When true crime author Mel Ayton told me that he'd come across a true crime enclcyopedia that was thorough, accurate, and useful, I had to hear more. Unfortunately most encyclopedic approaches to our favorite genre are miserable, factually challenged failures. Mel agreed to tell us why he especially liked 501 Most Notorious Crimes by Paul Donnelley (Bounty Books, London, 2009; ) in this review.
By Mel Ayton
(Mel Ayton is the author of The Forgotten Terrorist – Sirhan Sirhan and the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. His book about racist killer Joseph Paul Franklin will be published by Potomac Books in the Spring of 2010. His book about the 1973 conspiracy to assassinate the Governor of Bermuda will be also be published next year by McFarland Books.)
Paul Donnelley’s book, a compilation of true crime narratives, abbreviated accounts of famous cases, is a welcome addition to true crime literature. It details 501 of the most intriguing famous crimes of all time told in crisp and clear prose.
In fact, Donnelley’s book is not only well-written but also well-researched. The result is a fascinating read by an experienced journalist who knows the essence of a good story.
Crime has become a subject of perennial fascination in our culture, but we rarely have the opportunity to survey the facts, history, and aftermath of each reported crime without researching numerous accounts to learn the true facts.
501 Most Notorious Crimes, a book that is as compelling to read as it is useful as a reference guide, allows readers to survey the entire spectrum of the crimes that have fascinated us for years in one volume. It is divided into 10 chapters containing the stories of outlaws, gangsters, serial killers, kidnappers, robbers and unfortunate individuals who suffered miscarriages of justice.
Despite the brevity of each account the actual crimes and the entire criminal process is covered - from investigation and arrest to trial and verdict. The author’s method is clearly set out in an easy to follow structure of main headings which delineate the crime followed by the wheres, hows and, most importantly, the aftermaths of the crimes.
Donnelley has analyzing the tangle of motives behind murder and examined the astonishing variety of homicidal methods and ingenious ways of separating individuals from their wealth over the past two or three centuries. He has not only profiled infamous historical figures like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Jesse James and Billy The Kid but also studied particular categories of homicide and such phenomena as the US Mafia killings of the 20th century. Donnelley's chronicle includes, too, the serial killings, random shooting sprees, and cult murders that have troubled more recent times.
Some of the more interesting chapters focus on mass murder and kidnappings as well as those with a major social impact like the political assassinations of the 1960s.
What may come as a relief to those who are tired of writers who speculate about these murders without providing hard evidence to support their theses, Donnelley remains true to the established facts. However, he does not shirk from presenting true crime controversies and includes chapters on major cases such as Jimmy Hoffa, O.J. Simpson, Tupac Shakur, Sam Sheppard, Jack the Ripper, Patricia Hearst and the Boston Strangler together with penetrating studies of monstrous killers including Bundy, Dahmer, and Berkowitz.
Despite a wealth of books on the market Donnelley has managed to produce a mammoth true crime book that exceeds anything previously written in quality of writing and depth of research. The comprehensive history and illuminating analysis of how humans kill, and why, make his book one that no true-crime fan or student of criminology will want to miss.