I am really trying to be productive this weekend. I have nearly 50 books on my 'Upcoming Reviews' page. Luckily, most of them are older so they can be given these mini reviews. But I also have plenty of ARCs that will need their own. Yikes! How did I let myself get so far behind?
Prior to reading this book, I had no idea who Belle Gunness was. And to be honest, I still don't really know her and I never will. Over half the book is dedicated to the mysterious circumstances of her death, and whether or not she really died at all. Her children certainly did, as well as the scores of men she lured to her farm. But did Belle? That's the question destined to remain unanswered, which is what made the book frustrating. I am not big into true crime, but this one interested me because Belle is so unique. It is a very rare thing to come across a female serial killer and combined with the time period, I was hooked on her story.
For six years Belle Gunness placed countless ads, luring men to their deaths. Some of the men were wealthy bachelors, others hired hands. With only one exception, all of them were murdered, butchered and chopped into little pieces, then buried in various locations around the farm. Belle's home was eventually consumed by a fire one evening and Belle supposedly perished there, though that is open for debate, and there are plenty of notes to argue either way. personally I have a hard time believing this psychopath would kill herself, though she had no qualms about killing her children - she had done it before. The only piece of the puzzle then would be, who did the body really belong to, and how was the dental work to be explained?
One thing I could have done without is the author's repeated misogyny and dare I say, racism. He constantly tells us how ugly/fat/etc Belle was, almost as if he could not believe that any of them men who answered her ads/letters would have stayed for any time on the farm once they met Belle face to face. It was enough that I almost DNF-ed it. For example: "Even in her 20s, however - as an earlier photo attests - she was a notably unlovely young woman, with a large head, short nose, and a wide, fat-lipped mouth that, when set in a frown, bore resemblance to a frog's." I don't know if I am crazy or what, but I do not consider Belle ugly, based on the cover photo. It was almost like the author wanted to make sure people understood she was a monster - as though murdering a bunch of men would not get the point across. We get it, seriously. She was a monster on the inside, no need to try to make her outsides the same. Secondly, there is a woman in the story by the name of Elizabeth Smith who was repeatedly referred to as "N****r Liz". regardless of the fact that this was viewed as an acceptable way to refer to someone in the early 20th century, it is not now, nor has it ever been. She could have just as easily been referred to as Ms Smith, or Smith, instead of the racial slur which seemed to crop up often. Not cool. The author also took several shots at this involved who were perceived as having less-than-average IQs. It seems like the author always chose the more derogatory way to refer to someone, instead of being objective. And that is where I have a problem with True Crime. If you can not simply relate the facts, and you find yourself putting forth your own biases into the narrative, then maybe True Crime writing is not for you. Or, you need a really good editor to catch the bias as it comes up. Those issues distracted heavily from what is otherwise a well-researched book and, to my knowledge one of the few, if only, biographies of Gunness. But seriously, every time he said how ugly she was I would look at the cover and wonder if I was seeing a completely different person.
And to be clear, this IS a well-researched book. I read it on my Kindle, where only 65% was devoted to the text itself. The following 20% was notes, with the bibliography afterward. Much of the book was eventually dedicated to Belle's own (possible) murder. After the first quarter or so, where we learned about Belle's life and victims, there is a fire. The house burns completely to the ground, there is hardly anything left. A woman's body is found in the fire, decapitated. Dental work both IDs the woman as Belle, and gives pause in that identification. Weird, right? Yet another True Crime mystery that will never be solved. Despite the major flaws in the author bias, I would still cautiously recommend this one to those who are not familiar with Belle's story. Other reviews I read indicated there was not a lot of new material, so take that for what it is worth.
First of all, the sub title is ridiculous. It screams desperation and seriously, is that not what we all might have thought when we picked this one up? To be fair though, it was not as terrible as I expected. When I first came across it, I thought it would just be another rehashing of everything we already know, but someone who barely knew her HALF BROTHER. Turns out I was a little right, but she did at least become close with Scott, it seems. And I get it, I can't even imagine loving two people, then finding out what of them murdered the other. But the signs were there long before Bird arrived at the 'Guilty' judgment for Scott. I do question the parts where she talks about how she loved Laci and they were good friends - that part did not really ring true for me. Not sure why, if it was the writing or the presentation or what. it just felt off. Maybe insincere or manipulative of the situation.
The sub title is also as misleading as it is ridiculous. The focus of the book is more about the author and her family, and how Laci's murder and Scott's trial impacted them. We do get to see those "33 Reasons" listed out for us late in the book, but we also get to keep seeing the crazy that is Scott's mother - and the author's too (she was given up for adoption, years before Scott was born. Bird then makes an awkward statement with something to the effect of how Scott was the one their mom "kept" and look how he turned out, or something. It was not those exact words, but there was discussion on how Scott was the "Golden Child" who could do no wrong. So, those statements felt kind of like a stab at Bird's birth mom for giving her up for adoption, but keeping her later children.) I was also left wondering how much Jackie even liked Laci; she always seemed to be making snide comments, or making Laci feel bad about something, in general.
Overall, this is nothing great. I believe Scott murdered Laci and Connor. If you also believe so, skip this one. If you think he is innocent, this probably won't change your mind.
Right off the bat, I am going to start with something that pissed me off to the extreme. Over halfway through the book Fuhrman writes, "We will never know and could forever speculate about Simpson's intentions at this point or what Nicole might have done to provoke him into a murderous rage. Perhaps she told him, again, that their relationship was over, or perhaps she ridiculed or insulted him."
UM, REALLY? WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Let's try to stay away from the victim-blaming, shall we? How completely disgusting and abhorrent. Nothing she could have said or done would ever justify what happened to her and Goldman that night. Nothing. NOTHING.
I feel a little better. But only a little. On to the review.
I was 11 when Nicole Brown Simpson was so brutally murdered, along with Ron Goldman (something else that is none of our business but that Fuhrman addresses, whether or not they were in a sexual relationship.) I remember watching the Bronco chase, I remember the uproar, the arrival back at his home, the speculation of the news crews as they followed him along the freeways, I remember everything. I also remembered people standing on the sides of the roads, cheering him on. That made me feel so angry because even at 11 years old, I recognized that innocent people don't run away and that exactly what Simpson tried to do. I was only 11/12 as the trial went on, and was limited in what I was allowed to be exposed to as the trial progressed. At the time I did not know about such extensive forensic evidence, something Fuhrman goes into great detail about. On the blood evidence alone, ignoring all other fibers, hairs, etc, that alone should have been enough to secure a guilty verdict from any rational jury. I knew he was guilty, why didn't they?
Well, a lot of reasons actually.
The first reason being the author himself, Mark Fuhrman. I remember a lot of accusations thrown at him during and after the trial - that he was a racist cop who planted evidence. I never heard any of the tapes and I don't want to. After reading the book and his words, I'm still not convinced he isn't racist. However, I never thought he planted evidence and I still don't. Seeing how things went now, I don't know how it would have even been possible.
I also can not believe how badly the prosecution bungled this slam-dunk of a case. I didn't see it as a child of course, did not understand the intricacies of the defense and prosecution, but holy hell, do I see it now. What arrogance on both sides of the court room. And unfortunately in the end, the arrogance on the side of the defense won out. They hardly had to do much, despite them all seeming to know he was guilty (Robert Kardashian's involvement, anyone?), since the prosecution let the whole thing blow up in their faces. This is also something Fuhrman addresses and yes, hindsight is 20/20. So many things should have gone differently. FFS, there were witnesses who saw OJ speeding away from the crime scene! Why was this not brought up? When Fuhrman's integrity was called into question, why was his partner not put on the stand? Or any of the other officers working the case? COME ON!
There were TONS of pieces of physical evidence. Tons. And from my understanding, the only thing Fuhrman discovered on his own was the glove on Simpson's property by the bungalow where Kato was staying. So how did it work out that the forensics did not win the case for the prosecution? I never knew before about the obscene amounts of blood in the Bronco, and all the evidence collected at Simpson's home. And I still can not get over how it is possible that the witnesses who saw OJ leaving the scene were never called. Perhaps if the prosecution had been a little more fluid in their timeline of events, the outcome might have been different. But when you box yourself in like that, you're screwed and a guilty man will go free, and that's exactly what happened.
I remember with great clarity the day the verdict came in. it was announced over the intercom at my middle school. There, in a suburb of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota, our principal announced that OJ had been found not guilty, and it was like all the air went out of the room. A couple kids cheered, but for the most part it was quiet, even silent after that. We looked at each other and thought, "How is that even possible?" Again, this was in middle school. We all knew he was guilty, but 12 adults couldn't figure it out?
One thing I really did not appreciate was the use of certain crime scene photos. Until reading this book, I had lived 24 years without seeing the horrific photo of Nicole, her blood pooled around her and smeared all over the walkway, slumped by the stairs. I certainly could have done without seeing that for my entire life. But now that image is seared into my brain, right along with the statement: OJ got away with murder.