Official Review: Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murd...

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Official Review: Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murd...

Post by bookowlie » 25 Sep 2015, 13:37

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders" by Brian E. Forschner.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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True crime books have always been a popular genre, but this particular story is unique in that it was inspired by the author’s genealogy. Brian Forschner’s Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders takes an in-depth look at the Dayton, Ohio murders of several women in the early 1900’s. The author became interested in these crimes after he discovered a personal connection to one of the victims while researching his family tree; Mary Forschner was his grandfather’s sister.

Ada Lantz, Dona Gilman, Anna Markowitz, Elizabeth Fulhart, and the author’s great-aunt were murdered over a 9-year period. Ada went missing during an evening party at her home and was found dead that night in the septic tank of the outhouse on the property. A coroner’s examination reveals that she was raped and strangled. The Dayton Police Department is quickly beset by criticism from the public and media for failing to solve the crime. Four more murders occur within the decade in the same downtown area of the city, with the same modus operandi. Fears run rampant and pressure mounts for law enforcement to solve the crimes. A man is tried and convicted of the Markowitz murder, but there is lingering doubt among the Dayton police that he did it. Eventually, the unknown assailant becomes known as Jack the Strangler due to similarities to the Jack the Ripper murders in London.

I enjoyed reading this well-written book. I felt like I was transported to Dayton in the early 1900’s with a detailed picture of the social and political climate. It’s clear that the author meticulously researched the cases, including the actions of the police, coroner, other local officials, and media. The local newspaper reporters actively covered the story and presented their own theories. It’s interesting that it took several years for the newspapers to report that the murders were probably committed by the same person.

The author vividly describes the socio-economic conditions when discussing the victims’ backgrounds. It was commonplace for teenage girls to work full-time to contribute to the family income. This often put these young women in a position where they were walking home alone from the train station on dark streets.

The crimes are recreated based on interviews, witnesses, and sparse evidence. The author presents an interesting backstory for each of the victims, including photos. Forensic techniques were unheard of at the time. Much of the investigative work was conducted intuitively rather than scientifically. It’s mind-boggling to read about the ineptitude of law enforcement and the coroner’s office. Suspects, including family members, were often arrested based on pretty much nothing other than the police or coroner’s feelings.

Each murder and ensuing investigation is showcased in its own long chapter. I found the individual cases compelling, but there is a somewhat disjointed feel when one chapter would end and another victim’s story would begin. I believe this was partially due to the long chapters and detailed backstories of each victim. The way the book is formatted with an unusually long chapter for each case made for a slow experience for this normally fast reader. Still, I was blown away by the climax. Without giving spoilers, all I will say is the ending was shocking and thought-provoking.

I rate this story 3 out of 4 stars. The author should be commended for his detailed research and ability to turn the wealth of information into a fascinating book. Fans of true crime and mystery books would find this an absorbing read. The book made me appreciate the things we take for granted in criminal investigations, such as advanced forensics and the use of computers. Our current criminal justice system has problems, but it is certainly preferable to what people dealt with at the turn of the 20th century.

******
Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders
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Post by gali » 26 Sep 2015, 01:25

Great review as always, but the subject matter isn't my cup of tea. 8)
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Post by erasmus » 26 Sep 2015, 04:27

Wow, this sounds like a really fascinating book. Brilliant review, and kudos for making it sound so convincing!
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Post by bluemel4 » 26 Sep 2015, 04:42

Fantastic review! The inspiration for this novel is fascinating. I love it when the research used to create a novel is successfully integrated into the story.
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Post by bookowlie » 26 Sep 2015, 08:22

Gali - Thanks! I usually like true crime books. In this case, the story emphasized all the missteps that delayed catching the killer and resulted in more murders over a decade. I prefer books in this genre that focus on how the police catch a killer through good, methodical investigation. Still, it was an interesting story.

-- 26 Sep 2015, 09:31 --

Thanks Erasmus! The book was fascinating, although it was like watching a trainwreck at times. I wanted to yell at the cops, coroner, even the women for walking alone at night.

Thanks Bluemel4. I loved that the author researched these murders after finding out that his great-aunt was one of the victims. His grandfather never told him when he was alive. I imagine his grandfather was traumatized by the murder.
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Post by Tanaya » 26 Sep 2015, 09:40

I was going to review this book but hesitated when I realized it wasn't fictional, just because that was what I was in the mood for at the time. Regardless, it sounds like a compelling book. Fantastic review as always!
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Post by bookowlie » 26 Sep 2015, 09:54

Thanks Tanaya!

Just a heads up. There is a Giveaway for this book on Goodreads that ends on October 5.
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Post by Tanaya » 26 Sep 2015, 09:55

Ooh good to know. I'll check it out. Thanks!
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Post by Brian +++ » 26 Sep 2015, 13:55

My goal in writing this book was to tell the stories of these girls, to offer some sense of justice, as they were quickly forgotten. It is thrilling to see that their stories are now being discussed on a medium they could never have conceived.

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Post by gran1990 » 26 Sep 2015, 15:33

Great review. I enjoy true crime as well as fiction mystery. Because of your great review I will be adding this book to my shelf.

-- 26 Sep 2015, 14:33 --

Great review. I enjoy true crime as well as fiction mystery. Because of your great review I will be adding this book to my shelf.

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Post by bookowlie » 26 Sep 2015, 15:58

Brian +++ wrote:My goal in writing this book was to tell the stories of these girls, to offer some sense of justice, as they were quickly forgotten. It is thrilling to see that their stories are now being discussed on a medium they could never have conceived.
I think your grandfather would have been proud that you wrote this book, as a form of justice for his sister's story to be told.

-- 26 Sep 2015, 16:59 --
gran1990 wrote:Great review. I enjoy true crime as well as fiction mystery. Because of your great review I will be adding this book to my shelf.

-- 26 Sep 2015, 14:33 --

Great review. I enjoy true crime as well as fiction mystery. Because of your great review I will be adding this book to my shelf.
Thanks. I think you would enjoy this book.
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Post by Jesska6029 » 26 Sep 2015, 17:35

It's always great when research pays off! Sounds like this author does a nice job! Love the review!
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Post by bookowlie » 26 Sep 2015, 19:58

Thanks Jesska! It was apparent that the book was carefully researched.
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Post by Cee-Jay Aurinko » 27 Sep 2015, 03:21

Bookowlie, I absolutely enjoyed reading this review. This book sounds fascinating and intriguing and I almost want to get it right now. I've never read a true crime novel before and I've always wondered, is it written like fiction?
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Post by bookowlie » 27 Sep 2015, 19:26

Leon Durham wrote:Bookowlie, I absolutely enjoyed reading this review. This book sounds fascinating and intriguing and I almost want to get it right now. I've never read a true crime novel before and I've always wondered, is it written like fiction?
Thanks Leon! I have read a lot of true crime books over the years. This particular story was written more like mystery fiction where you read the details of each crime "as it happened" and the aftermath, and finally the mystery is wrapped up at the end. Other true crime books I've read are often written where you already know who the killer is, and you get to know the motivations, backstory of the killer, etc.
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