Murder on the Home Front

Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries During the London Blitz

by Molly Lefebure

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It is 1941. While the “war of chaos” rages in the skies above London, an unending fight against violence, murder and the criminal underworld continues on the streets below.

One ordinary day, in an ordinary courtroom, forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson asks a keen young journalist to be his secretary. Although the “horrors of secretarial work” don’t appeal to Molly Lefebure, she’s intrigued to know exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door.

Capable and curious, “Miss Molly” quickly becomes indispensable to Dr. Simpson as he meticulously pursues the truth. Accompanying him from somber morgues to London’s most gruesome crime scenes, Molly observes and assists as he uncovers the dark secrets that all murder victims keep.

With a sharp sense of humor and a rebellious spirit, Molly tells her own remarkable true story here with warmth and wit, painting a vivid portrait of wartime London.

Murder of the Home Front is my first nonfiction of 2019! It is also my first book from my 2018 Leftover List. (the full list is on my 2019 Goals post)

Molly Lefebure is working as a journalist when she is approached by famous pathologist C Keith Simpson in a courtroom. He needs assistance and hopes she is willing to be his secretary. Molly has no intention of being stuck behind a desk taking notes but she can’t say no to the chance of working in the mortuary. Murder on the Home Front is Molly’s account of her years working as CKS’ secretary during World War II.

First, my negative comments. It took me over five months to finish Murder on the Home Front! I typically breeze through audiobooks, but the narrator’s voice was just a tad too lilting for my taste. It still took me a solid third of the book to become invested in Molly’s life primarily because of the high-brow tone of the audio. The layout of the story didn’t help either. The individual stories are presented in a quick sequential orderand they read like mini-chapters within each chapter. This style is awesome for the amount of information presented but these easy stopping points meant I stopped. Frequently.

That’s it for my personal negative thoughts but I noticed some reoccurring complaints from other reviewers and decided to address them too. First: readers need to remember the book was initially published in the mid-50s. I love the tone because it is written from Molly’s youthful view. Her memories haven’t been influenced by subsequent decades of life and life lessons. However, many people considered her flighty because of her nonchalant tone. Look. She is writing about her job; it’s an amazingly cool job but still just a job. She talks about her days the same way any of us would talk about our boring jobs. Second: many people claim Molly comes across as victim blaming. I feel it’s a personal choice to read this view point into Murder on the Home Front. Look, Molly bluntly states that people wouldn’t have been murdered if they hadn’t been wandering around dark streets alone at night or spending time with violent people. That’s true. Her approach is very factual and somewhat devoid of sympathy for the people laying on CKS’ table. Come on true crime fans….you should know this the typical reaction of people who handle this gruesome stuff on a regular basis. 🙄

Murder on the Home Front is an interesting read. I liked Molly. She is a smart, strong willed, confident woman who quickly adapted to her somewhat gruesome position. Her story gives a lighthearted approach to post mortem examinations, a unique view of wartime London, and a personable experience with the changing social roles of the 1940s. Murder on the Home Front needs to be on every true crime buff’s TBR. It’s a fantastic work detailing the ‘back office’ aspect of investigations and the implementation of forensics.

Let me know what you think and happy reading!

Lindsay

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No Stone Unturned

No Stone Unturned: The Truth Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators

by Steve Jackson

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A body stuffed in a car trunk swallowed by the swirling, muddy waters of the Missouri River. A hiker brutally murdered, then thrown off a cliff in a remote mountain range. A devious killer who hid his wife’s body under a thick cement patio. For investigators, the story is often the same: they know a murder took place, they may even know who did it. But without key evidence, pursuing a conviction is nearly impossible. That’s when they call NecroSearch International. NecroSearch boasts a brain trust of the nation’s top scientists, specialists, and behaviorists who use the latest technology and techniques to help solve “unsolvable” crimes, no matter how decayed the corpse, no matter how cleverly the killer has hidden the victim’s body. Now, for the first time ever, readers are taken on a fascinating, often-shocking journey into a realm of crime investigation of which few people are aware. Necrosearch’s most challenging cases are described, step-by-step, as these modern-day Sherlock Holmes’s detect bodies and evidence thought irretrievable, and testify in court to bring cold-blooded killers to justice.

July found me craving a good true crime nonfiction read. I had previously enjoyed The Poisoner’s Handbook, and was looking for something that focused on forensic science. But I also wanted a story that covered actual investigations (which is what I was looking for but didn’t get when I read Mad City) I was lamenting my need for a good true crime story to my friend TS Barnett and she suggested I check out No Stone Unturned. She shares my love for true crime and has great taste, so I immediately started the audio version.

I absolutely loved No Stone Unturned! The novel follows the creation of NecroSearch, a group of scientists dedicated to advancing forensic science and investigation. The story is expertly laid out, starting with the development of the ‘pig people’ organization and introducing key scientists and volunteers involved. Jackson outlines the science behind the different fields with include geology, archaeology, entomology, and sloberology! The science is presented in laymen’s terms; keeping the information relatable without utilizing and insultingly dumbed-down approach.

One of the best aspects of No Stone Unturned is the applied use of the science in individual cases. Parker focuses on one case at a time. For each investigation he provides information from the disappearance of the victim, the initial police investigation, the involvement of NecroSearch, and the results of the search. He even recounts the trials of the killers. Each investigation is different and presented unique problems which allowed the scientists of NecroSearch to help return lost loved-ones while also providing new data on developing investigation techniques.

And if that wasn’t already fantastic….the volunteers of NecroSearch are dedicated to working together as peers. They actively avoid egotistical battles and hold law enforcement in high respect. Jackson even shares how the group help each other handle the mental effects of working with violence, death, and missing bodies.

I do not have anything negative to say about the story. The complaints I saw from other reviewers, which are few, is the writing style can be dry and they wished for more details concerning the individual team members. I found the writing to be far from dry, but I did also read the audio version. (It was fantastic and well worth the listen).

No Stone Unturned is a nonfiction work I would happily recommend to anyone interested in true crime or forensic investigation. It provides a surprisingly hopeful attitude to a rather morbid topic. It even managed to bring me out of a frustrating reading slump. Pick it up! And please share your true crime suggestions, since I always need another book to read 🙂

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

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