The Final Round-Up | Non-Fiction

Finally bringing the major catch-up to a close, here are the non-fiction reads which I have not reviewed so far on the blog. An interesting mix but with my usual slant towards true crime 🙂

Death in the Air * Kate Winkler Dawson
Subtitled: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

The author takes the events of early December 1952 when a severe smog brought London to a halt and ties them in with the case of John Reginald Christie, serial killer and all-round nasty piece of work. I was very interested in getting my hand on this book for two reasons:

  • my husband was born in 1951 and he had heard many stories of what it was like to live in London at this time, with the smog seeping into homes through every crack and crevice, which he passed on to me; and
  • when I first started working in London I had a colleague who had worked with Christie in his short stint at National Savings.

I was disappointed in the book. At first, this had to do with the scene-setting, where I found myself asking about the accuracy of some of the descriptions – along the lines of “could you really see that from there?” – and the general infelicities of language when (apologies to my friends in the US) an American is writing about the UK. But mostly my problem was the link with Christie’s case, which seemed far too tenuous to be the basis of this sort of mixed subject book. And it’s a shame because the scandal of the government’s response to the smog and the moving stories of individual experience would have been enough to form a superb book on their own.

Bad Blood * John Carreyrou
Subtitled: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up

This book covers the “biggest corporate fraud since Enron”, as described by the investigative journalist who broke the original story. A company run by a charismatic and attractive young woman and backed by lots of significant business leaders looks to be one of the major success stories of recent years in Silicon Valley, except for the small matter that the medical technology it claimed to have developed simply didn’t work, and anyone raising concerns, whether inside or outside the company was harassed and threatened.

Elizabeth Holmes was/is an appalling person, enabled by those blinded by the possibility of making megabucks, and silencing critics by threatening their ability to work in the industry. You don’t have to know much about business to get a great deal out of this fascinating book. I knew very little about this until I heard Karen Kilgariff of My Favourite Murder fame mention on the podcast that she was reading this.

Since then there have been more books, a podcast and a documentary covering the story, but this is the original from the guy that was there.

Stalling for Time * Gary Noesner
Subtitled: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator

I picked this up when I found out it was one of the books on which the TV series Waco was based; we had just started watching the programme and I wanted to know a little bit more about the background. It covers a whole lot more than just Waco as the author uses the experience he gained over 30 years in the FBI to assess the development of the use of negotiation and the tensions between that approach and increasingly militarised law enforcement. A short but engrossing book.

I still haven’t been able to watch the last two episodes of the series because the whole thing was such a terrible disaster and seeing that played out will be difficult. The cast is really excellent though and I read the book in the voice of Michael Shannon who plays Noesner.

Ma’am Darling * Craig Brown
Subtitled: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret

I don’t normally read royal biographies but this has won so many awards, and I find Brown such an interesting writer that I gave it a go, and I’m so glad that I did because it is wonderful. I laughed out loud but also found some of the stories sad and touching. The best way to describe it is to quote from the blurb:

Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues and essays, Ma’am Darling is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography, and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

A clever book in the very best way.

Traces * Patricia Wiltshire
Subtitled: The Memoirs of a Forensic Scientist and Criminal Investigator
Patricia Wiltshire has had a long and distinguished career as an expert in forensic ecology, botany and palynology. She has been involved in a number of high-profile cases across the world and tells the story of her involvement in many of these alongside snippets of her personal life.

It’s a fascinating if slight book by a remarkable woman, but I did find myself occasionally and disrespectfully muttering “I collect spores, moulds and fungus” a la Egon Spengler.

A nice addition to my true crime library.

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