Book of the Month

Book of the Month – A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child

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Size: pages
Price: 15.95

Picking a Book of the Month is no small task.  Last week, I looked at the schedule and realized that I was up, and worse, I had no idea what to do about that.  For one thing, I can't just pick Alan Moore books every time, can I?  Well, I suppose I could, but what good is it saying that an Alan Moore book is good?  That's like saying water is wet, and does no one any practical good.  (This is, in no way, a guarantee that I won't be talking about how good an Alan Moore book is in the near future.)  In a panic, I sent out an email to the entire writing staff of iFanboy looking for inspiration.  I got some alright suggestions, but nothing that fit my mood, or anything I felt excited to proselytize to you fine people.  Yet after a very off-base suggestion of some Punisher book, our man Ron came through with the suggestion of the book I'm about to talk about.

That book is the overly titled A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child – America's Hero and the Crime of the Century by Rick Geary.  From here on out though, I'll just be saying Lindbergh, and you'll have to make do. I hadn't heard of the book before, yet the name Rick Geary seemed familiar to me, but I'm not sure if it really was.  A quick search told me that Geary has been around for a long while, doing cartoons, book covers, children's books, illustration, and yes, comics, since the 70's.  The whole idea instantly appealed to me though.  On the one hand, you've got true history, which I love, and while I really don't pay much attention to the MSBNCNNFoxNews abduction of the week, the sociological differences of a high profile case like this happening in the 30's was much more intriguing.  Plus, anyone who's been in the game for as long as Geary should have some chops right?  I quick once over at the store told me that I was on the right track.  Alright Richards, I'm game.  Just for kicks, I also went ahead and bought Geary's book about Lincoln's murder too.

I suppose this brings us to the review portion of this review, which is fitting.

Have you ever picked up a short to medium length book, and after a certain point, perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through, you couldn't stop reading it, but then at the same time, you didn't want to stop reading, because that would mean that the book would be over?  That basically summed up my experience with Lindbergh.  The further I went, the more I wanted to know, and the really sad part is that there are no real answers. 

Any student of American history will tell you that this was a gigantic case.  Col. Charles Lindbergh was as famous as they got, and when his boy was stolen, we saw some of our first glimpses of the ravenous beast the media would become.  The investigation was wide ranging, the details of the case puzzling, and the whole thing was fascinating.  A suspect was eventually found, convicted, and put to death, but there was no shortage of leftover questions and loose ends.

If you're looking for this book to give you theories and speculation, finally giving the really answer of what happened to the Lindbergh baby, then this isn't the book.  In this book, you're almost in the position of juror, as Geary presents the facts of the case as they are known, leaving you to judge what happened as best you can.  It's a very interesting look at how the justice system works, and how hard it must be to sit on a jury when the facts are not as clear cut as you'd like them to be.  While the book is fairly straight forward, I wouldn't go so far as to call it cold.  The research has clearly been done, but what Geary does so well is present it in such as way as to distill all that disparate information into a very readable order and form.  With a case that involved and lengthy, there are a lot of details and characters, and choosing the right bits to leave out and leave in must have certainly been a challenge, but the author really made it quite clear.

Geary has a series of books on Victorian murder, so he's no stranger to telling stories from the past, when things were different, but still providing the reader with context to understand things in today's terms.  What's really interesting is the context of when this happened.  The country wasn't so far into the depression.  Forensic science wasn't what it is now.  The police took 40 minutes to get to the Lindbergh's house following the call.  And these were perhaps the most famous people in the country.  Charles insisted the baby keep wire mesh cages affixed to his young son's thumbs to prevent a sucking habit from forming.  The child was held in the crib with two large safety pins.  Nearby New York was awash with immigrants, but they were mostly European immigrants, as opposed to the more worldly population of today.  I love the details of life 70-80 years ago, in comparison with our own.  Some things have changed drastically, while others are basically the same.

The art in this book does exactly what it should do.  It tells the story, and presents the facts in a straightforward manner.  Geary really straddles the line with the faces of these people, all of whom were real, and are depicted in photographs.  While he doesn't do straight up caricature, he certainly explores the more cartoonish aspect of reproducing faces, which works for this kind of story, as the exaggerated features of faces more easily replicate the feel for what these people looked like, perhaps better than even a straight reproduction of photorealistic portraiture might.  There's so much conveyed in the face of Charles Lindbergh that doesn't necessarily come through in a photograph, but the use of cartoon to emulate that face, and show his personality (or the best guess of what that personality is) works so well, and you can see a humble, quiet, shy man, who wasn't comfortable dealing with any of this.  In this way, Geary is especially good with eyes.  When you see a face making the sly eyes, the author is indirectly telling you that that person is lying, or being disingenuous, or at least that Geary suspects as much.  He also reproduces items from the case in a very effective illustrative style, such as the mysterious ladder, or the ransom notes.  They're not photos, but I can't help but think the artist brings out the important qualities of these items even more effectively than a photograph can, because the artwork can lead you to see the things that are actually important about what it is that you're looking at.  All in all, the art in this book is extremely effective cartooning, and is easily greater than the sum of its parts.  Looking upon it initially is not mind-blowing, but realizing how simply and effectively it is communicating with the reader is where Geary's real artistic sense lies.

This book isn't a transcendent experience in the wilds of comic book innovation, but what it is is a fantastic example of the comic book doing something other than the adventure fiction with which we are so familiar.  In many ways, I think reading this book is going to make you more informed than if you were to watch an hour long special on the Discovery channel about the same subject.  For one thing, you wouldn't be subject to the dramatization of poorly paid and trained pseudo-actors but rather you have the events retold to you by a skilled craftsman of comics.  If you're into history or true crime, you could certainly do worse than to read this, or any other of Geary's book.

Josh Flanagan
josh@ifanboy.com

 

Comments

  1. Wow you totally went into another direction. lol I mean we went from Captain America….to Lindbergh? Man that is some major guys man.

    Sadly I’ve never heard of this but if it is a good history book as you said it is…Then I’m all for picking it up. Plus you also correct cause it shows again that comics are more about Superheroes and by the numbers drama. It can be about Iranian women, or journalists, or with this pick a ‘crime of the century’ tale. Is the entire story written with just the narrator talking about the evidence, or is there actually talking between the Lindbergh family?

  2. That’s a good question I hadn’t thought about, but now that you mention it, there’s no dialog. It’s all narration.

  3. Is this also part of a series? Cause with a name like ‘treasury of XXth Century Murder’…I would image that means there’s more then just the Lindbergh story. Also, how long is this anyways cause for $16 it could be a bargin…

  4. @TheNextChampion: I did a little research after the cover of this book looks similar to one I have detailing the crimes of Jack the Ripper and it turns out that Rick Geary has done a few of these books. Check out this link, it has a list of the books he has done in this series http://www.powells.com/s?author=Rick%20Geary. I recommend the Jack the Ripper book if you have any interest this kind of comic. I haven’t read any of the others but might look into them now.

  5. @comicdork: Wow, he did so a lot of history murders. I would love to see the one about Lincoln and Garfield though, especially the latter….We dont talk about that assassination alot, we should though cause that is a big deal..

    But if I want to read about Jack the Ripper I’ll read ‘From Hell’ though. But that could be a good book too…

  6. From Hell is story based on Moore’s theory of the killings.  Geary’s books are presentations of the facts as they are understood to be true.  There’s a difference, and honestly, if you’re interested in something, you should have more than one source.

    The cool thing about Geary’s books is that the soft covers are like $9 each.  Cheaper with discounts.  That’s a bargain right there.

  7. I haven’t read the Jack the Ripper book by Geary in a LONG time so I will have to go back and read it again but I do remember really liking it (although, I have always been very interested in the Ripper). And, yes From Hell will always be the quintessential Jack the Ripper story for me. I love that book!!! But as Josh pointed out they are done in different styles but both enjoyable.

  8. Well I guess you can have one side theory and the other fact-based. Hey I’m all for being historically accurate with anything I watch, read, or listen to. But ‘From Hell’ is my go to book for Jack the Ripper. Sure it’s on Moore’s theories…but it’s damn creepy how close he could be right about the suspect….Of course you gotta take out the time-traveling part of it, but you get the idea. ^^;

  9. The great thing about reading Rick Geary, is he does a great job of presenting the facts and not his opinion.  I recommend reading his Jack the Ripper book alongside From Hell – COMPLETELY different takes on the same events – amazing. 

  10. Everyone seems a little unsettled whenever they hear the book ‘From Hell’. Whats wrong with it? Is it that an entire chapter deals with the very brutal killing of a woman? Or is it the sexist ideas thrown in? Or is it the obvious choice….the sex…

    I think it’s one of Moore’s best really, totalyl underlooked by a lot of people. Not saying anything else he did is crappy, all of his work is just a modern classic. But I wish more people would talk about that book…Then again maybe a more realistic take on the murders is more suited to readers then some weird ‘cult conspiracy’ idea.

  11. From Hell was so unpopular they had to make a movie about it.

  12. @TheNextChampion – FROM HELL isn’t overlooked.  The year the softcover collection came out it was one of the biggest selling books of the year.

  13. @conor: Really? Wow I didnt think it would be such a high-seller. Well we’re I’m at not one really talks about it in the comic community. I try pushing it as much as I can. But sadly they look how huge the book is and dont try it.

    Maybe when it comes to Watchmen, LXG, and V for Vendetta; From Hell is very over looked.

  14. Am I the only one that liked the From Hell movie? It seems whenever I hear the book discussed someone points out how much they hated the film.

  15. I think people who didn’t read the book (like me) generally liked the movie, wheras those who did read the book liked the movie less or not at all. That tends to be the case with most adaptations, though certainly not always. It can be difficult to leave one’s baggage at the door and take the items as separate pieces of entertainment.

    This is a particular case that I’ve only ever been mildly interested in, so it doesn’t exactly call out to me. At best, I may buy it, read it, and then give it to my father as a gift. 🙂

     

  16. I got this book the other day and read it cover to cover in one sitting.  It’s incredibly fascinating and is totally something pretty much anyone can share with their dad or someone who’s really into history.  I ordered a couple more and I can’t wait to get them.  I’m really glad Josh picked this because this isn’t the type of book I would’ve picked up on my own.

  17. Gents:

    I keep forgetting to thank you for pointing me in the direction of this book, which I just recently finished. It is amazingly detailed for a one-sitting book. It is surprisingly moving yet not at all manipulative; it is straight-ahead factual yet completely compelling and not at all dry. As is often the case with a well-done book of this kind, I caught myself while reading the book anxiously hoping for an ending I already knew wasn’t coming.The fact that most of the book consists of dialogue-free six panel grids only makes it all the more impressive. You bring good things to light.