Mad City

Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders that America Forgot

by Michael Arntfield

Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot

Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot is a chilling, unflinching exploration of American crimes of the twentieth century and how one serial killer managed to slip through the cracks—until now.

In fall 1967, friends Linda Tomaszewski and Christine Rothschild are freshmen at the University of Wisconsin. The students in the hippie college town of Madison are letting down their hair—and their guards. But amid the peace rallies lurks a killer.

When Christine’s body is found, her murder sends shockwaves across college campuses, and the Age of Aquarius gives way to a decade of terror.

Linda knows the killer, but when police ignore her pleas, he slips away. For the next forty years, Linda embarks on a cross-country quest to find him. When she discovers a book written by the murderer’s mother, she learns Christine was not his first victim—or his last. The slayings continue, and a single perpetrator emerges: the Capital City Killer. As police focus on this new lead, Linda receives a disturbing note from the madman himself. Can she stop him before he kills again?

I received Mad City as my September Amazon First book and decided to upgrade it to the audiobook version because I usually prefer listening to nonfiction books. I was intrigued by the prospect of learning about a forgotten homicide; however, I quickly found myself disappointed in the story’s progression and actually relieved when I finally reached the end.

As you may guess, this will not be a glowing review of Mad City, which I rated 2 out of 5 stars. Mad City, per the synopsis, promises a discussion of the murder of Christine Rothschild in 1968 at the University of Wisconsin. Sure, we learn about this murder, take a detailed look at the killer, and follow Christine’s best friend, Linda, on her personal witch hunt for justice. We also learn about seven other murders (I think it was seven) of females loosely associated with the University of Wisconsin that occur over a span of 15 years after Christine’s death. Additionally, readers are treated to an intense discussion of criminal profiling, criminal mentality, the differences between criminal modus operandi, MO, and signature, as well as, a detailed discussion of every major serial homicide case in America between 1968 and 2013. It was just too much.

I want to get my positive points out now. The prose was well constructed. Additionally, Arntfield is obviously knowledgeable about criminology. His discussion of the criminal mind and detailing of a variety of cases is well researched and comprehensively presented. Honestly, I would consider Mad City a decent novel if it had been marketed as a nonfiction piece evaluating criminal mentality in serial murderers. These two points are the only reason I didn’t stamp Mad City with just 1 out of 5 stars.

Mad City starts strong with the details of the Christine Rothschild case, but then quickly disintegrates into chapters upon chapters of information overload. Readers are forced to sift through the information in an attempt to distinguish the forgotten campus murders between descriptions of other murder scenes, other killers, and other cities plagued with serial murder activity. Unsurprisingly, this information overload completely negates the purpose of Mad City, and leaves these UW campus murders all but forgotten in this criminology text. Additionally, Arntfield pulls this nonfiction into the realm of fiction, when he consistently provides the thoughts and motivations of every investigator associated with the UW campus murders over the course of 15-20 years. What follows is blatant cop-bashing as Arntfield pretty much claims that these investigators intentionally ignored these cases, attempted to ‘pin the crimes’ on individuals just to get them off their desk, and refused to connect the murders out of sheer laziness. Arntfield does give some nod to the lack of modern investigation techniques hampering progress, but his credibility is completely ruined by his blatant padding with pure conjecture. It is cop-bashing by a former cop and has no place in a work of nonfiction.

Spoilers: there are a number of times when the author breaks the fourth wall and provides his personal opinion on events. This type of writing is fine in certain types of nonfiction works (memoirs, self-help books, travel stories, etc.). It is not appropriate in a historical true crime novel, unless the author has a personal role in the story. I spent the whole story annoyed with this audacious style UNTIL it is revealed the author does have a personal role in the story IN THE LAST CHAPTER. UGH! This should have been announced in the epilogue or first chapter, and would have justified the language of the novel.

Sadly, I do not think Mad City succeeded in informing readers on the campus murders that America forgot. The overload of crime information only managed to further muddle the University of Wisconsin murders. I was disappointed, but I do feel that Arntfield has potential if he can make his work on criminology strictly objective.

Do you have any true crime nonfiction that you suggest? I need to read something good!

Lindsay

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The Light in the Ruins

The Light in the Ruins

by Chris Bohjalian

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

The Light in the Ruins is an interesting story of murder, revenge, art preservation, and survival during war-torn Italy. The Rosatis were once a wealthy Italian family of noble lineage that barely survived World War II. Ten years after the end of the war someone is determined to kill the remaining members and Serafina, the only female homicide detective in Florence, is assigned the case. What follows is a beautiful story of how war changes everything.

I love how the plot gracefully jumps between two time frames: 1955 and the last two years of the Second World War. Bohjalian expertly provides multiple character perspectives and utilizes the flashbacks to build the perfect level of tension and suspense. Usually it is the mystery that keeps me focused on a novel but The Light in the Ruins is different. Instead, I was focused on the moral questions presented by Bohjalian. These included: what do you do when you find yourself allied with the wrong people? And how do you move on when you’ve experienced so many terrible things? Don’t get me wrong; the mystery was good! And I even enjoyed the romance between Cristina and her German soldier, but it was the moral questions that kept me reading. I also want to note that the end tied everything together perfectly (which is awesome) and that I love how Serafina’s personal history wove in and out of the Rosatis’ story.

The only thing I can complain about is the pacing. The Light in the Ruins just reads slow. I first picked up the novel in hardback at the local library and eventually had to return it half finished. I am not normally the type who will go years without finishing a story but the pacing made it hard to come back. The good thing is the story was interesting enough for me to eventually come back and I finished it as an audiobook. This format was perfect in my opinion.

I recommend The Light in the Ruins for lovers of historic mysteries. The setting is beautiful and the topics thought provoking. It provides an interesting look at the struggle to protect Italian art during the war, while also forcing readers to evaluate the political, physical, and moral struggles of Italian citizens surviving the Nazi regime.

Have you read The Light in the Ruins? What are your favorite historic mysteries?

Lindsay

 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Dana Stabenow

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Shocked by a series of brutal, unexplainable murders, Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell embarks on a desperate journey into the heart of the Alaskan Bush country — in search of the terrible, earth-shattering truth…

Nothing Gold Can Stay is my first novel by Dana Stabenow and I enjoyed it. This is another audio book I picked up from the library and it seemed like the perfect winter mystery for my current reading mood. Stabenow didn’t let me down!

Wy’s kick butt flying is the best part of Nothing Gold Can Stay! She obviously did her research because Stabenow nailed the aerial descriptions. It was great reading about good flying and I always appreciate the adventures of a fellow kick butt female pilot!! 😜

Other than that, I enjoyed Stabenow’s format style. I liked that readers get the backstory for each character and I enjoyed how different each individual was. I liked reading about Tim adjusting to his knew home, Wy’s struggle to maintain order in her life, and Liam’s dogged determination to fix everything. Moses was definitely one of my favorite characters and Prince was the least. Stabenow’s descriptive language left me feeling as if I had know these people all my life. I felt bad for them, I cheered for them, and I hoped the best for them. That alone makes it an enjoyable read; the flying kept me smiling the whole time!

I like the mystery and the way it was handled but I must warn you that abuse is a primary topic in Nothing Gold Can Stay. This includes child abuse, marital abuse, and sexual abuse. Stabenow is focused on the positive recovery aspects of abuse but you should know that it’s there before picking up this novel. 

My only complaint is there was just too much sex for my taste. And yes I can hear all you romance readers gasp in shock at that statement. I understand the Stabenow utilized the interactions for character develop but every character had sex, or their sex life discussed, at some point in the book. It was just constant and actually took away from the mystery a couple of times. 

Nothing Gold Can Stay is the third book in the Liam Campbell series (I’m kinda ashamed I started in the middle) and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading the rest of them! Anyone else a fan of Dana Stabenow?

Lindsay

The Night is Alive 

The Night is Alive

by Heather Graham

The Night Is Alive (Krewe of Hunters, #10)

MIDNIGHT IN SAVANNAH

It’s a city of beauty, history, hauntings. And one of the most haunted places in Savannah is a tavern called The Dragonslayer, built in the 1750s. The current owner, Gus Anderson, is a descendant of the original innkeeper and his pirate brother, Blue.

Gus summons his granddaughter, Abigail, home from Virginia, where she’s studying at the FBI Academy. When she arrives, she’s devastated to find him dead. Murdered. But Abby soon learns that Gus isn’t the only one to meet a brutal and untimely end; there’ve been at least two other victims. Then Captain Blue Anderson starts making ghostly appearances, and the FBI’s paranormal investigation unit, the Krewe of Hunters, sends in Agent Malachi Gordon.

Abby and Malachi have a similar ability to connect with the dead and a similar stubbornness. Sparks immediately begin to fly; sparks of attraction and discord. But as the death toll rises, they have to trust each other or they, too, might find themselves among the dead haunting old Savannah!

I like Heather Graham. I enjoy her quirky female leads and how she smoothly integrates her paranormal characters in to her mysteries. But, I will not be reading any more of her Krewe of Hunters books. The Night is Alive is the second Krewe of Hunters novel reviewed on Sand Between the Pages.  You can check out Phantom Evil here.

I grabbed the audio version of The Night is Alive, Krewe of Hunters #10,  from the local library, drawn in by the promise of Savannah history and pirate ghosts. I never say no to pirate ghosts y’all!  I just wish I actually liked The Night is Alive.

Let me start with the positive points. The Night is Alive delivered on Savannah history. The detailed passages of the city streets, the historic buildings, and underground tunnels had me ready to book a vacation. I had no problem feeling like I was exploring alongside Malachi and Abby. Graham also didn’t disappoint when it came to pirate lore. My husband and I are both big fans of pirate history and Blue’s scenes were definitely my favorite.

Now on to why I will not be reading any more Krewe of Hunters novels. I do not like the Krewe characters.  They are undeveloped, leaving them to read very two dimensional and forced.  I can’t get invested in their stories.  Abby is a new FBI agent driven to prove herself and we are constantly reminded of this fact by EVERYONE in the story.  She never actually acted like a trained FBI agent until she faced off with the killer so we definitely needed all those reminders, but it gets old fast.  Her relationship with Malachi didn’t feel remotely realistic.  They went from hating each other, to hooking up, to maybe dating, and then to discussing marriage in the course of three weeks.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? This is the second time insta-love has been a major plot device in my Krewe of Hunters reading.  No, just no.  Don’t worry, I didn’t give away any spoilers.  You know where Abby and Malachi’s relationship is going the minute they meet.  Here are some actual spoilers though, so avert your eyes if you must!  I do not like what Graham did with her serial killer.  She did everything she could to divert suspicion from this character so that the reveal would be all the more shocking.  No, it wasn’t shocking.  It was irritating and I was rightly pissed when I realized whodunit.  And then, THEN, she kills off the serial killer before explaining his motivations.  I know this happens in real life, but it just felt lazy coupled with the complete lack of character development throughout the entire story.  UHG!

Now don’t let this review deter you from Graham’s stand alone and Harrison Investigation novels.  I enjoy many of them and they are pretty well developed!  I just can’t get behind her Krewe of Hunters series.  Are you a Heather Graham fan?  What do you think of her new series?

Lindsay