See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Originally published on Apr 27, 2017.


He was still bleeding.” I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

4/5 stars.
324 pages, ebook.
Read from April 7, 2017 to April 8, 2017.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC and for fueling my crime and murder intrigue!  I would like to point out that I technically finished this book in one sitting whilst on a 14-hour flight that crossed over between two different days. Yeah, high-fives for me!

Everyone knows the story, or at least the song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” On August 4, 1892 in Fall River Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was charged with murdering her father and step-mother with an axe. Lizzie was later acquitted of the murder, despite the majority of people believing she was guilty, because basically it was thought that women could not be capable of committing such a brutal act. Narrated from many perspectives, this debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Toying with the idea that Lizzie was spoiled and functioning at a child-like capacity (it was easy to forget that she is actually a grown woman), the novel reflects on how her sister Emma has been trying to escape the family home and getaway from Lizzie since the passing of their mother. Their overbearing father, Andrew, always favoured Lizzie and did little to spare Emma any responsibilities after the passing of their mother, even though he has since married a plump woman named Abby.  The home was tense and unhappy. Even the maid, Bridget, is saving every spare coin she had to getaway from the argumentative and strange family.  However trouble is brewing on the horizon and someone has it in for Andrew Borden. With an intense climax and twisted ending, this book will not fail inquisitive minds.

Schmidt is the queen of acute and sensory descriptions. There are few books that can describe blood and vomit in such an uncanny way.  If you are at all squeamish, this book may be a bit unsettling for you but don’t let that stop you. I promise it is worth it. The book is intensely visual and the author has an immense talent in bringing her words alive.  The characters, especially Lizzie, are curious, disruptive, complicated and disturbing and the plot adds a new twist to an old story.

I expect to see a lot from this author in the future as this novel is a killer debut! Ha, see what I did there? Bad joke… yeah. Anyway! If you are at all interested in true-crime, historical-fiction, murder, or just curious characters with great visuals then add this book to your to-read list ASAP and pick up a copy this summer when it comes out in August.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Interviewing a convicted rapist and murderer? My school assignments were never this interesting…

“His dying declaration……that’s what he called it. It’s a statement that’s true because you don’t want to die with a lie on your lips.”

4/5 stars.
Read from September 9, 2017 to September 11, 2017.
ebook, 303 pages.

I don’t even remember how I came across this book, perhaps a Book Riot reading recommendation? I think that’s it. I just know that when I read the description that I just HAD to read it and eagerly put it on hold at the library. I waited and waited until my turn came round to borrow the book. I was not disappointed.

Joe grew up with a less than ideal childhood, with an absent father and an alcoholic mother, but Joe is determined to put himself through college and get away from it all as best as he can. However, his mother keeps dragging him back with her negligence to take care of his severely autistic brother. Joe has had to grow up too fast and is still playing the unwilling role of a parent in his family. He loves his brother and would do anything for him, even if it means sacrificing his own ambitions and dreams.  However, everything changes for Joe during one seemingly harmless school assignment.

Joe is going to interview and write about the life of Carl Iverson, a Vietnam war veteran and convicted rapist and murderer. Carl is living out the remaining days of his life outside of prison in a nursing home as he slowly dies of cancer. As Joe interviews Carl he starts to see that Carl is not what he seems and he begins to unravel a mystery that pushes him to uncover the truth.  Desperate to discover the truth before Carl dies, Joe realizes the risks of uncovering it and as the stakes get higher and higher, Joe comes to find that learning the truth always comes at a price.

“No matter how hard you try, there are some things you just can’t run away from.”

It is hard to know where to start with this book as it sinks its teeth into you from the first page. The plot starts with a solid piece of fiction and evolves into a full-fledged mystery-thriller with an action-packed ending I did not see coming.  There is even a touch of romance as Joe gets his roommate Lila involved in the case.  The main theme that plagues all the characters is guilt, each of them carrying their own silent burden until they come together and unearth each of their own truths.  The characters grab you and do not let go, even long after the book is finished. The authors writing style is concise and high readable, even if he did misspell Farrah Fawcett’s last name wrong that one time.  This typo did not bother me in the slightest which, for me, is a highly peculiar reaction to an editorial mistake. I was too involved in the story to give a damn.

This debut novel has won numerous awards and this book has been worthy of them all.  It also looks like there is a movie in development that has a potential release date set for some time in 2018 release. So get a copy of this book now before the movie poster editions of the novel are released!

Overall, I did not want to put this book down and it may well be a contender for one of the best books I have read in 2017. This book has a little something for everyone and I would recommend to just about any reader looking for a memorable story.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover 343 pages.
Read from June 6, 2017 to June 13, 2017.

Said to be the first of its kind, In Cold Blood, was ground-breaking back when it was first published back in 1965 and was once considered the original non-fiction novel and a pioneer of the true-crime genre.

The novel takes place in Holcomb, Kansas and follows Herb Clutter, a well respected and self-made man, and his family. On November 15, 1959, Herb, his wife Bonnie, and two of their children: Nancy and Kenyon were murdered. Each of them tied up before being individually executed with a shotgun. The police were at a loss as to who would have had a motive to kill such a well-to-do family. As the story unfolds, Capote describes the two fugitives in detail and just how the police were finally able to bring them to justice.

Dick Hickock, a young man with a normal upbringing was sadly disfigured in a car accident in 1950 and as a result of his head injuries he was never quite the same. He married and left numerous wives and children behind and quickly turned to petty crime after his family could not afford to send him to college. It was apparently Dick’s idea to rob the Clutter’s as he was tipped off by a convict that use to work for the Clutter’s claiming that the family kept a safe full of cash.

Perry Smith was a different sort of character. Perry suffered a horrific upbringing of physical and emotional abuse. His father was abusive and his mother was a drunk. After their mother left their father and then passed away from choking on her own vomit, Perry and siblings ended up in an numerous orphanages were they were further abused by caretakers. Two of Perry’s siblings committed suicide as adults. Perry served in the Korean war where injuries to his legs left him in constant pain which he often treated with copious amounts of aspirin. While it may have been Dick’s idea, it was Perry who carried through with the killings of the Clutter family.  With that, Perry’s character is still by far more sympathetic, as he comes across more honest and has even said that he stopped Dick from raping 16 year old Nancy before she was killed. Capote became close friends with Perry during the time that Capote spent interviewing him for the book and it has long be rumoured if there was anything more to the relationship.

“There’s got to be something wrong with us. To do what we did.”

While this book was generally well received a the time, there were some questions as to how concise certain characters and events were depicted. Capote’s long time friend and author, Harper Lee, was his research assistant for this book and contributed more than 150 pages of notes. While Lee was placed in the acknowledgements section of the book she was not credited for her research which, apparently left her with hurt feelings. While the two remained friends after the book’s publication, they grew apart.

Lee and Capote, 1966

Learning about the men who committed such an atrocious act was really intriguing. No wonder people were blown away by its content at the time. However, reading this book in the present day does not have the same effect, making it was easier to criticize Capote’s writing style. I found the novel to be dry and was curious as to how Capote could so easily say that everything her wrote was the absolute truth. The book reads very much like a story and so it is easy to forget that these atrocious murders actually took place and that you’re not just reading another mystery novel. Considering the writing style, it is also hilarious to me that anyone could have ever though that Capote helped Harper Lee write To Kill A Mockingbird, a long held belief that was debunked in one of Capote’s letters to his aunt.

Overall, the novel was decent for its psychological qualities depictions of the murderers but without the shock value of the content, it does not hold up to today’s standards. However, it is still an iconic book, and worth reading if you are true-crime fan or even a Harper Lee fan considering the long history of her friendship with Capote.


References:

http://time.com/4230925/harper-lee-truman-capote-friendship/

http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/02/did_harper_lee_help_truman_cap.html

https://www.monroecountymuseum.org/#!myth-buster/ccb7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Cold_Blood