Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review: The Skeleton Crew

This was a book for my book club. I had to request it by interlibrary loan since none of the nearby libraries carried it. My interest was definitely piqued by the subtitle, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases. It was an intriguing, if a bit gory, read.

Hard to imagine, but there are over forty thousand unidentified dead bodies in America. Even when the bodies carry interesting clues, like dental work and tattoos, it can be hard for the police to identify the person. Oftentimes, the cases merely go cold because funds cannot really be spent to dig into the complex puzzle of identification. Enter a weird kind of common man, who enjoys puzzles and surfs the Internet for clues that might solve the mysteries behind these often faceless individuals. Criminals sometimes go to desperate lengths to obscure the pertinent clues like fingerprints, cutting off hands and bashing in faces. Or, the elements often deteriorate the condition of the body to the point where it is unrecognizable.

Deborah Halber descends into this gruesome world of facial reconstructions, autopsies, and arm-chair sleuthing. She outlines several cases, both solved and unsolved. She highlights the eccentric individuals who come home from their day jobs, fire up their computers, and seek to match missing person bulletins to the details of unidentified corpses. While I don't think I'll take her advice, and seek out the websites often used, I did find the various stories interesting. My only complaint would be that the writing occasionally felt disjointed and jumbled. Indeed, everyone in my book club expressed the same observation, even to the point of agreement that this probably isn't the most well-written book on the subject of amateur sleuthing. Still, it would probably appeal to readers who are interested in true crime stories and who root for the underdog to answer questions the authorities don't have time, money, or energy to pursue. Just don't expect an in-depth explanation of how to go about solving these troublesome mysteries.

No comments: