is quite a lot of swearing involved, but I wasn’t bothered by it because it was used properly to give an impression of the character. The author decided to write this book based on the trial and interviews with Esther (the accomplice) and therefore it represents her side of the story, but it feels like it’s the truth. It’s an interesting read and definitely recommended for those who enjoy reading non fiction and (true) crime novels.

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Based on the true story of the Hollywood Video store murders, we read about three ex-cons who got released early from prison and meet each other through an early release program. Esther falls hopelessly in love with John, who in turn similates affection so she pays everything for him. He hangs out with another ex-con Shane, a man that smells like trouble and is obsessed with movies, violence and guns. John tries to stay away from trouble and warns Esther to do the same and stay away from Shane as well. But when John is forced to run after a misunderstanding, Esther sees no other way…

Shane asks her to help him with a robbery of a restaurant. Esther isn’t sure about it, but she would do anything to help John. The robbery was a success and John gets his share of money, but Shane doesn’t want to stop here… He has bigger plans that involve real guns and a video store. Esther doesn’t want to help him, but Shane is able to convince her in the end by abusing her love for John. They decide the time and place: a Hollywood Video store on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, on that terrible night in March 1996, the robbery went horribly wrong and turned into a bloodbath and the worst mass murder in the history of Albuquerque…

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The way Joyce Nance is able to portray the three ex-cons and main characters of the story is impressive. All three were looking for a better life, but trouble got into their path and the consequences left an entire city behind to mourn the victims. In my own eyes all three of them are guilty in a different way, and if you decide to read Reel Or Real: The Video Store Murders for yourself, you will probably understand why. This is not a pleasant read, mostly because the many swear words and graphic images, but it makes for a very good true crime novel.

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…