January 29, 2014
My Thoughts on the Audiobook version of Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss and read by Christopher Reeve
Readers of this site will know that I have posted multiple times on the infamous Fatal Vision/Jeffrey MacDonald case so it should come as no surprise that I have read and listened to Fatal Vision. What is surprising is that it took me this long to get the audio version and give it a listen.
Fatal Vision itself is a true crime masterpiece; well written and investigated and probing deep into the troubled psyche of MacDonald. Given that the paperback book itself, with updates, checks in at nearly 1,000 pages, I sensed trouble upon noticing that this audio version is just under three hours. Granted, this version was recorded before the updates were placed in the book but saying that it's abridged is an understatement.
Let's start with the good. Christopher Reeve. Who doesn't love Christopher Reeve? He was a terrific actor and his smooth voice, with his acting skill, adds zing and zest to this version. He doesn't just read MacDonald's account and testimony, he acts it out, complete with sobs, anger and nervous pauses. It most definitely gives life to a relatively flat and misedited work.
This isn't McGinniss' fault - - the editors did a hatchet job on his written work, in my opinion. Unlike the audio version of Helter Skelter (review to come), in which the vast majority of the book was reported and left untouched, this version skimmed the surface and left the reader with little insight as to MacDonald and the crimes.
Worse, Colette, Kimberley and Kristen MacDonald have little to no voice representing only MacDonald's victims. Sure, we know the horrible way in which they died but very little else is shared with the listener about them.
Even MacDonald, the center of this sad story, is given short shrift. Due to the editing, very little or no mention is made of key aspects of MacDonald's past - - his troubled adolescence in which he spent time away from his own family and living with another was reported in the physical book but not here. Also stated in the book were reports that MacDonald got into altercations and fights in high school and that he had a very quick temper - - interesting and important but not important enough to make the cut for the audio version. MacDonald's womanizing and infidelity did garner a mention in this version but the full extent, as reported in the book, was not explored. Certainly he didn't massacre his entire family because he cheated, and cheated repeatedly, but it does provide perspective on MacDonald's character to know that he was cheating with his CO's wife and/or cheating with a female friend and her teenage daughter.
With that, the audio version of Fatal Vision is still a compelling listen. The brevity does hurt the authenticity of the work and I don't understand why it was so abridged. I can get that every single word can't necessarily be reported and perhaps the sections on "The Words of Jeffrey MacDonald" sprinkled throughout the book might be redundant and not translate quite so well audibly.
If you want the most basic information on the case, this version will do nicely. It's what I call a quick and dirty listen. If you want more in-depth reporting and information on the case, get yourself a paperback or Kindle version of Fatal Vision. You won't be sorry.
FTC Disclosure: This book was from my own private collection, purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated in any way for this review.
January 28, 2014
Boy, Lifetime has been on a roll, haven't they? First, they remade the gothic and camp classic Flowers in the Attic. Now they have turned their sights on a murder mystery from 1892, the classic Lizzie Borden case.
Maybe "mystery" isn't the best word since there is about as much mystery surrounding who killed Andrew and Abby Borden as the O.J. Simpson drama. But the Borden case most definitively ranks as a classic true crime although Lifetime leaves no "whodunit" aspect standing.
Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Hollywood stalwart Robert Montgomery and of Bewitched fame herself, played the allegedly spree-killing spinster in a 1975 made-for-television movie and America was shocked. Not only that the sweet and sublime Samantha Stevens was on our small screens wielding an axe with deadly intent but (gasp!) that she did it in the nude! What would Darren think? Getting past that shocking concept (it was 1975 after all), Ms. Montgomery gave a standout performance on an individual upon whom not a lot is firmly known. The Borden crimes and following court trial happened long before CourtTV, the internet and cellphones. The few surviving accounts of what the real Lizzie Borden was like must be taken with a grain of salt since the accounts were given and taken before, during or after her trial and even fewer surviving photographs of the infamous Fall River resident. Ms. Montgomery managed to make her Lizzie interesting, frightening and compelling. I wish I could say the same for Christina Ricci's performance.
Don't get me wrong - - Ms. Ricci's performance wasn't bad. But it wasn't particularly good either. Maybe she was as unsure as the viewer was as to whether this should have been a serious look at the case or campy fun. I know I was.
Despite her small stature, Ms. Ricci could have really worked it as Lizzie. (The real Lizzie Borden was apparently taller and larger boned than the diminutive Ricci). Her large eyes can convey very intense emotions. (Look at how creepily she portrayed Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family films). Something seemed lost in the translation though. Was Ricci as Lizzie a deviant and greedy sociopath or was she having a temper tantrum? Her scenes with her on-screen father Andrew were especially disturbing, given how many theories have been floating around as to the exact nature of their "closeness" but Lifetime chose not to fully go there and only provide some conjecture. It may never be known whether or not there was incestuous acts going on in the Borden home but either give us the entire serving or take it off the menu.
The scenes with her on-screen mother were exceedingly brief and the casting was poor - - not because of any acting inadequacy on the part of the actress but because the real Abby Borden was a short, stout woman, unlike her portrayer.
Of special disappointment to me was Clea DuVall, normally flawless in her roles, but as bland as rice pudding here. While Lizzie's sister Emma did only have a supporting role in the actual story, DuVall is so meek she's practically nonexistent. Maybe if DuVall had been cast as Lizzie, it would have spun the entire production around.
The worst part of the entire endeavor was the soundtrack. Yes, the soundtrack. This Lizzie Borden was set to metal and grunge rock and it completely took me out of the story. Was this a recounting of life and crimes during the Victorian era in America or outtakes from a music video? Was this director Nick Gomez' attempt at being edgy or was he trying to woo a teen audience?
The Borden case is an incredibly interesting one, given the times, the victims and the assumed perpetrator, as well as the notion at that time by the all-male jury that a woman simply would never and could never strike anyone multiple times with an axe.
Of course today we know that women can and have killed persons as viciously as men have. This production clearly believes that Lizzie Borden was indeed guilty of slaughtering her father and stepmother, whether for financial gain, freedom or due to mental illness - - or a combination of all three - - and I agree that in all likelihood she was guilty. But this version of Lizzie takes all the guilty fun out of arriving at that verdict.
If you're looking for a solid recounting of the Borden case, find Elizabeth Montgomery's 1975 version. Lizzie Borden Took an Axe has poor production and poor directing choices and deserves a good whacking.
January 23, 2014
London’s East End, once known for poor boroughs and a derelict rail yard, is enjoying an optimistic resurgence. It’s becoming an affordable option for middle class residents looking to have their pounds go further. Despite this sweeping out of old rubbish, a cautious step is still advised when passing by a few remaining dark alleys. If only Mary Walsh had listened.
Prophet Brown, a disfigured, pathetic little man, called Detective Inspector Flannel after stumbling upon the body of a young woman in one such alley. Flannel quickly realizes she is not the random victim she appears. Add to that, the crime scene is hauntingly reminiscent of an old unsolved case; a case that almost ended an otherwise brilliant career eight years ago.
For the moment, Prophet Brown is the only solid link between the two cases. He has been in the employ of a charismatic and well-connected Member of Parliament for 17 years–the very man Flannel unsuccessfully accused of the murders in the previous case.
Flannel finds himself navigating a very treacherous course. His superiors have warned him for the last time to tread cautiously around the MP, and the rising tide of the past threatens to pull him under. Reluctantly, Inspector Flannel turns to a most unlikely ally, a reformed pickpocket named Ernie Bisquets. Together they disentangle a mesh of old lies and current clues attempting to bring a ruthless murderer to justice–ignoring the dangerous notion of murder being a carefully disguised trait passed from one generation to the next.
About the Author
Michael is a classically trained artist who has been painting for over 25 years. By combining his creative talents with a passion for London he conceived the fictional world of the East London Adventurers Club, home to The Ernie Bisquets Mystery Series. Three books in the series are complete and there are plans for at least five additional books following the adventurers of London’s most remarkable pickpocket. Michael is a proud member of the Crime Writer’s Association and Mystery Writers Of America.
January 21, 2014
If you were a teen in the 80s, as I was, surely you hurried to the mall to pick up the latest V.C. Andrews novel, staying up late, hiding with a flashlight under your covers, to read the Gothic deliciousness she served up. Flowers in the Attic was her first published novel, the first book in her first series, and the first book series that I ever became obsessed with. Okay, I still am.
I was gleeful when the 1987 theatrical release made its debut (and sorely disappointed after handing over my money for a ticket and viewing it). When I heard that Lifetime was going to try its hand at a remake, I was skeptical while still holding back the fangirl squeeing inside me. So what did I think of Lifetime's effort?
First and foremost, I wish The Powers That Be had decided to make this into a series. I thought this back in 1987 and I still think it now. In 1987, it would have been a miniseries (remember those?); today it could have been a limited run series, with less than a usual season of episodes. So much happens during the book - - it does cover a good three and a half years, after all - - that it's difficult to get into the ninety-one minutes of screen time that makes up a two hour Lifetime movie. And imagine if a limited run series ran on HBO, say, instead of Lifetime? Nothing against Lifetime but HBO would have the ability to showcase a lot more of the abuse and the incest than the women's network could possibly show.
I know, I know. If you aren't as crazily familiar with Ms. Andrews' work as I am you are probably rolling your eyes and wondering why anyone would want the ability to show abuse and incest, much less more. Read the series, people. The incest, as distasteful as it might be, is a major point in the story and it does make sense in the overall scheme of things. It also sets the foundation for future actions by both Cathy and Chris.
Let's talk about Cathy and Chris (and the other major characters). I wasn't sure I was going to buy Kiernan Shipka in the role upon first glance because physically she did not look to me how I pictured Cathy in my mind. However, and most pleasantly, she turned in a wonderful performance. She was both fragile and steely, exactly how the character of Cathy is supposed to be. She alternates between being a child, a teenager and a young woman, all at once - - the type of conflict any teenage girl suffers from, much less one who lost her father and is now locked up in an attic to grow up, away from all the world except for her siblings, her indifferent mother and her cruel grandmother. While I think that Kristy Swanson, who portrayed Cathy in the 1987 version, perfectly resembled the blonde haired, blue eyed doll that Ms. Andrews penned, I believe she wasn't believable as a twelve year-old in the beginning and that tainted the rest of the movie.
Equally strong was Mason Dye, who portrayed eldest Dollanganger child Chris. He comes across as the Chris in the book does - - strong and smart, yet desperately wanting to believe in his mother. I do wish this version had been able to explore his reasons behind continuing to insist the four children remain hidden away in the attic when Cathy wanted to flee. (In the book, Chris desperately wanted to be a doctor and felt that once they inherited the Foxworth fortune, he would be able to attend medical school).
Initially Heather Graham was an odd choice for the mother, Corrine to me and I wasn't sold on her until Corrine's true (and selfish) colors come out. Up until that point, Graham's Corrine is a helpless little bird who simply cannot function on her own without a husband or her wealthy and estranged parents. Her saccharine-covered demeanor was off-putting until she began to neglect her children and, at that point, her character finally had some real depth and gave Graham something to tear into.
I was a fan of Louise Fletcher as the original Grandmother and held out high hopes for Ellen Burstyn, who did not disappoint. Her Grandmother is cut from a slightly different cloth than Fletcher's; not as outright maniacal and scary, yet intimidating nonetheless. Her end scene is a brilliant one, even if not in the book itself.
Despite the fantastic costumes depicting the fashions of the late 1950s, I was let down by Foxworth Hall itself. In my mind I saw a huge estate, castle even . . . it was described in the book as the most majestic and imposing house in Virginia, with a north wing, south wing, east wing and west wing. While the residence shown in this version was grand, it wasn't grand enough. And not enough of this fantastic estate was seen, from the ballroom to the library to the extravagant bedroom with one of a kind swan bed that Corrine had. The Foxworths were supposed to be the family in Virginia. I wanted to see that. If a woman was going to lock her children up in order to gain an inheritance, it had better be a damn good one and I think Lifetime dropped the ball on that.
In my opinion, the weakest part of Lifetime's effort was the writing. Again, there is so much in the book that I'm sure it was quite a process to cull out certain scenes and dialogue. (Once again, limited series!) But V. C. Andrews gave us a very meaty novel to work with. In my opinion, Kayla Alpert, who adapted that novel for the small screen, took a fine piece of steak and turned out a loose meat sandwich. Except for the changing seasons shown once or twice outside the window, and Cathy keeping a calendar on the attic wall, we have no real idea how long the children were locked up (a similar ailment in the original version). Two weeks or two years? Who would know? And if you can't readily acknowledge how long the children had been locked up, how can you sympathize? Ballet and dancing was the most important thing to Cathy, especially while locked up, and we get one minor scene? Really? The scenes where the children begin getting sick are also perfunctory at best. In the book, Cory was sick at one time for nineteen days; here, he's only sick one time and we only know this because he says he doesn't feel well. The twins - - Cory and Carrie, although they are rarely addressed by their names - - are nonentities and have cameo roles more than anything else. They have little to do other than complain about being hungry and refusing to go outside on the roof. For anyone who had not read the book this movie is based on, nearly all the characters would come across as cardboard cutouts and there would be no emotional connection.
V.C. Andrews fangirl that I am, however, I did connect. I loved the fact Flowers was remade but the remake left me feeling unsatisfied, as if I wanted a rich pastry and was given a Twinkie.
Lifetime has already given the green light to the sequel, Petals on the Wind, and I hope it will do that second book justice but I'm not holding my breath. Petals is a far more in-depth book, spanning over ten years, with many, many events happening. Ninety percent of Flowers was contained in that attic while Petals takes us from South Carolina to New York to Europe and back to Virginia. Clearly actors Mason Dye and Kiernan Shipka will be unable to reprise their roles due to their ages and their respective characters' advanced ages and that is a huge disappointment since their portrayals are what gives Flowers its heart.
Did you watch the remake of Flowers in the Attic on Saturday? And if so, what did you think?
January 14, 2014
I'd like to welcome Caitlin Rother, author of the just-released I'll Take Care of You, to Psychotic State Book Reviews.
Hi Caitlin. Welcome to Psychotic State Book Reviews! You’ve recently released your seventh true crime book. How did you launch yourself into the true crime market?
It's actually my ninth book, and yes, my seventh true crime. I spent many many years trying to get a crime novel published while I was working as an investigative reporter for daily newspapers. I got a tip that a former county toxicologist for the Medical Examiner's Office -- who had been fired for using methamphetamine -- had been arrested for murdering her husband and staging a suicide scene with red rose petals. I covered the trial and got my first book deal for POISONED LOVE, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What advice would you give a novice writer wanting to break into the narrative nonfiction field?
Read, read, and read some more. Then write, write and rewrite. Writing narrative nonfiction is telling a true story using fiction techniques, which I teach at UCSD Extension and San Diego Writers Ink. I also work one-on-one as a consultant and coach. I teach my students and clients to write compelling scenes, which is the basic component of narrative non-fiction, and also how to research their stories. Hopefully they already have some background in one or both of these areas, but they also must have a unique and untold story that many other people (besides their mother) will want to read.
Writing about abnormal psyches and the dark secrets people live with surely can be overwhelming at times. What do you do to lighten the mood, so to speak, when you’re not working?
I walk or swim most every day, and when it's warm enough, in the ocean here at the La Jolla Cove. I love watching movies, I play my grand piano now and then, and I also enjoy live music. Recently, I've started singing (in public - gasp!) with my singer-songwriter-guitarist boyfriend, who has been in bands for most of his adult life. I do quite a bit of public speaking, which I enjoy, I also write other sorts of stories for a little variety, and have gotten back into freelancing some journalism. I don't want to focus on true crime year-round. It's just too dark. So when I'm not working, I'm still working on something. That's the glamorous life of a full-time author.
Sad to say but there seems to be no lack of crime in our society. How do you choose what cases you ultimately write about?
Yes, there are many murders, but it is actually quite difficult to find a case that makes a compelling read, and is going to resonate with enough readers -- and with me -- to make it worth my while. I just pitched a new case to my editor, and it took me almost 18 months to find one she liked! A number of bells have to go off in my head -- a threshold needs to be reached -- when I look at a case for a potential book. There needs to be something unusual about the case, the characters -- especially the female characters -- need to be interesting, the details of the crime and the investigation need to be intriguing, and I always look for a solid psychological angle that I can dig into. It's hard to quantify because these factors vary with every case, but I guess I just know it when I see it.
What would you say has been the most disturbing case, for whatever reasons, you’ve written about or reported on?
I can't pick just one, but the two cases I'd point to are the stories chronicled in BODY PARTS and LOST GIRLS, both of which involve serial rapist-killers. In BODY PARTS, Wayne Adam Ford killed four women during rough sex, then dismembered two of them. The reason I picked that case is because he did the rare deed of turning himself in, knowing that he couldn't stop himself from killing otherwise. The case in LOST GIRLS, involving sexual predator John Gardner, happened here in San Diego, and I felt it was an opportunity to really educate people about sex offenders. My goal was to expose the flaws in the system that allowed this tragedy to occur, and motivate people to make changes in the system to hopefully prevent such tragedies from happening again.
I was talking to a Newport Beach police detective for one of my earlier books, DEAD RECKONING, when he told me he was about to make arrests in a local cold case. As soon as I heard the details -- a young woman had schemed to kill her multimillionaire fiance with her younger lover, who was an NFL linebacker -- I was hooked. I followed the case for a few more years, went to both trials, and wrote the book. It's like an episode of "The Real Housewives of Orange County -- Gone Bad."
In your opinion, if Eric Naposki and Nanette Johnston had not met, would either be a convicted murderer now?
I couldn't really say, but if Nanette came up with this idea the first time, I don't know why she wouldn't or couldn't do it again. It appears that she was the driving force behind this idea and that she manipulated Eric Naposki into doing the killing for her -- for them, so they could live off Bill McLaughlin's millions. He still claims he wasn't the shooter, that it was a hitman.
I love the title of the book. How much input do you have on your book titles and/or cover designs?
Thank you! That varies from book to book, but this was my title and I chose it because it has so many possible connotations. The title came from the singles ad she placed to meet Bill McLaughlin, which had the headline, "For Wealth Men Only." In the body of the ad, she promised, "I'll take care of you if you take care of me." Killers and mobsters use the term "take care" of someone as code for killing them. And then there are the other more obvious definitions, where you actually take care of someone, financially, emotionally, and in this case, also sexually.
What do you hope readers take away from your books?
I became a journalist to expose wrongdoing and reveal negligence, incompetence and corruption. I became an author to continue in that vein, but writing in the long form also allows me to really tell the in-depth stories behind these cases, to show how the criminal justice system works, and to really explore the human psyche -- what compels some people to commit these horrible crimes against other people and how we can protect ourselves from con artists and predators. My books really underscore how people are often not who or what they appear to be.
Can you tell us what book or books are currently on your nightstand now?
I wish I had more time to read the huge stack of books I have bought and that people have sent me to read, but I don't. I read all day long, but I don't have much time for pleasure reading because I'm always working on several projects simultaneously, and I'm also keeping up with the news and what's going on in the publishing industry. When I do have time to pick up a book, I enjoy literary fiction and legal, medical and crime thrillers.
How about your work area? Do you have a devoted office at home or are you more of an “on the fly” gal?
I have several work areas -- my home office, my couch in the living room, my dining room table, and two outside offices as well at Starbucks and the bagel place down the street. I like to sit outside in the sun to think, edit, plan and dream, but I write inside and I always do my phone interviews at home.
What is the best part of your job?
Not having to tell anyone where I'm going or to punch a time clock, so that I can sit outside in the sun, go for a walk or a swim, and still do my work -- which involves a lot of thinking and planning -- in my head. I am also grateful to have the freedom to write the stories that I want to write, not what an editor tells me to write. I enjoy the flexibility that I can work almost anywhere by phone or laptop computer, which means I don't have to sit at a desk all day long.
If you could do anything other than write, what would you choose to do?
If I won the lottery, I think I would probably travel the world, but I don't think I'd stop doing what I'm doing. I've tried conjuring up a better paying job, or one that I would enjoy as much, but I can't seem to come up with one that would make me as happy as writing and researching books.
Caitlin, thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer some questions for us. Good luck with I'll Take Care of You.
For more information on author Caitlin Rother, please visit her website and/or Facebook page.
To read my review of I'll Take Care of You, please click here.
To purchase a copy of I'll Take Care of You through Amazon, please click here.
January 7, 2014
Description: Nanette Johnston Packard, a sexy divorcee, liked to meet men at the gym and through personal ads. Soon after she began dating millionaire Bill McLaughlin, he moved her and her kids into his bay-front home in Newport Beach. But one man was never enough for Nanette. . .
Eric Naposki, her NFL linebacker lover, fulfilled Nanette's wilder cravings. Together they schemed to make her fiance's fortune their own. When McLaughlin was gunned down, authorities had suspicions--but no proof. Pulitzer-nominated writer Caitlin Rother explores this chilling story of a woman who seemed to have it all--until justice finally had its day.
My Thoughts on I'll Take Care of You by Caitlin Rother
Since first hearing about the publication of this book, during an appearance by author Caitlin Rother, I have looked forward to having it in my hands and reading it. Not only because of the crime it delves into and the location of that crime but because Ms. Rother is a fantastic author of narrative nonfiction and I knew she would do the entire story justice. And she does.
Having long been a reader of the true crime genre, serial killers like Bundy, Gacy and the like give you pause, cause you to double check the locks on your doors and windows and hesitate about turning that light off. They are frightening, those strangers that lurk in the dark. But what about those people we know? Those people who share our lives, that sit across the table from us at meals, that sleep and awake next to us and who have a cleverly crafted persona in order to get close to us?
Nanette Johnston Packard is one of those people and Ms. Rother ferries the reader of I'll Take Care of You on the twisted road down Nanette's intense cravings for wealth, status and material goods at any cost. I found her personality fascinating - - not just that she would sleep and cohabitate with, as well as become engaged to, a wealthy man for his bank account but that she would so completely lie about her background and accomplishments that she would take credit for the very invention that her victim Bill McLaughlin created. I suppose it's not just that she wanted and expected for others to believe that she - - a teenage wife and mother with only a high school education - - created a complex blood separation system but she claimed credit on something that could easily be verified to have belonged to someone else. It boggles the mind. And helps to make Nanette a con artist of the first degree.
Equal attention is also paid to Eric Naposki, Nanette's one-time lover. What drove this man to kill for her? What was it about Nanette, in Orange County, where plenty of attractive (and even wealthy) women abound, that made her so irresistible to Eric and impossible to say no to? While he was the one to get his hands dirty, I couldn't help but feel that he was her victim too, in a sense. I don't doubt that if it hadn't been Eric, it would have been someone else being played and having their strings pulled by master manipulator Nanette.
As I've said in other books by Ms. Rother, she is a stellar investigative writer. She brings the persons involved in the story - - victims, perpetrators, friends,investigators - - to life. While I'll Take Care of You may not have the gory, titillating details found in another true crime entry, the deep and complex study of the human psyche makes for captivating and intriguing reading. The reader also gets plenty of information from the initial investigation through the trial. One thing I did not realize about this case was how disappointing the initial investigation done by the Newport Beach Police Department was. Their lack of follow up to certain items was baffling and inexplicable.
Even knowing the outcome of this case, having watched investigative programs about it, the book is still a must-read thanks to Ms. Rother's writing, which reads more like a novel than a blow-by-blow account of true happenings. As I did, you too will find yourself eagerly flipping pages and tuned out to what's going on around you.
I would not hesitate to recommend I'll Take Care of You to the novice and experienced true crime reader alike. It's well worth the read and you too will find yourself adding Caitlin Rother to your "must read" list.
I'll Take Care of You is available for purchase at most booksellers, including Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate. I will make a small commission if you make a purchase through my link.
FTC Disclosure: Review copy of this book provided by the publisher/author in exchange for a fair and honest review. In no way did the provision of this book affect the outcome of my review.