Secondhand Rows 

Join Stephen (Blackheath) and Scott (Glebe), our secondhand managers, every month here as they takes a closer look at a couple of titles from their shelves.

May 2020

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Alley Kat Blues ($20, HB): Kat Scratch Fever ($20, HB) by Karen Kijewski
It seems to be a habit of mine to ‘discover’ an entertaining ‘new’ detective series that most people—and I daresay, many of my crime fiction enthusiast colleagues at Gleebooks—were enjoying more then two decades ago.
Between 1988 and 1998, California-born crime writer Karen Kijewski (pron. Ki-JEFF-ski), wrote nine novels featuring the hard-boiled, thirty-something, Sacramento Private Investigator, Kat Colorado. They have titles   such as Katwalk, Katapult, Wild Kat, Honky Tonk Kat, Copy Kat, etc. The two titles featured are Books 6 and 8 in the series.
I thoroughly enjoyed both. They are intriguing mysteries with the relatively straightforward, linear narrative that this occasional crime fiction reader requires: i.e., the crime, the investigation—with various twists and turns—and then everything explained clearly at the end. As well as this, these novels have just the right amount of jaunty swagger and wise cracking dialogue necessary for our redoubtable P.I. dealing with (often) overbearing clients, suspects and exasperated or often slow on the uptake (mostly) male law enforcement officials—especially one that Kat is romantically involved with.
Short chapters, with headings such as Snoop du Jour, Only the Lonely and On the Prowl add to the fun. As does being reminded of the (now forgotten) technology and practices that P.I.s dealt with less than two decades ago. Such as hand written phone messages left on the desk, fax machines, checking daily newspapers to locate specific addresses and laboriously following (actual) paper trails to uncover and prove criminal misdeeds or such like.
Now for the bad news. After seeking out the other titles in this series, I found that all but one, Kat’s Cradle (1992) Pb. $13.99, are Out of Print. Ms Kijewski is now in retirement, so there will be no further Kat chronicles. Seek these out where you can.

The Scarlet Thread: Australia’s Jack the Ripper—A True Crime Story
by Maurice Gurvich and Christopher Wray ($20, PB)

‘Diabolical Murder: A woman’s body found under a hearthstone’—The Age Newspaper, Melbourne. 4 March 1892. Frederick Bailey Deeming (1853-1892) was a multiple larcenist, fraudster, bigamist and murderer. His life and gruesome crimes—in two countries—are narrated here in this splendidly researched book. Deeming, born in England, claimed he was epileptic since 18 and that he (and his parents) had spent years in asylums. He was at any rate, a cunning and devious fantasist and serial killer who went under numerous aliases and occupations, among them: Harry Lawson (an Australian sheep farmer); Albert Williams (Army Inspector) and ‘Baron’ Swanston. His murder of his first wife and four children in Rainhill, England in July 1891 and the killing of his second in Melbourne in December 1891 led newspapers—and some later historians—to speculate the he was in fact the Whitechapel murderer, Jack the Ripper. Deeming’s defence counsel, (future Prime Minister) Alfred Deakin, argued a defence of insanity. Convicted of murder on 2 May 1892, Deeming used the three weeks of an unsuccessful appeal to the Privy Council to write poetry: ‘The Jury listened well to the yarn I had to tell, But they sent me straight to hell.’ As well as an autobiography, which was destroyed.

The Last Victim: The Extraordinary Life of Florence Maybrick, the Wife of Jack the Ripper by Anne E. Graham and Carol Emmas ($20, HC)
Even if she was not married to ‘Jack the Ripper’, American born Florence Chandler’s ill-fated union to Liverpool cotton merchant, James Maybrick in 1881, resulted in personal tragedy enough for the young wife. Maybrick was notorious philanderer and perpetual hypochondriac. He self-administered a bewildering variety of medicines including included regular doses arsenic, believed to act as a tonic and an aphrodisiac. Her husband’s death from arsenic poisoning in 1889, led to Florence being convicted of his murder, in one of the most controversial—and notorious—trials in British legal history. Her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, she spent 14 years in various prisons, undertaking gruelling hard labour or in solitary confinement, often under the strict silence rule. The psychological toll this placed on her was described in her own book, My Fifteen Lost Years. Returning to the US, Florence lived out her ruined life as a recluse. She died destitute and alone in a small farmhouse in Connecticut, aged 79. The case inspired dozens of non-fiction works, as well as novels by authors such as Dorothy Sayers and Peter Ackroyd. The case for James Maybrick being the Ripper was based on the ‘discovery’ of Maybrick’s  diary by Michael Barrett in which he confesses to be Jack. In 1995, Barrett confessed to writing the diary himself, describing the process of counterfeiting the diary in detail.

Ripper Update: In Jan 2020, The Journal of Forensic Sciences (65) 1 pp.295-302, published an article entitled Forensic Investigation of a Shawl Linked to the Jack the Ripper Murders. These were the results of a second DNA test (the first was undertaken in 2014) on the samples found on the shawl of Catherine Eddowes (1842–1888), the fourth of the ‘canonical’ five Ripper victims. This item is the only remaining physical evidence—that we know of—linked to these murders, found at the crime scene.The DNA test results, from maternal descendants of both victim and suspect, matched: Catherine Eddowes was murdered by Aaron Kosminski (1865-1919), a Polish barber, resident in Whitechapel. His appearance also matched the only reliable eyewitness description we have of the Whitechapel killer. As well, senior police officers investigating the Whitechapel murders at the time, Assistant Commissioner Robert Anderson (1841-1918) and Chief Inspector Donald Swanson (1848-1924), both named Kosminski as a chief suspect in private correspondence, revealed decades later.
Case closed? Stephen

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