Tag Archives: true crime books

Review: Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America
by Kevin Cook

The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is well-known by many. However, more urban legend than police blotter, the details of the story shift and change with each telling. Facts becoming murkier and then new research rising to the surface to make the waters of truth clear again.

Even folks for whom Kitty’s name was simply an answer on a Psych 101 exam can recount the basics of her demise: in the 60’s, a murderer stabbed a young woman in her 20’s over and over again as she walked home from a late night bar-shift. 38 bystanders watched from the windows of their Queens-New York apartments and did nothing to help her.

While Kevin Cook isn’t the first writer or scholar to sort through the details of Kitty’s case and posit that much of what we think we know, the story that exists within our public memory, is mostly contrived; Cook’s uncovering is so comprehensive that for me it completely changed what this murder meant in the context of life, and crime, in America.

Before reading this book I knew about the Kitty Genovese murder and the Bystander Effect. I didn’t expect it to unfold in the suspenseful manner I love when reading true-crime books. But Cook surprised me and managed to do just that. He peels back layer after layer of the crime we think we know, the assumptions we made about the urban human condition, and reveals new details at just the right moment.

The detail most often treated as fact in Genovese’s case is that 38 spectators were present while she died. Not acting, simply assuming that someone else would intervene. In fact, 38 came from the number of police interviews conducted at the scene of the crime. Not actual witnesses. Only a few folks heard Kitty’s screams and even less laid eyes on her in her final 20 minutes. The first-hand accounts of these few are revealed slowly within the book–the final encounter so heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. (It makes the whole book worth it so I won’t ruin it by revealing any details here.)

A few days after the tragic incident occurred, Winston Moseley confessed to the crime. But Moseley and Genovese aren’t the only key players Cook explores. Metro Editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal had a big part to play. After a meeting with the NYC police commissioner, Rosenthal took the 38 witness story and ran with it. And other media outlets around the world followed suit. Suddenly the crime became a viral sensation, inspiring a host of psychological and sociological studies. However, the most meaningful implication to all the publicity, in my opinion? The arrival of a 911 call system. Something that didn’t exist the night Kitty cried out for help.

Whether he knew the story would or not, Rosenthal struck a chord with Americans who were scared. Scared about the changing landscape of urban living, scared by new politics and ideas and neighbors so close who looked so different, scared because the assassination of their president was still so fresh in their minds. But he got his facts wrong. And, as a result, we all did too.

This book showed me that Kitty’s story isn’t about indifference or inaction on the part of bystanders. Quite the opposite. This true-crime tale is about our vulnerability towards stories that speak to our own preconceived notions. What each reader of Cook’s book does with this new information, is up to them.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in true-crime, sociology, urban psychology, or how news media outlets and public consciousness interact.

Add to your list if you loved – Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (which I talked about HERE.)

Other books by Kevin Cook – Electric October, Driven, and Titanic Thompson.

Advertisements

Review: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

lost girls

For Christmas this year, my brother and his fiancee Dawn gifted me with all the books a girl could need to get through life in a Post-Serial world. (You can see my latest book haul here.) For me, Serial spoke to my love of conspiracies, true-crime, mind-bending analysis and search engine fodder. And first up in the self-appointed “No More Serial Episodes” book-club does not disappoint on any of those counts.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker tells the story of a serial killer still at large by delving into the lives of 5 of his victims. The disappearance of one woman, an internet prostitute, led to the discovery of four other women’s bodies, all wrapped in burlap, in the brambles along a highway just blocks from where the missing was last seen. These four, too, were prostitutes. The book dissects the trajectory of these women’s lives, the struggles that would usher in their profession of choice, details their last known whereabouts. And then showcases the heart-breaking reality of the lives they left behind, their family and friends engaged in a years long media blitzkrieg to keep their loved ones’ case alive in the hope of one day finding a notorious killer. The pain-staking care Kolker utilizes to bring these peripheral characters to light, as well as the reality that, according to a recent study, 70% of serial killer victims are prostitutes, “Lost Girls” AND this case prove that prostitution is anything but a victimless crime. While keeping up with the many story-lines within this book (there are a LOT of characters) was at times taxing, the overall themes and mystery of the case as a whole made the confusion more than worth it. Plus, there’s a handy key at the back. As the sub-title says, this case IS unsolved. So, much like Serial, there’s plenty of room for developing your own theories and plenty of conspiracies available online. So Google away! In the end, I think whether you were head over heels for Sarah Koenig’s podcast or not, “Lost Girls” will be a definite page turner for you. Especially you Law & Order loving lot!

lost girls beach

For some extended reading about this thrilling, journalistic book…

Check out these reviews by The New York Times and The Guardian.

Explore the book website.

And read about why serial killers target sex workers.

Do you love true-crime? Have any recommendations for post-Serial unsolved mystery madness? 

(Bottom photo via here.)

Huge Book Haul!

book haul2

Between a library book sale, Christmas gifts and impulse shopping with an internal monologue of “I mean is it REALLY spending money if I’m gaining KNOWLEDGE?!”– I’ve acquired quite a few books in the last couple of months.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll Ed. by Morton Cohen

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker –currently reading

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

God’ll Cut You Down by John Safran

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Lost Girls is proving riveting and the perfect follow up “case” after the completion of Serial. It tells the tale of a true-life search for a serial killer still at large on Long Island. I thought the motley cast of shady characters in Serial was difficult to keep up with at times, but let me tell you the cold-case web gets even more tangled as the body counts go up.

book haul with feet

I wonder what I’ll choose next!

Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Can you tell I’m having a true-crime moment? What are you reading these days?