Everything sucks, the world’s a nightmare, my productivity is in the toilet etc. But I decided I’d better get around to writing about what I read last year, seeing as how it’s almost February already.
I read 213 books in 2022. A lot of them were true crime books. I really like Ryan Green’s “creative nonfiction” true crime stories about serial killers and the like. They’re all available on Kindle for cheap, and they’re all pretty short, usually under 200 pages. I like Robert Keller’s true crime books for the same reason. I read 16 Ryan Green books this year (if you count his Twelve From Hell anthology as twelve books, which I did, since it’s an anthology of twelve of his books). I read nine books by Robert Keller.
As far as true crime books that were not by Robert Keller or Ryan Green, I read several really good ones. I’m still gradually working my way through the Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths series; I read twelve of them this year. Some notable other true crime books:
- The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro. This is about the deaths of two teenage girls in northern India, and the investigation and the fallout. It tells the story basically in real time, so the reader finds out stuff at the same time everyone else does. If you’re not familiar with the way things are in India, fear not: the book explains. Let me warn you, though: as intriguing as this story was, it was really hard to get through. It starts with the discovery of the dead girls, with the assumption that it was a double rape-homicide, but the actual truth of the matter is even worse than a double rape-homicide if you ask me.
- Love as Always, Mum xxx by Mae West. The author isn’t the famous actress from the 1950s, but rather the oldest daughter of serial killer couple Fred and Rose West, who had murdered several young women as well as two of their own children. Mae writes about her bleak childhood and her obviously troubled relationship with her mother. (Fred suicided after his arrest. Rose is still alive in prison.) It’s only 99 cents on Kindle right now and it was very good, very enlightening.
- Burke and Hare: The Year of the Ghouls by Brian Bailey. I have read several books about the Burke and Hare murders but thought this one to be the best. There are a lot of misconceptions and myths surrounding the story and Bailey makes short work of them.
- Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy by Tim Cahill. I’ve read a couple of books about Gacy and this, I think, showed the most accurate picture of how he actually thought, how twisted his mind was.
- Boys Enter the House: The Victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Lives They Left Behind by David Nelson (which actually will be on the 2023 list cause I was still reading it when 2022 came to an end). As the title indicates, the book wasn’t so much about the murders of Gacy’s victims so much as the lives they led, and what ultimately caused them to stray into Gacy’s path. I really like reading stories about the victims of crime, since they are so often ignored. Also, I used this book as a source of info for two cases I added to the Charley Project recently, and two days later the author emailed me. He’s a fan of mine apparently. Well, I’m a fan of his.
- Violette Noziere: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris by Sara Maza. Violette was a sixteen-year-old Parisian girl who poisoned her father. At first it appeared she’d done it because she was rebellious and her dad wasn’t letting her go out and do all the things she wanted to do, like visit boys and stay out late. But then Violette claimed the murder had actually been to stop her father’s sexual abuse, which she said had been ongoing since she was twelve. Unfortunately, this was the 1930s and society was not ready to believe that a seemingly respectable man could be a sexual abuser. Even after she told the police where to find some physical evidence, she still was not believed. The book is as much about life in 1930s Paris as it was about the murder case, and I found myself skipping over some parts that seemed irrelevant and uninteresting, but the story itself was interesting.
- Death at Wolf’s Nick: The Killing of Evelyn Foster by Diane Janes, about the mysterious 1931 unsolved death by fire of taxi driver Evelyn Foster, an unmarried woman in her twenties. It was kind of a laborious read. The issue was that the police, due to misogyny and incompetence, decided this wasn’t really a murder, so the author had to prove that it was. And there was lots of talk about what cars were at which specific spots on the road at what specific time. It was quite intriguing though and I admire the author’s diligence, and also the fact that unlike many authors of books on unsolved murders, she didn’t claim to have solved the case.
I also read some Holocaust books, of course. Some notables:
- Escapees: The History of Jews Who Fled Nazi Deportation Trains in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands by Tanja von Fransecky. About the Jews who somehow found the chance, and the courage, to jump from the death trains that were en route to Auschwitz, Sobibor etc. It had some absolutely thrilling stories in there.
- A Drastic Turn of Destiny by Fred Mann, a memoir of his surviving the Holocaust in France and Belgium as a teenager. I was impressed by how mature Fred was, though in large part the war conditions forced him to grow up fast. At one point, he was wearing his Boy Scout uniform and I guess he was the only person present in a uniform, because they put him in charge of a small refugee camp of 50 people. He was only like fifteen years old, but he got the camp up and running smoothly. Most books in the Azrieli series of Holocaust survivors’ memoirs are good.
- “If we had wings we would fly to you”: A Soviet Jewish Family Faces Destruction, 1941–42 by Kiril Feferman. The book is about one extended family of Russian Jews and how they survived, or didn’t survive, the Holocaust. So much of it came down to luck. And so many families endured the same things; we only know in the details of that one’s suffering because their correspondence survives.
Some other notable books I read this year:
- Urological Oddities by Wirt Bradley Dakin. Just a collection of incredibly weird things various urologists have discovered throughout their career. It was written in the 1940s and besides the stories being grossly fascinating, it’s also an interesting relic of that era. Some parts, for example, were breathtakingly racist. I read it cause I got really into medical stories this past year and saw this book mentioned as a good example of great medical stories. One, I recall, was of a woman who would go to the hospital with kidney stones every time there was a family fight. At one point, after a fight with her husband, she spent five days in the hospital waiting for the stones to pass, then he finally came to visit her and I guess they made up because the woman claimed to have passed some stones. They were, in fact, chunks of brick.
- The Call the Midwife trilogy by Jennifer Worth. I actually liked the TV show better, but the trilogy was pretty good. I’m really glad we don’t have workhouses anymore.
- Abandoned Women: Scottish Convicts Exiled Beyond the Seas by Lucy Frost. In England it used to be that if you were caught shoplifting (or any of a large number of what seem like minor offenses to my 21st-century eyes) you could be transported to Australia (which might as well have been the moon; it took months to get there). This book studies the lives of some specific women from Scotland who were sent to Australia. Some of them actually came out the better for it and became prosperous. Some of them, on the other hand, did not.
- Nightmares of an East Prussian Childhood: A Memoir of the Russian Occupation by Ilse Stritzke. This was the last book I finished in 2022. The author was eleven years old when the Red Army “liberated” Germany. Although her family tried to protect her, she saw and went through a lot of stuff. But she tells her story matter-of-factly, without self-pity.