Wednesday, July 11, 2012

John Wayne Gacy

I'll admit it.  I like non-fiction and I like true crime books.  I'd rather read about a real killer than read a mystery.  I started reading, "John Wayne Gacy:  Defending a Monster" by Sam Amirante thinking it would be a true crime book in the vein of "In Cold Blood", but it turned out to be a little different and very interesting indeed.  It was one of those books that I couldn't stop reading and I was constantly thinking about while I was reading it.

"John Wayne Gacy:  Defending a Monster" was written by Sam Amirante who was one of Gacy's defense lawyers during his trial.  The book begins by going into detail about Gacy's final victim and murder and then goes into detail about Gacy's life story.  Then the book tells the story of the police investigation and the eventual trial.  The story of the police investigation was fascinating.  The police had searched his house several times and followed him for months but couldn't find any evidence that he had done anything wrong.  What ended up turning the investigation around was a receipt from a set of pictures to be developed that they found in Gacy's garbage.  From that one receipt the police detectives were able to prove that the last victim had been at Gacy's house.  If they hadn't investigated where the receipt came from he might still be free.

Where the book got interesting for me was during the trial.  Before he was apprehended by the police, John Wayne Gacy confessed his crimes to Sam Amirante in his office late one night.  Sam Amirante knew he was defending a dangerous serial killer.  The book gets into the question that I've often asked myself, "how could anyone defend someone like that in a trial?  Especially if you knew they were guilty?"

Sam Amirante answers this question in a very patriotic american way.  In his opinion the american system of justice is the greatest system developed in the entire world.  Where even a dangerous serial killer can get a fair trial.  He makes it very clear that he had no intention of trying to set Gacy free, or getting him off in some way.  That wasn't his job.  His job was to make sure his client was treated fairly, that the rule of the law was followed, and that Gacy got the sentence he deserved.  This book really did make me rethink the role of the defense lawyer in our justice system.

What was also fascinating to me was how the book ended.  Sam Amirante ended up being a judge and only recently retired.  While he was a judge he fought to change the laws and procedures for how police departments investigate missing children cases.  One of the difficulties facing police during their investigations of Gacy was that police departments had to wait 72 hours before beginning a search for a missing person.  Judge Sam Amirante fought to have this changed in the case of minors.  Ultimately his hard work for this cause ended up creating our current Amber Alert system.  At the end of the book he argues that this was a direct result of being involved in the Gacy case and seeing a flaw in the system.  Police had to have the ability to look for missing children right away.  He ends the book by stating that Gacy's victims didn't die in vain because of this.  Thus, this book about one of the most horrible killers in history, ended with a reflective and positive note.  If you are interested in a true crime story that much more to offer I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Maybe it makes sense to simply give the wolves your address. In this coming of age novel, 14-year-old June Elbus would prefer to stop time--or better yet, step back into a romanticized medieval period complete with cloisters, music and dress. But it's 1987 and her Uncle Finn is dying of AIDS. Losing the one person who sees her so clearly will force June to explore her family relationships, understand Finn's love for his partner Toby, watch talent be embraced or denied, and discover ways to take care of others--in time foreshortened by a plague of medieval proportions.

I love books that keep me thinking about their themes and characters long after I've finished, and this is one of them. June is beautifully drawn, in that awkward time as childhood ends. Wolves appear as villains and protectors.  Time is captured in art, music, drama, architecture, and the moments we spend with each other.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home...pull up a comfortable chair and settle into this terrific debut novel by Carol Rifka Brunt.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy

There are a bazillion books purporting to have the latest, greatest information about health and what you can do to lose weight or increase your life span. I used to read some of these from time to time, but I started getting tired of the conflicting messages and crazy regimes that so many of them suggest. Now I usually steer clear of "health" books unless I think there's a very good reason for picking one up. A. J. Jacobs is that reason. When I saw the title of his new book: Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, I knew I would read this. If you aren't familiar with Jacobs, he does what some people refer to as "stunt journalism" or "year of" writing: the author undertakes a project or lifestyle for a year in order to write about it. Jacobs has also written The Year of Living Biblically (which is self-explantory) and The Know-It-All, where he read the entire encyclopedia.

In his latest adventure Jacobs attempts to try all of the things that people claim will make you healthy, from simply exercising to wearing noise-cancelling headphones and taking testosterone supplements. Jacobs takes on every aspect of the body-not just the expected heart and stomach, but also the teeth, feet, skin, etc. He visits experts and consults scientific studies. His writing, as always, is entertaining and humorous. I appreciated that Jacobs cut through all the debates and tells the reader which recommendations actually have scientific data backing it up. In the end, he identifies what he thinks are the most important things he should be doing, and his own personal family experiences show that even if you do everything right, you can still get sick. I felt like much of what he determines to be important, I already knew and have been trying to do myself. But he does have some good tips for sticking with it (Thinking about eating that cupcake? Write out a check to the KKK and have a friend mail it if you give in.) He also reminds us of the importance of things like flossing and reducing our exposure to noise. His success in creating a less sedentary life is probably one of the most important lessons of his experience and the one I know I need the most help with. Treadmill at the reference desk? Not such a crazy idea.