Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review of "By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O'Neill" By Arthur and Barbara Gelb


Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Boks on December 1, 2016 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/women-possessed


Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill was a pioneer of the American theater and led the way for other literary legends such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Edward Albee. His true legacy is found in his ability to fearlessly tackle social and political values that today continue to inspire countless generations of authors and productions. Since his death in 1953, O’Neill’s treasure trove of works such as Long Day’s Journey into Night and others have been in constant production around the world. Although he was a very talented writer, O’Neill was a deeply flawed human being, who struggled his entire life with depression and alcohol abuse, which presented challenges in all of his personal relationships.

“But, whatever O’Neill’s personal failings, there is no denying that, as an artist, he stood tall. An idealist and visionary, he bravely endured his years of struggle, demanding to be accepted on his own terms as a dramatist.”

The celebrated and award winning husband and wife team of Arthur and Barbara Gelb have spent 50+ years studying and examining the life of Eugene O’Neill, and their previous works include O’Neill (1962) and O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (2000). Arthur Gelb died on May 20, 2014 and Barbara “wearily polished” the final few pages of their final collaboration, a book they had been grappling with for nearly a decade. Their third and final collaboration in the O’Neill saga, By Women Possessed: A Life of Eugene O’Neill, is an 869 page epic, in which the Gelbs examine the last 25 years of the playwright’s life through his stormy relationships with the most important women in his life, primarily his third wife, actress Carlotta Monterey.

The word comprehensive is often used to define thoroughly researched biographies and other works, but this definition doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in the amount of excruciating detail the Gelbs have provided in this volume. The majority of the book is spent discussing his emotionally tempestuous marriage to Monterey, which was dominated by years of alcoholic setbacks, mental and physical decline, and hostile resentment. Within this volume are also discussed some of the longstanding misconceptions of O’Neill’s life such as his battle with alcoholism and depression, as well as his views on feminism and racism.

“He also had a violent and destructive temper, especially when he was on a drinking binge. At those times, he didn’t hesitate to manhandle his lovers.”
Unfortunately, there are only brief discussions of O’Neill’s early marriages and his complicated relationship with his mother.

“When, as an adolescent, Eugene O’Neill realized that his mother, Ella Quinlan O’Neill, blamed her morphine addiction on his birth and confessed she wished him unborn, she betrayed him in a way he could never forgive or forget.”

In this work the authors rely primarily of the previously unpublished diaries and interviews of Monterey as well as material from friends and associates. Monterey gave the authors a melancholy version of O’Neill’s final years as a sick and forgotten man who isolated himself from his family and fans.

“O’Neill hated hotels, she told us, because he had been born in one and had spent the first seven years of life traveling from hotel to hotel while his father toured the country with his acting company. . . .” She repeated what are commonly claimed to be O’Neill’s final words, spoken on November 21, 1953, “Born in a hotel room and God damn it, died in a hotel room.”

By Women Possessed is a captivating and in-depth study of one of America’s most revered literary giants. This volume is a superb example of a skillful, thorough, and cynically examined editorial biography that draws from an exhaustive treasure strove of previously unexploited source material. It offers the reader an extraordinary and thought provoking view on the playwright’s life and works. By Women Possessed is heartily recommend to anyone interested in the American theater, Eugene O’Neill, or biography in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review of Deirdre Bair's "Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend"


Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 16, 2016 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/al-capone


“Al Capone was a son, husband, and father who was looking for the best way to become a good provider for everyone.”

Nearly seven decades after his death, what is it about Al Capone that captures the imagination? Some lives contain multitudes, and his would seem to be one of them. From his heyday to the present, his life has enthralled the public’s collective imagination.

Born on January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, to Italian immigrant parents, Capone would become one of the most notorious crime figures in American history. During the height of Prohibition, his criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling, dominated the city of Chicago.

His long-running turf war with rival gangs came to a bloody and shocking crescendo on St. Valentine's Day 1929. Through it all, the charismatic Capone remained barely above it all, and Federal income tax evasion was his eventual undoing. In 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison but served a little over half his sentence, mostly at Alcatraz. A very ill Capone, suffering from the physical and mental effects of syphilis, was released to live out his final years in Miami.

Deirdre Bair, National Book Award winner and author of numerous biographies, attempts to uncover a more personal side of the infamous crime boss and examines the legend and facts surrounding this intriguing and enigmatic figure in her new biography, Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.

“His ascent in mobdom was phenomenal, his time at the top sensational, and his downfall meteoric. Indeed, his reign did last only six short years, but everything that happened in that brief time still commands worldwide attention, interest, and speculation.”

The book follows Capone’s entire life from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his rise as crime boss in Chicago though his astonishingly swift downfall and imprisonment and death in 1947.

“This is the story of a ruthless killer, a scofflaw, a keeper of brothels and bordellos, a tax cheat and perpetrator of frauds, convicted felon, and a mindless, blubbering invalid. This is also the story of a loving son, husband, and father who described himself as a businessman whose job was to serve the people what they wanted.”

Written with the cooperation of Capone’s family and descendants, Al Capone does a wonderful job of gathering all of the urban myths surrounding his life and career and lays them out side by side with the facts, exposing and demystifying their falsehoods from the realities. “Attempting to reconstruct their truth is much like trying to solve the most complicated puzzle imaginable.”

Although this book is superbly documented and researched, its end results are mixed. The narrative is somewhat dry and uninspiring in its presentation and ultimately failed to uncover any startling new information. In the end, this book is best suited for readers who already have a basic understanding and familiarity with the subject matter. It is recommended for anyone interested in anything related to organized crime, Al Capone, and the Prohibition era in general.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review of Robert Masello's - The Jekyll Revelation


Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on November 8, 2016 http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/jekyll-revelation

Buy the book - https://www.amazon.com/Jekyll-Revelation-Robert-Masello/dp/1503951197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1478621614&sr=8-1&keywords=robert+masello

What if the terrifying legacy of Jack the Ripper and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were connected and somehow transported across space and time from Victorian England to present day California? The consequences would be terrifying. Robert Masello, an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the bestselling author of numerous supernatural and historical thrillers that includes The Einstein Prophecy tackles this innovative and thought provoking historical whodunit in his new book The Jekyll Revelation.

Protagonist Rafael Salazar, an environmental scientist on routine patrol in Topanga Canyon, California, expects to find animal poachers but instead discovers a mysterious antique steamer trunk filled with a treasure trove of artifacts that includes a puzzling journal, written by none other than legendary author Robert Louis Stevenson. The journal cryptically reveals chilling details regarding the creation of his classic horror novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an even more disturbing link to one of the most notorious serial killers of all-time. Within the pages of this mysterious journal is disclosed the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

“I begin this journal in high, if somewhat desperate, hopes. I mean to make it a record of my deliverance. If it becomes something other than that, it shall have served as my epitaph. A bookmark . . . or a bookend.”

The journal, unfortunately, wasn’t the only artifact in the trunk, and isn’t the only memento that has been pilfered. A bottle that purportedly contains the last drops of the potion that inspired Jekyll and Hyde and also created London’s most infamous killer has disappeared and fallen into the wrong hands. With parallel story lines set in present day California and 1880s London, The Jekyll Revelation masterfully alternates between reluctant hero’s Salazar and Stevenson as both attempt to stop the terror that has been unleased within their respective time periods.

Masello has done an admirable job of creating recognizable characters, although they tend to be somewhat formulaic. He sticks with the standard literary storyline of man playing God and its catastrophic fallout. The Jekyll Revelation is a fast-paced tour de force through history and contemporary California. It is a heart-pounding page turner filled with loads of action and intrigue.

“The brilliantly executed crime of Jack the Ripper have been laid at a dozen doorsteps, but none of them mine. Nor will they be, not so long as I am alive to be called to account for them. No, I mean to keep this journal, and my souvenirs, intact and unknown. They shall travel with me wherever I go (at this moment, my native California is again striking my fancy), and when, many years from now, my end draws near, I shall consign them to some appropriate grave. An unmarked spot where, in the fullness of time posterity shall rediscover, and perhaps reassess them. I leave that to fate.”

Masello has crafted an exceptional murder mystery with a literary twist that will not disappoint. This novel will most certainly captivate anyone who loves true crime, suspense thrillers, literary history, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Jack the Ripper. A must read and highly recommended.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bodies were Unearthed at Sacramento Board and Care Home (November 11, 1988)

This week (November 7-13) in crime history – David Hendricks murdered his family in Bloomington, Illinois (November 7, 1983); Carol DaRonch escaped abduction by Ted Bundy (November 8, 1974); John List murdered his family then disappeared for 18 years (November 9, 1971); Louise Woodward’s murder conviction was reduced to second degree (November 10, 1997); Bodies are unearthed at Sacramento board and care home (November 11, 1988); Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son (November 12, 2004); FBI agents find bomb making equipment at the home of John Graham (November 13, 1955)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -


On November 11, 1988, authorities unearth a corpse buried in the yard of 59-year-old Dorothea Puente’s home in Sacramento, California. Puente operated a residential board and care home for elderly people, and an investigation led to the discovery of six more bodies buried on her property.

Puente was a diagnosed schizophrenic who had already been in trouble with the law. She had previously served prison time for check forgery, as well as drugging and robbing people she met in bars. After her release, she opened a boarding house for elderly people. Beginning in 1986, social worker Peggy Nickerson sent nineteen clients to Puente’s home. When some of the residents mysteriously disappeared, Nickerson grew suspicious. Puente’s neighbors, who reported the smell of rotting flesh emanating from her vicinity, validated Nickerson’s concern.

Although all the buried bodies were found to contain traces of the sedative Dalmane, the coroner was never able to identify an exact cause of death. Still, during a trial that lasted five months and included thousands of exhibits, prosecutors were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Puente had murdered her boarders, most likely to collect their Social Security checks. Though she was formally charged with nine counts of murder and convicted on three, authorities suspected that Puente might have been responsible for as many as two dozen deaths. She received a life sentence without the possibility of parole and died in 2011 of natural causes at the Chowchilla Central Women’s Prison facility.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit his website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review of James Patterson's - Filthy Rich


Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on (October 19, 2016) http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/filthy-rich-powerful


In February 2005, 14-year-old Mary (not her real name) was a naïve and impressionable teenager. She desperately sought out attention and wanted to make a good first impression. The money she would earn in one hour for giving an old man a massage was more than her father made in a whole day.

“What she tells herself, over and over again, is: It’s not that big a deal.”

But of course, it is a big deal and her visit to the mansion of eccentric billionaire Jeffrey Epstein would result in one of the most scandalous criminal investigations in Palm Beach history. In Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, James Patterson, one of the world’s most successful thriller authors in collaboration with John Connelly and Tim Mallory, tackle this deeply troubling and captivating case.

So who is Jeffrey Epstein, really?

Epstein was a highly successful financier, investor, and philanthropist who contributed millions of dollars to academic institutions around the globe. He funded numerous political campaigns and hob knobbed with a wide-ranging and diverse cast of characters that included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and many others. He rose from humble origins to the heights of New York City and Palm Beach’s privileged and societal elites.

On the surface he appeared to have it all: fame, fortune, and achievement but behind closed doors he wanted more and for many years successfully concealed a perverse sexual appetite for pretty underage girls. This compulsion would eventually led to his downfall with allegations of abuse by dozens of young women whom he employed as “masseuses” at his opulent Palm Beach estate and other properties.

Backed by a plethora of high powered defense attorneys that included Gerald Lefcourt, Alan Dershowitz, and later, Ken Starr, this dream team masterfully orchestrated a plea bargain for Epstein who avoided serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to felony solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution.

He received a sentence of 18 months and was required to register as a class three sex offender. One other concession was the media would not be alerted to his ultimate release date, which occurred on July 21, 2009. This was a mere slap on the wrist for the atrocious crimes that were committed, and he served less than 13 months behind bars. Following his release there were lawsuits, seven of which were settled for undisclosed amounts prior to going to trial.

Patterson questioningly writes, “There never was any doubt that Jeffrey Epstein was guilty. The question is, what exactly was he guilty of?” Although Filthy Rich provides an adequate overview of the case in general terms it suffers from a lack of in-depth research of Jeffrey Epstein and other key characters. It ultimately fails to provide any definitive answers to the many questions it poses.

The reader must be cautioned that Filthy Rich is gritty and at times unseemly in its narrative, which devotes large sections of text to the lured transcript testimony of Epstein’s alleged victims. These chapters are extremely detailed and tend to wander through an overabundance of sexually explicit scenarios that appear on the surface to be a concerted attempt by the authors to embarrass Epstein, whom they categorically believe got off easy for the crimes he committed.

Although not one of Patterson’s better written books, Filthy Rich is a fast paced read with many chapters less that a page long. But on a useful note it does raise some deeply disturbing and timely questions about the unspoken rape culture and sexually exploitive views of women that exist within some segments of our society. The crimes for which Jeffrey Epstein were accused and ultimately convicted of are truly reprehensible, and the fact that he was able to use a network of well-connected friends to get out of trouble is even more appalling.

This book leaves the reader with a feeling of dread at the shameful realities of our deeply flawed legal system as it pertains to the haves and have nots. Reader be warned, more than soap and water will be necessary to wash away the sleazy grimness of this obscenely shocking tale. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review of "Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders"

Review first appeared at The New York Journal of Books (10/10/2016) http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/ase-yogurt-shop-murders


Seasoned homicide detectives are well aware that high-profile murder cases often attract numerous false confessions. They also know that unscrupulous officers under pressure from the media and other sources can coerce young, suggestible suspects to make false admissions.

“In 1991, Austin was on the verge of becoming what it is today, but back then nobody had a clue. While Houstonians liked to say Austin was hoping to become a grown-up city, too, someday, nobody here took offense. Who wanted to be like Houston? Then came Yogurt Shop. We lost our innocence that night became an official mantra . . . And then, when the crime remained unresolved year after year after year, it became a permanent part of our history.”

On December 6, 1991, the naked, bound-and-gagged bodies of four teenage girls were found shot to death at the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in Austin, Texas. This case captivated the Austin community and frustrated both police and the families of the four victims. The search for the killers resulted in numerous suspects.

Eight years after the murders and under intense pressure to solve the case, four young men were arrested and charged with the crimes. Two of the accused were convicted, but the verdicts were later overturned on appeal due to gathering of false statements and coerced confessions. Today, the Austin Police Department insists that the four men arrested for the crimes were guilty of the murders, but the case remains open. Beverly Lowry, the author of six novels and three works of nonfiction that includes Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir (2002), revisits this thought provoking and captivating case in Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.

The author’s gripping examination raises serious doubts about law enforcements handling of the case and after expertly recounting the horrifying specifics of the murders, meticulously scrutinizes the countless blunders encountered by police during the investigation such as evidence gathering errors, inept and unethical interrogation practices, and failure to follow-up on even the smallest of leads.
Although the central narrative of this book is most certainly the coerced confessions of the defendants and reversal of their convictions, this study raises many tantalizing questions, and the reader is left to contemplate highly controversial issues such as police misconduct and society’s role in preventing its youth from committing savage crimes. But in the end, four innocent young girls were murdered in cold blood and their killers remain at large and unpunished.

So who did kill the yogurt shop girls? Lowry has several theories and powerfully states: “How do we know what we know (or even remember) and when can we be, if not certain, at least reasonably persuaded that we’ve hit on the truthful versions of what really happened? Maybe doubt is never reasonable and memories are closer to dreams than accurate recollections. Perhaps facts and solutions exist only in the science lab, and not always even then, and the best we can hope for is a perception that suits our individual temperament. In other words, what we’re prone to believe given genes, upbringing, class, culture and all the rest. And perhaps there’s no such thing as closure, in which case nothing ever ends anyway.”

Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders is well-researched and thought provoking. It is a terror-filled thrill ride which is captivating from start to finish. It is highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime, unsolved murder mystery, or American law enforcement policies and practices.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mob Boss Anthony Carfano was Murdered (September 25, 1959)

This week (September 19-25) in crime history – The Washington Post published the Unabomber’s manifesto (September 19, 1995); President James Garfield died from gunshot wound (September 19, 1881); Benedict Arnold committed treason (September 21, 1780); The Midtown slasher claimed his first victim (September 22, 1980); Billy the Kid was arrested for the first time (September 24, 1875); The Chicago Seven went on trial (September 24, 1969); Mob boss Anthony Carfano was murdered (September 25, 1959)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -


On September 25, 1959, mob boss Anthony Carfano, known as Little Augie Pisano was shot to death in New York City on Meyer Lansky’s orders. Lansky, one of the few organized crime figures who managed to survive at the top for several decades. The son of Russian immigrants, Lansky had an eighth-grade education, which put him far ahead of many other criminals. According to legend, Lansky was a straight arrow until one day in October 1918, when he joined a fight between teenagers Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano over a prostitute. After the three were charged with disorderly conduct, Lansky and Siegel became friends and began running a high-stakes craps game.

The two later expanded into bootlegging, car theft, and extortion, and helped form the New York “syndicate.” Lansky, a ruthless leader who would not tolerate disloyalty, ordered the murder of a thief who failed to provide an adequate kickback. Although he was shot several times, the thief survived to name Lansky as one of the assailants. Lansky then poisoned his hospital food, and though he survived a second time, the threat was enough to change his attitude toward testifying. Later, he even rejoined Lansky’s gang.

In June 1947, Lansky ordered the death of his old friend Bugsy Siegel in Beverly Hills, California. Siegel, who had been sent to the West Coast in order to establish a new mob presence, came up with the idea of building The Flamingo, Las Vegas’ first major casino. The casino had been built with mob money, and Lansky was angry over the pace of Siegel’s loan payments.

When Lansky ordered the murder of Anthony Carfano twelve years later, Carfano had been intruding on Lansky’s gambling interests in Florida and Cuba. His death eliminated all competition and opened up emerging markets for Lansky in South America. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lansky made a special effort to stay out of the public eye and was fairly successful. He died of lung cancer in 1983.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: