by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
Books that tell the stories of real-life crimes are always popular. Usually called “true crime,” these books can combine the suspense of a mystery with the chance to learn about something that really happened. True crime can also give the reader insights into human nature: why do people do bad things, and how do people survive when bad things happen to them? The Litchfield Library has some new books that are classified as true crime.
One brand-new book is Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case that Captivated a Nation by Brad Ricca. Grace Humiston was the New York police department’s first female consulting detective, and the first female U.S. district attorney. Despite her status as a legal pioneer and her family’s prominent social status, she has largely been ignored by history, even though she was famous in her time. Humiston’s motto was “Justice for those of limited means.” She solved strange cases all over the world, not only in New York City. The book is being compared to Devil in the White City and In Cold Blood in the way it tells a gripping true story.
Humiston was targeted by a secret organization called the Black Hand. Another new book tells the story of a detective who took on this terrifying group: The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History. Author Stephan Talty tells the story of Joseph Petrosino, who was called the “Italian Sherlock Holmes” at the time. Early twentieth century newspapers really liked to compare people with Sherlock Holmes, I guess! Petrosino was known as an ingenious detective and a master of disguise, so maybe the comparison fits. The Black Hand started by extorting money from fellow Italian immigrants but began threatening a wider range of people. Petrosino worked to shut down the organization as anti-immigrant sentiment gripped the nation. A movie version is in the works, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is on the current bestseller lists. Author David Grann also wrote The Lost City of Z, which has recently been adapted into a movie. Killers of the Flower Moon tells a shocking story of corruption and murder. In the 1920’s, the members of the Osage nation in Oklahoma were the richest people per capita in the world, because oil was discovered on their land. Then one by one, members of the tribe were murdered. People were poisoned or shot, or they died under mysterious circumstances. Then the people investigating the murders started dying. After more than two dozen of these deaths, the new Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved, but they didn’t know what they were doing and at first they failed. Then an undercover team worked with the Osage to discover the truth. If you’re looking for a real page-turner, check this one out.
For a more recent story, look for Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street. Steven A. Cohen was a pioneer in hedge funds in the ‘90s, rising from a middle class background to become a genius Wall Street trader and a billionaire. But his hedge fund was ultimately fined and shut down after the largest SEC investigation in Wall Street history. His employees were convicted of insider trading, but Cohen went free and is still trading his own money on Wall Street. Author Sheelah Kolhatkar details the case and asks whether powerful men like Cohen are above the law.
When you’re looking for books like these, you can search “true crime stories” as a subject in the library catalog. History and a bit of psychology, mixed with a thriller – that’s true crime.