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I had to squirm (and occasionally skim) my way through this book because I’m squeamish when it comes to violence, but the Black Dahlia murder and Piu Eatwell’s deep dive into the evidence are fascinating enough to make the ick factor worth it. I didn’t know anything about the case going in, but even if you have some background, Eatwell fought for access to evidence never before released—and she has a compelling argument as to the identity of the culprit. She’s also an accomplished historian who excels at creating a sense of place. Black Dahlia, Red Rose is as much a snapshot of postwar LA as it is an analysis of the murder investigation, and even though I’ve never been to California, having read this book I now feel like I have.

True crime can be tough to read. With crime novels, no matter how sick and twisted, you can at least comfort yourself with the thought that it’s all a figment of the author’s imagination. We’re granted no such distance here. Elizabeth Short was a real person whose life was ended purposefully and brutally. So what makes the book worth reading, despite the gruesomeness of the crime itself? In my opinion, it’s the opportunity to explore who the so-called Black Dahlia really was, behind the sensational headlines and prejudice of the times. It’s too easy to cast a beautiful young female murder victim as either a saintly virgin or a disgraced harlot. Based on the picture Eatwell paints of Short, I personally think she (like all women) was more complicated than that false dichotomy allows.

Adding to the intrigue is Eatwell’s exposure of the bald-faced corruption of the LAPD and their unwillingness to bring the killer to justice. As a cock-eyed optimist, I found the department’s failure appalling, but if you’re the jaded type you probably won’t be too surprised. I guess we’ve seen several examples in the news just recently that prove rules don’t apply to white men in powerful positions. I should have known.

Recommended for true crime enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone who likes non-fiction that reads like fiction.

Find it at your library!

This is a book about the invention of wireless telegraphy. As if he knew this wasn’t the sexiest of topics, author Erik Larson includes a murder mystery alongside it, creating a fun little two-for-the-price-of-one non-fiction treat. He lures you in with relationship drama and then works in the science. So sneaky! And once the two distinct stories come together, so delicious.

I can see how some readers would be less than enthused about the more technical details of Marconi’s science experiments, but I live with an engineer, so I have developed a pretty high tolerance for tech speak. I actually find it relaxing to let unfamiliar phrases and concepts drift past--it’s not like I’m expected to chime in with meaningful feedback or opinions. I just nod encouragingly from time to time and let it all wash over me. So yeah, the experience of listening to this audio book was, for me, both familiar and comfortable.

And the story of the demure, unassuming patent medicine salesman Crippen and his voluptuous, volatile wife is a fascinating one, more than enough to keep the engine humming. I didn’t entirely buy into Larson’s incredulity that a man perceived as so gentle could be capable of murder. I must be a cynic--of course the quiet, retiring guy was eventually going to snap! Still, the chase towards the end of the book is surprisingly suspenseful, considering by today’s standards it unfolded at a snail’s pace.

Larson is a great storyteller and is particularly good at sniffing out historical events that would make for accessible, addictive reading. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I especially recommend The Devil in the White City--so good!