Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Reading: Even some flawed books are worth reading...

I don't read too much in the "true crime" genre any more.

I've always been interested in the procedural aspect of the solving of crimes, but at some point it just got too depressing to read much of that sort of thing. Yeah, the crimes that get written about are the ones that end up getting solved sooner or later, mostly. I think that's why a lot of people read true crime; the bad guys get theirs eventually, and that's a comforting thought. But, after awhile, it just got to the point that all that tragedy and blood got too depressing for me to continue to make it a regular part of my reading.

However, I just finished an interesting true crime book, Hands Through Stone (2012, Craven Street Books; 350 pages), by James A. Ardaiz.

I wouldn't have picked it up at the library, except that it is about a local case, or actually two cases a few years apart that turned out to be connected. Not only did I remember the latter of the two cases (the first one was before I moved to the area), but in the years after there were rumors that a woman who lived in my neighborhood was related to one of the people involved. I didn't pay much attention to the talk then, but when I saw the book I made that connection and decided to read it.

I'm glad I read it, because it cleared up some stuff about the case that I had not connected up before, including exactly why the second crime - a triple homicide during what initially appeared to be the robbery of a mom-and-pop grocery store - was committed. I'd always heard that it was a crime of revenge, but I never really understood why the revenge was being sought until I read this book.

Yes, I'm deliberately being vague about the details of the case, which got fairly wide publicity especially after the second crime was committed, because I want you to read the book, and I don't want to give a lot away. Because the book was written by the prosecutor in the first case, who later went on to become an appellate judge, there are enough inside details to make the whole thing interesting.

I'm not going to claim that it is a particularly well-written book, because it isn't. There is no real evidence that it had the benefit of much editing. I'm not sure whether that is the fault of the author or of the publisher (a small local press). It could also have used a good proofread. All of that would have ordinarily made me put the book down unfinished, but the story being told was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages.

The other flaw of the book is that at some points, the narrative becomes more about the writer than the subject of the book. However, I even found those passages interesting because of the insight they gave into the mind of the prosecutor, who followed the case even after he was out of it, seeing it out to its bitter end over twenty-five years after the first crime was committed when the former prosecutor attended the execution of the man who had masterminded the crimes.

And that's another thing about the book. No matter which side of the capital punishment debate you are on, the book will give you things to think about. I happen to be on the anti-death-penalty side of the discussion, for various reasons, but I'll wait to write about that another time.

Right now, I'll just say that, yes, Hands Through Stone is a flawed book. But if you can find it, and if you are interested in the subject of crime and punishment and the people who both commit crimes and those who attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice, you should probably read this book.

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