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?
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:
ABOUT WE RIDE UPON STICKS:
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.