The Feminist and the Axe Murderer

Susan Glaspell was just 24, working her first job out of college as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News when she was called to the scene of a grisly crime that would shape her artistic destiny. Late on the night of December 1, 1900, John Hossack had been bludgeoned to death with an axe as he lay in bed. Margaret, his wife of 33 years, slept on beside him during the murder, or so she claimed.

Despite her children’s protests, she was arrested and charged with murder. The trial became a sensation, and Glaspell’s reporting on the case and its surprising outcome was eagerly devoured well beyond Iowa. To say that the case became a referendum on domestic abuse would be to rewrite history, but the sympathies aroused by the stoic Margaret Hossack were indicative of a gradual change in the popular understanding of women’s rights and legal status. Continue reading “The Feminist and the Axe Murderer”

Crime: Evil under the Rising Sun.

Watching the cherry blossoms burst forth and fade always makes me think of Japan. But my Japan is not a place of samurai, ninja and serene Zen temples. The Japan I think of is lit by neon rather than a rising sun. A place of tailored suits, leather jackets, discos and hostess bars, a place where the eternal human game of life and death, cops and robbers, is played with a unique style. Here are some favorite titles – fiction and non-fiction – Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelsteinabout this Japanese underworld (and here they are in our library catalog).

Jake Adelstien did not intend to become a crime reporter for Yomiuri Shinbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers but this was Tokyo in the 90’s and he needed a job. Jake was soon rubbing elbows with police detectives and senior yakuza figures. Adelstein uses his status as an outsider supplemented with sometimes insane courage to take the reader deep inside the Japanese criminal world. Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein.

Another outsider to penetrate the darker places of Japan was British journalist, Richard Lloyd Parry. His investigation following the disappearance of Lucie Blackman while she was working in a hostess bar takes the reader along a convoluted path stretching from London to Tokyo’s Roppongi district, from the oceanside cave where her body was found through the long and complex trial of her accused attacker. People Who Eat  Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Perry.

Yakuza Moon, by Shoko TendoShoko Tendo was born inside this darker world. In her revealing and sometimes harrowing memoir she shows us the unadorned life of someone raised inside the yakuza. This is an unblinking look at the rare joys and frequent despairs of a criminal life where women are considered accessories or chattel, if they are considered at all. Ms. Tendo’s path leads through drugs, loan sharks and violence until she creates her own way out and in so doing transforms the traditional yakuza tattoo into a symbol of strength. Yakuza Moon, by Shoko Tendo.

Turning to fiction, Natsuo Kirino’s Out details the story of a group of women working the night shift in a Tokyo factory that produces bento lunches. An accidental murder soon has the group tangling with the yakuza and the police. However do not Continue reading “Crime: Evil under the Rising Sun.”

Crime: If You Like Boardwalk Empire

Find Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson in the Seattle Public Library catalog.I just finished season one of Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorcese’s series set in prohibition era Atlantic City, and am dying for more. I love good immersive TV experiences (and saving money with library DVDs), but in the end you’re as bereft as if you’d just finished a satisfying long novel. So I put together a couple of lists in our library catalog featuring fiction and non-fiction about the place and era, or othewise redolent of the magificent blend of showiness, sin and squalor that Scorcese depicts so well.

Find 1920, the year of the six presidents by David Pietrusza in the Seattle Public Library catalog.In addition to a number of titles about Atlantic  City in its garish heyday, the non-fiction list includes Daniel Okrent’s excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as well as Ken Burn’s recent documentary on the subject and Whispering Wires, a look at our own local bootlegging history and the notorious Roy Olmstead. There are fine biographies of gangsters Arnold Rothstein (and the Black Sox scandal) and the early career of Al Capone. David Pietrusza’s 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents offers a window into the politics of the time. I’ve even thrown in an eBook travel guide to Atlantic City, where you’ll find the street names familiar if you’ve ever played Monopoly.

The fiction list runs farther afield, from Nick Tosches’ novel about Arnold Rothstein, King of the Jews, to Joseph March’s 1929 verse novel The Wild Party, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories to fine period crime novels such as Ace Atkins’ Devil’s Garden or Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid, as well as titles by a pair of literary Find A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen in the Seattle Public Library catalognovelists who really should be better known to crime fans: Craig Holden’s The Jazz Bird and Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion. The maniacal, gawdy sideshow pandemonium of Kevin Baker’s Coney-Island set Dreamland is mirrored in Nathanael West’s classic Hollywood novel, The Day of the Locust, and the withering social critiques of classic noir like Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? It is no mistake that the corrupt 1920s gave rise to hardboiled fiction, in the the rat-a-tat-tat prose of Black Mask stories, or the sordid pages of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a cleansing bloodbath set in a town so corrupt it is called Poisonville. I even found a little-known novel about Warren G. Harding’s mistress.

There’s lots more, so take a look at these lists of Fiction and Non-Fiction, put something suitable on the stereo, pour yourself a nice legal soft drink (or not), and settle in with a good book (or movie) to await the next season in style.