Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

Michael Capuzzo's The Murder Room appears on the New York Times Best Seller list this week, and deservedly so.   My regret is that I didn't get to the Poisoned Pen earlier this week to hear Capuzzo talk about this remarkable book that combines the fascinating details of nonfiction true crime with the reading ease of fiction. 

The Murder Room is subtitled "The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases."  It's the story of the Vidocq Society, a group of the world's best criminologists who gather in Philadelphia to investigate cold cases.  But, this intriguing book is also the story of three men, Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist, Frank Bender, a forensic artist who "saw dead people", and William Lynn Fleisher, "the glue that held them together," a man with extensive law enforcement background as an ex-cop, a former FBI agent, a polygraph examiner, and in U.S. Customs law enforcement.  And, there in Philadelphia, Fleisher brought together investigators from seventeen American states and eleven foreign countries, to eat, and look at the past.

And, it's one story from the past that haunts so many of the men in this book, the story of a boy found in a box in Philadelphia in 1957.   Fleisher and so many of the Philadelphia police officers remember that boy, and work on the case for years.   One passage about the reburial of that boy in 1998, is haunting itself, "The young policemen of the winter of 1957 were disguised now as old men."  Capuzzo's skillful use of language allows the nonfiction book to be as riveting as fiction.

The Murder Room isn't a story of one crime, or just those three men, though.  It's a story of an innocent country in 1957, one that woke up to find serial killers in its midst in the '60s and '70s, killers that police forces were ill-equipped to find.  But, the Vidocq Society was able to bring together the finest minds of law enforcement and criminology to investigate unsolved cases that were at least two years old.   In the long run, their investigations only dealt with a tiny number of cases in the country since, according to Capuzzo,"As many as one in three murders went unsolved," but they continued to search for the truth.

Admittedly, there are times Capuzzo gets a little repetitive, particularly when dealing with the biographies of his three lead investigators.  Even so, The Murder Room is a gripping story of cold case investigation, all the more powerful because it is true.  And, fiction itself couldn't create three characters as different, and as intriguing, as Walter, Bender, and Fleisher.  Anyone fascinated by cold cases, and the men who investigate them, will want to pick up Michael Capuzzo's The Murder Room.

Michael Capuzzo's website is

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo.  Penguin Group (USA), ©2010. ISBN 9781592401420 (hardcover), 448p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Lover of Books said...

This one sounds interesting. I'll add it to my list of books on amazon.

Lesa said...

It's a fascinating book, Krista. If you're interested in true crime and cold cases, it's a winner.

Susan C Shea said...

My writing group discussed it and another book as good research tools for writing crime fiction, ways to get inside the heads of the criminals and the crime fighters, and to visualize things we may never see in real time. (I blog about both books on my site this week.) Thanks for the interesting review - I think I will have to get the book.

Lesa said...


I'm glad The Murder Room was a "good research too." If your writing group discussed it as such, then I'm not off the mark with my review. I thought it was one of the best true crime books I've read, with the emphasis on the criminologists. I preferred that, over the emphasis on the criminal. And, the fact that someone brought those cases to the Vidocq Society showed the someone still cared after the victim was long gone.

Janet Rudolph said...

Haven't read it yet. Thanks for the review. I'll bump it up to a closer TBR pile. :-)

Lesa said...

Interesting phrase, Janet, "a closer TBR pile." I'd be a little afraid to see your TBR piles.

Kris said...

I saw this one at the bookstore recently and it looked I'm even more interested to read it. Thanks for a great review.

Lesa said...

Terrific nonfiction book, Kris. I hope you get the chance to pick it up.

Anonymous said...

I just finished listening to this book on audio. VERY interesting read. I agree with you that I like how the focus is on the criminologists and not as much on the criminal. I was fascinated by the 3 men founding the vidocq society. The only part I am having trouble with is the ending...when R. Walter professes who the true killer of the boy in the box is. I am puzzled by his conclusion & lack of additional facts. I had to immediatlely begin an online search about 'the boy in the box' to see if it indeed was the man Walter stated it to be, and was disappointed not to find anything.

Other than that, I recommend this book to anyone who likes 48hrs mystery shows, cold cases, and the like. It was graphic in description and explicit, so those who cannot stomach the details be warned!