Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.
Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in thei
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really liked it
The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a 2017 Scribner publication.
A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating.
Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out
This book has a great premise, to be sure — in a 2016 article in The New Yorker Mr. James notes that
“… a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It’s a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I’ll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to th
it was ok
Years ago, I read on a website listing top unsolved murders a report of the 1911 murders of six people in two adjacent houses on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. These murders were of particular interest to me as I once lived on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. Both families were apparently bludgeoned in their sleep in the middle of the night. Nothing was stolen and the houses were then closed up and the murder weapon, a bloody axe, was found leaning against the wall of one of the hous
So when Scribner announced recently that a book was soon to be released about a string of serial killings that occurred mostly between the years 1910 and 1912 in which an unknown person used an axe or similar item found at the scene to murder families in their beds in houses near railroad tracks (the 300 block of West Dale is less than three blocks from the D&RGW tracks), I knew this was a book I had to read.
Thank god I waited until a library copy was available.
While the book contains a lot of fascinating information about a truly horrific series of murders, the writing is wretched beyond words. Author Bill James began his career by self-publishing books on the statistical analytics of baseball, a springboard which secured him a job with the Boston Red Sox and a reputation that was said to influence Nate Silvers Fivethirtyeight.com and The Upshot at the New York Times. In 2011, though, he decided to change course and published Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, a disjointed mishmash about a wide variety of notorious criminal cases. He does not shy away from unlikely theories, as indicated by his assertion that President Kennedy was killed by the accidental discharge of a Secret Service officer’s weapon.
James’ conversational tone may work well in writing about baseball games but when talking about murderers, or more importantly, their victims, folksy banter comes off as disrespectful and just plain weird.
“After their marriage they moved to Centerville, Ohio, where they boarded with Mr. and Mrs. George W. Coe. (We might say they coe-habited with them [you might, but you shouldn’t]…Anna’s maiden name was—”Axxe”really—but we’re going to let that pass without comment.”[You should have, but didn’t])
In other cases James’ tone is almost conspiratorial which make me feel in need of a shower.
Something in the room would later cause the chief detective to describe the perpetrator as a “moral pervert”; what that was was never revealed, but you and I know.
In one chapter he lists four reasons why a particular set of killings should not be considered as one of this series with the first reason being that there was insufficient information to include it. Then he immediately offers ten reasons why it should be included ending with “The absence of any factor that would make us think that it isn’t him.” In short, he has two contradictory lists that each say that there is no data belonging in the other list. Go figure.
Bottom line: I’m torn on how to rank this as I’d like to give it five stars for the material but only one star for the writing which is abominable. The only thing that is keeping me reading it is the desire to find out what happens but the author’s history of favoring unlikely conspiracy theories makes me wonder if I will be able to trust his conclusions. Additionally, the book is lacking an index, footnotes, pictures, or much in the way of maps that would help readers gain a better understanding of the case. While the material in this book is very interesting, the author makes enjoying the book all but impossible. The writing is disjointed. He regularly refers to cases which have yet to be mentioned in the book. At one point he admitted that newspaper accounts of a certain murder exist but admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read them. I can’t be sure what research he actually did and what material he lifted from the research of others. Sometimes I wonder why I keep reading this, and yet I do. It’s like watching a car wreck. I can’t turn away.
FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or even memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.