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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, August 10, 2003

True Crime Writers Plumb Depths of Criminal Mind

What is more intriguing than true crime? The answer is true crime written by experienced authors who explore the crime's sociological and psychological roots. Each one of these recent titles examines a social milieu tainted by murder.

Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (Doubleday, 2003).

The bestselling author has chronicled extremism in the Alaskan wilderness (Into the Wild) and on Mount Everest (Into Thin Air). Now Krakauer probes misguided religious zeal in isolated parts of the American, Canadian and Mexican frontiers.

In 1984, excommunicated Mormon Fundamentalists brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty butchered their young sister-in-law Brenda and her baby, later claiming to have acted on God's direct orders. Brenda had attempted to defy the brothers' rabid attachment to polygamy and other bizarre practices.

Krakauer couldn't have had better timing for this book. He was able to weave the Elizabeth Smart abduction into this detailed history and examination of religious extremism. Just be prepared for a rather irreverent attitude toward organized religion in general.

Invisible Eden: a Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod by Maria Flook (Broadway Books, 2003).

Think Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil written by and about heterosexual women and teeming with a richly drawn cast of slightly off-center characters.

Who killed fashion writer Crista Worthington? Despite eighteen months of intense investigation by the Island police, countless DNA tests, and a $25,000 reward, whoever knows isn't telling.

Alienated scion of a prominent Cape Cod family, Crista attended the best schools and carved a niche in Manhattan and Paris fashion circles, writing for "Women's Wear Daily," "Elle," and other top publications.

By her mid-forties, having never found the right man, the only thing she really craved was a baby. Returning to Cape Cod, she quickly hooked up with a virile local fisherman and gave birth to a much-cherished daughter. Two years of single parental bliss ended when someone ruthlessly stabbed her to death in her island kitchen, leaving her toddler daughter clinging to her lifeless body.

For Flook this book was a natural. A Cape Cod native who grew up in the same town as Worthington, the author is a single mother and a veteran writer who teaches at two east coast colleges -- Emerson and Bennington.

Flook has encountered harsh criticism from some who say she misquoted or misrepresented them. Flook simply replies that she told it like she saw it.

Red Zone: the Behind-the-Scenes Story of the San Francisco Dog Mauling by Aphrodite Jones (William Morrow, 2003).

After reading this sinister California-set expose of ferocious dogs, hapless victims, prison Svengalis, and kooky lawyers, you'll be glad you live in li'l ol' Indiana.

In January 2001, two huge Presa Canarios named Bane and Hera savagely attacked and killed Diana Whipple in the hallway of her expensive Pacific Heights apartment.

Whipple was unfortunate enough to live next to a pair of husband and wife criminal lawyers who were "baby-sitting" the dogs for one of their clients – a diabolical Aryan Brotherhood member managing a Canario breeding operation from Pelican Bay State Prison. Why breed vicious fighting dogs? To guard methamphetamine labs, of course.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson (Crown, 2003).

There's not enough space left to extol the merits of this account of the massive and magnificent 1893 World Exposition that rose from the swamps of southern Chicago in a few short years and faded back into murky ruins just as quickly.

Laced into this amazing account is the sordid story of a doctor serial killer who preyed on young women coming to work at the Fair.

As a Chicago-area native, I was delighted to unearth from Central Library's closed stacks an oversized 1893 volume of official photographs that showed the Fair in all its original glory. Check it out.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.