Hello Strangelings!

Hello strangelings!

If you’re a member of our fantastically strange bookclub then you may already have this month’s book, American Sherlock, in your hot little hands and I’m even seeing that some of you have already devoured it in a single night because you couldn’t put it down, and I could not relate more.

If you’re on Facebook you can discuss the book at the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club page or if you hate Facebook you can discuss it here.  Or you can just read it and lurk, or keep it to read when you need an escape.  THERE ARE NO RULES.

Kate Winkler Dawson, the author, was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions for us.  There aren’t any massive spoilers but if you prefer to go in blind maybe skip this part until you finish the book, and page down to see our March book pick!

Jenny: I was shocked that considering all I’ve read about true crime and forensics I’d never heard about the subject of your book, Oscar Heinrich. How did you discover him?
Kate: I love old true crime stories, like super old–pre-1960s. A few years ago I bought an encyclopedia of American crime that was printed in the 1970s and I started searching for a case that could serve as the spine for my next book.
There were loads of mobsters in the 1920s (more than I thought) and I was losing hope. Around page 100 there was a story about a botched train robbery in 1923. The writer mentioned a forensic scientist named Oscar Heinrich, “America’s Sherlock Holmes.” The story described how he solved the case using latent clues that he found on a pair of overalls and it was really incredible. So my interest in Heinrich really started with that book. And I refuse to tell anyone the title because I’m convinced that I’ll discover all of my future books there.
Jenny: What was the most exciting discovery you made in your research?
Kate: Oh, definitely how his father died. I promised my editor that I won’t spoil anything, which is a tall order. I’ll just say that I had always been confused about why he was so obsessed and controlling with money. A few weeks before I was due to turn in the book, I did a random search on newspapers.com and found out about his father’s death and everything became clear. I know that sounds ambiguous, but it was a watershed moment for me.
Jenny: You told me something cool about the cover. Can you share it with everyone else?
Kate: Yes! Chapter Five is called “The Case of the Star’s Fingerprints.” It’s about silent film star Fatty Arbuckle’s manslaughter trial, which was the trial of the century in the 1920s. Heinrich visited Fatty in jail and took his fingerprints and handprints for evidence. It seemed appropriate (and a little creepy) to put Fatty’s handprint on the cover!
Jenny: They say that if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back. Does that ever happen when you immerse yourself in these dark stories?
Kate: Yes, I definitely have moments that are odd. Like I was driving alone through Central California last October. It was just me on the road with rolling hills and NOTHING ELSE. I thought, “man, what a great place to leave a body. You wouldn’t even have to go very far off of the highway.” So…that’s probably not normal.
Jenny: I love how you were able to make the scenes so real and fascinating. How do you decide how much creative license to take?
Kate: It’s funny because I’ve had a few people approach me at events and say, “so this is MOSTLY true, right?” Um, no. All of it is true, otherwise we can’t call it nonfiction. Every word in my books is true and sourced. But there are certainly ways to amp up the drama using good research. I LOVE photographs and Heinrich was an avid photographer. He was such a control freak that he rarely allowed anyone else to document his crime scenes so I had access to hundreds of crime scene photos. Photos can really tell you so much.
Jenny: I love how you present the facts objectively…but just between you, me and 2,000 bookclub members….what do you think really happened to Allene Lamson?
Kate: Honestly…I think she slipped and fell and died. David Lamson really didn’t present before, during, or after as a killer.
I can hear your book-clubbers saying: “Seriously?? You know that psychopaths are fantastic manipulators and actors.”
But think about the order of events: would he really kill her, then go outside and do yard work while talking to neighbors? And then invite a real estate agent inside as he finds the body? She had only been dead an hour. It doesn’t make sense.
More importantly if you look at the forensics, there is literally no void in the blood pattern in that tiny bathroom. She spilled half of the blood in her body and it went everywhere. There would have been a void, even if David had thrown her onto the sink. He would have blocked the spatter.
None of it tracks as a murder, to me. But I want to know what everyone else thinks!!
Jenny: What are you working on next?
Kate: The third book is top secret BUT…think Hannibal Lecter meets 19th century Mindhunters. I love, love, love forensic psychiatry and digging into how a criminal’s mind works. I’m also coming out with a historical true crime podcast later this year called “Tenfold More Wicked.” Each season is a six episode, deep-dive into a crime that made history and what we can learn from it now.
Jenny: And my last question…HOW IS THIS NOT A MOVIE YET?
Kate: Right??? I ask my agent that all the time! We’re working on it…I promise. Or a TV series.
So I know you’re just now getting February’s book but do you want a sneak peek at March’s book club pick?
Of course you do.

It’s We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry.

When Elizabeth gave it to me and was like, “You’ll love this” I kind of doubted her because there’s sports in it and I don’t like or understand sports but she assured me it was amazing and she was totally right.

Here’s a quick summary:

Acclaimed novelist Quan Barry delivers a tour de female force in this delightful novel. Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts, where the accusations began that led to the 1692 witch trials, We Ride Upon Sticks follows the 1989 Danvers High School Falcons field hockey team, who will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. In chapters dense with 1980s iconography—from Heathers to “big hair”—Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.

Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily, original, and bold, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport and, more importantly, friendship.

This was one of those books where as soon as it was over I literally missed the characters, and I desperately wished I could go back to high school me and give it to myself to read. Also, the author is a poet and you can totally tell because her prose is painfully good.

Thanks again for everyone supporting this strange and wonderful bookclub.  It’s helping so much to pay for the construction (which might actually be done in a few weeks   – ALL FINGERS AND TOES CROSSED).

Also, in case you’re just now hearing about this…OMG, YES YOU CAN TOTALLY JOIN THE BOOKCLUB.  Click here for all the glorious details.   And if you can’t afford to join at the moment you can always be an honorary member and pick up the book at the library or your local indie bookshop.  Discussion is open to everyone.

Happy reading!

40 thoughts on “Hello Strangelings!

Read comments below or add one.

  1. I cannot WAIT to read this new Quan Barry book but also everyone please please please go read her first novel, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born (a sort about a girl who can talk to the dead set in the 1970s in war-torn Vietnam), because I absolutely fell in love with that book the year it came out and I never hear anyone talk about it. I read it 3 times within the first year I bought it. It also has excruciatingly gorgeous writing – very much a poet’s prose.

  2. I cannot WAIT to read this new Quan Barry book but also everyone please please please go read her first novel, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born (a sort about a girl who can talk to the dead set in the 1970s in war-torn Vietnam), because I absolutely fell in love with that book the year it came out and I never hear anyone talk about it. I read it 3 times within the first year I bought it. It also has excruciatingly gorgeous writing – very much a poet’s prose.

  3. Can we PLEASE, oh PLEASE get Strangelings book club tshirts?!? “I’m a Strangeling” with the Nowhere Bookshop logo?!?

    (I have it on my list. Sizes are so hard though. Maybe a tote book though…hmmm. ~ Jenny)

  4. I very much enjoyed America Sherlock. Officially, I’m not a member of the book club because I find it necessary to use a kindle to read books (reading printed pages is a struggle with what I call my “wonky eye.”) I happily purchased and devoured the first book.

  5. I’m just a little downcast that Kate says “pre-1960’s is super old.” I’m pre-1960’s 🙂

  6. OMG I must read the March book! I used to live in Beverly (next to Danvers) and went to undergrad school there on the North Shore of Boston.

  7. Suggestion for future book selection: Bunny by Mona Awad About a MFA student who gets involved with an uber clique turn coven. Scathing writing and delightfully strange!

    (adding it to my persona list. ~ Jenny)

  8. Love it! I joined my daughter up and she is loving this new group of people from the anonymity and safety of her home 😉 And I love her being exposed to books she wouldn’t typically choose for herself. Bonus, I get to read the books too!

    (Yay! ~ Jenny)

  9. I can’t wait to read this book! I can pick it up at the library tonight…

    If you’re looking for weird true crime with funky forensics, you should check out the Sir Harry Oakes murder. It’s got all kinds of weird stuff, including faked evidence and royalty! I learned about it in my training (I’m a forensic scientist), and I’m currently reading the book written by the guy accused of the murder (which is…not great, but no less than I would have expected).

    (Well, now I have something new to obsess over. ~ Jenny)

  10. I so enjoyed this book!! (American Sherlock). The title is no exaggeration. It’s hard to believe the breadth of Heinrich’s relevant knowledge; I mean how he solved the train robbery from a pair of overalls was pure Sherlock Holmes. Just amazing. But I think my favorite aspect of the book was the bit by bit reveal of his character and his personal struggles. You would think a person who had worked so hard and done so much for the justice system wouldn’t doubt his life choices, but I guess that’s the human condition.
    I got a bit mesmerized at one point trying to line my hand up with the enormous handprint on the cover. Weird that it’s Fatty Arbuckle’s handprint 😛
    Thanks for the great read! This is one I wouldn’t have picked up, and I can say that about the next one too which looks fascinating & I can hardly wait to dive in. I think I’ll take the suggestion above to read her first book.

    (The overalls train story read like a movie to me. I can’t believe these stories are real and I’ve never heard them. I’d heard the Fatty Arbuckle story before but with none of the nuances so even it was new to me. ~ Jenny)

  11. Is there a way we can suggest future books for the book club?

    (Of course! You can just leave a comment. We try to only do new releases so that people don’t get a book they already own but if you hear about a book coming out 6 weeks down the road that you think sounds cool just let us know. ~ Jenny)

  12. I really want to know if there are any plans to put all his stuff somewhere for public viewing or online or SOMETHING! All those photos and letters and stuff. That would be SO interesting to see since there isn’t anything else really like it from that time!

    (I imagine curating what would be shown and not would be a herculean task. Sort of sounds like he was a harder. But I’d totally like to look at it all too. Then again, I want to just spend a year playing in the back rooms of the Smithsonian. ~ Jenny)

  13. I heard an interview with the author on NPR,and I am STOKED to read this book! She told the story about him receiving an ear in the mail and sleuthing the location of the body. Fascinating!

    (So good. ~ Jenny)

  14. Just discovered Vivian Shaw and eagerly awaiting her third book. Her protagonistic, Dr. Greta Helsing (they dropped the “Van” when they moved to the UK), is a doctor in London with a very specialized practice.

    (adding to my list. ~ Jenny)

  15. I’m also not a member of the club but just happened to read the book. I find forensic science fascinating (I’m a former English major who turned lawyer and then businesswoman and I suck at science and math, so go figure) and these early innovations are amazing. But even more so is the relentless digging deeper and deeper into the minutiae and never letting go till an answer comes up. And the competitiveness among the “experts!”

    (The competition aspect was so interesting. ~ Jenny)

  16. I just ordered this book from a local bookseller. I’m trying very hard to do what’s right instead of what’s easy (and often cheaper) buy not immediately going to amazon. I just thought how disappointed you would be if I ordered from the ‘Zon instead of a local bookseller! Very excited to read this!

    (Ordering from indie bookstores is the mark of a special angel. That said, sometimes people can’t always afford to support them so I totally get the draw of Amazon. 🙂 ~Jenny)

  17. Does your bookstore have an app? How can one buy books from Nowhere?

    (We have a website but you can’t really buy books from us until probably next month when we’re actually open and aren’t running this shit out of our overflowing houses. Soon! ~ Jenny)




    (Right?? ~ Jenny)

  19. Hello! I am a parasitic member of the club. I liked the vegetable lady for the weirdness. American Sherlock was appallingly edited and full of typos, but interesting nonetheless. Thank you for hosting the club, and I look forward to my ladies on sticks.

    (I didn’t notice any typos but I also speed read so I tend to miss them…much to the chagrin of people who read my own stuff. 🙂 ~ Jenny)

  20. Salem WITCH TRIAL! Oh my Gawd I am related to someone hanged as a warlock, as WELL as some of the accusers.

    (That is both terrible and also sort of awesome. ~ Jenny)

  21. I’m reading my fab new book when my daughter walks in: “Where’d you get that?”
    Me: “Nowhere.”
    Her: “Fine, don’t tell me. I’ll read it later when you’re not looking.”
    Me: “Really, it came from Nowhere.”
    Her: Cue the teenage eye roll “Whatever, Mom. You think you’re so cool with your secret books.”
    Score: lame mom 1- haughty know-it-all teenager-0 !!!!!

  22. where can I find out about the books you have read/suggested in the past?

    (So far we’ve just done Follow Me to Ground and American Sherlock. Next month is We Ride Upon Sticks. ~ Jenny)

  23. I know this isn’t new but the book Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow sort of broke my heart and it deals with so many pertinent and often unaddressed mental health issues (including the usually off limits self harm) and I just want to recommend it to anyone who struggles. Also the writing is fantastic and, well, fuck, this one is just so worth it. Seriously. No caveats.

  24. Took this to a girls weekend. Was asked what I was reading, explained the novel premise. Subject changed to keeping your kid’s baby teeth, first thought for body ID. But was for for possible use for stem cells in the future.

    I must be gruesome.

  25. I am not in the book club but I read American Sherlock this weekend because of the book club and I loved it. It was so engagingly written (I only noticed a few typos but maybe my ebook version had been updated since that other commenter read it). The last nonfiction book I read that quickly was Billy Jensen’s Chase Darkness With Me.

  26. Just finished “American Sherlock” and loved it! A great novel telling the life of a “true detective” who gave us many techniques and discoveries for Forensic Science and they are still used today. A great story of a pioneer that everyone should know! I wasn’t a official book club member yet but had to purchase and read the book. Thank you Jenny for this extraordinary book club!

  27. Wait, DANVERS??? I live next door in Peabody! Like one block from my house is Danvers.

  28. I just finished American Sherlock and am looking forward to starting We Ride Upon Sticks tonight. I’ll try to sort through my thoughts so I can “close the book” on February’s selection.

    I did notice a few typos but overall I found the writing to be very engaging. The author really piqued my interest in Heinrich’s personal life; I’d love to read a psychological profile, a criminalist’s profile of this criminalist, if you will!

    I consider myself a biologist, and from that perspective, found this to be an interesting look at some of science’s pitfalls. One of the central tenants of the discipline is that we can never “prove” anything, just support or refute possibilities. Does scientific evidence actually have any business in the courtroom then? Many of the techniques Heinrich introduced are now considered “junk science” and I expect as new methods arise we will recognize ever more flaws in past analyses. I tell my students that the best scientific conclusion merely states our best understanding of “X” given the current evidence, but reserves the obligation to change as new evidence becomes available. Should we ever execute a person based on such a conclusion??

    Despite his apparent insecurities, Heinrich struck me as awfully full of himself. He was rather competitive, maybe because he thought he was smarter than his peers and that he was always correct. A true scientist should be more objective and less egotistical, should seek out collaboration and replication of results.

    Scientist develops big ego- commands respect- rejects criticism- portrays himself and his craft as infallible- life and death conclusions are made based on unreviewed work of an egoist- further feeds scientist’s ego!

    sigh Sounds familiar, University profs! 🙂

  29. Is the facebook group still active? I can’t find it.

    (It is. Search for Fantastic Strangelings Book Club in Facebook and you’ll see it. ~ Jenny)

  30. Ok I’m a bit late but I think I have to get We ride upon sticks for my daughter, it sounds perfect for her, thanks for sharing 😊

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