RIP Challenge: Book 1/The Murder Room

Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the RIP Challenge again this year, and I have boldly chosen to accept this challenge. I always mean to, and I think I always end up reading the books, but never seem to get around to doing the reviews. Shame, shame!

You know how I love a good nonfiction book, right? This one was right up my alley.

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo: Book CoverTitle: The Murder Room

Author: Michael Capuzzo

Publisher: Penguin Group USA

Copyright: ebook August 10, 2010

Number of Pages: 427 (nook edition)

Reason for Reading: Do you not see that gorgeous cover? The dark red door, the cross, the gargoylish door knocker–plus, true story. What’s not to love?

Grade: A+

Philosophers say the ultimate source of the story is the eternal human need to find, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “the promise enshrined in the Mysteries since the beginning of the world.” The prophets say it is our pathway through trials to the grace of God. A man of action might say the relevant point of more than a million years of human trial, error, and wisdom embedded in the story is entirely practical:

When the world breaks and needs fixing, the thing to do is find the right three men.

The Murder Room tells, on one level, the story of the Vidocq Society, a group of criminologists par excellence who meet together to dine and take on cases to solve, not for personal glory but to speak for those who no longer have voices with which to speak for themselves.  The society, named after Sûreté founder Eugène François Vidocq, has 82 members, one for each year of Vidocq’s life. These members pledge themselves

to hunt down murderers in cold cases, punish the guilty, free the innocent, and avenge, protect, and succor families victimized by murder. They resolved to work pro bono rather than swat a golf ball around in Florida or Arizona. . . . The eighty-two of them pledged themselves to their cause until death, when the rosette would be pinned on another man or woman chosen to fight for a better world.

On another level, there are the stories of the three founders: Richard Walter, forensic psychologist; Frank Bender, celebrated forensic artist and ex-boxer; and William Lynn Fleisher, responsible for U.S. Customs law enforcement in three states, polygraph examiner, former FBI agent, and former Philly beat cop.  Bender’s personality, larger than life, booms through the story as his magic fingers recreate the faces of the faceless. Walter is an aescetic man, cold and precise, brilliant; the two men often clash but their work together is brilliant. I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to visit with Bender. He is a fascinating man.

And then on another level are the stories of the victims and their families, the boy in the box being the theme that both begins and ends the book while twining everything together.  Credit is rarely granted to the Vidocq Society for solving the crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice, but they don’t work for credit or glory. They work for the dead and the bereaved, and thank heavens they do.

I don’t think I can praise this book highly enough. It’s brilliant.

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6 Responses to RIP Challenge: Book 1/The Murder Room

  1. Gwen says:

    Hmm, how do I say this in a way to provoke conversation, not create controversy? We read the book for one of my goodreads groups and the consensus was that it focused too much on Walter, Bender, and Fleisher. Bender was a character and I would have like to have met him too before he died, but I felt that the author was more in awe of his lifestyle and less enamored with his actual talent.

    On the other hand, maybe I was just forcing my expectations on the book. I craved more about the group as a whole and their successes or even failures. It did make me want to learn more about them.

    Can we still be friends? 😉

  2. Gwen, of course we can still be friends!! I completely agree with your desire to learn more about the group and how they worked together. I wanted to know of more cases they worked on. I don’t necessarily agree, though, that the author was more in awe of Bender’s lifestyle and less of his talent. As he described the way Bender got those flashes of intuition when working on a forensic reconstruction, I found it very awe-inspiring, particularly when Bender and Walter brought their unique talents together and created magic. I haven’t even taken the time to look them up to see if there’s more to learn about them–have you found out anything else?

    • Gwen says:

      I know that Frank Bender passed away in July, that is why I finally pulled the book out of my tbr pile. And I do feel he was in awe of all of their talents and maybe that is why he lost some of his integrity for me. However, I felt that he did really bring home the idea that it takes a special kind of person to be a genius, like they are, at criminology and solving cases. Not just every Tom, Dick and Harry can be “Batman” you might say.

      The book just, instead of quelling that need to know more about the Vidocq Society, made me salivate, hoping that they allow more authors the access that Capuzzo had in the future. I want more!

  3. Kailana says:

    This sounds rather interesting. To my knowledge this review was the first I have heard of the book.

  4. fondofsnape says:

    is this one lendable? I’m reading Double Dexter right now…nothing on the level of this book by far!~

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