– I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. –
Long before the specter of terrorism haunted the public imagination, a serial bomber stalked the streets of 1950s New York. The race to catch him would give birth to a new science called criminal profiling.
Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall―for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters “FP” and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters. His victims were left cruelly maimed. Tabloids called him “the greatest individual menace New York City ever faced.”
In desperation, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber’s letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson―a handsome New York socialite, protégé of William Randolph Hearst, and publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American―joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement.
I chose this book because…
I’ve always been interested in crime stories, be them TV shows or books. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of CSI, so when I saw that this book was about the beginnings criminal profiling, I was immediately intrigued.
Upon reading it…
This book was non-fiction but it read like a story. I was surprised by the level of detail. Not only do you get into the details of the Mad Bomber, but also that of all the people involved with his case. Cannell really gets in these characters’ heads and constructs a narrative for each of them. Now that I’m writing this, I realise that Cannell must have used profiling strategies of his own and lots of research in writing this book.
Sometimes I forgot that this book wasn’t about the Mad Bomber case only, but first and foremost about criminal profiling, so initially I’d get impatient of the narrative veering away from the perspective of the Mad Bomber and the police on his case. I was itching for the Mad Bomber to be caught and to see how accurate the psychiatrist’s profile was.
But this is not a fast-paced episode of CSI. The Mad Bomber was caught 60% of the way through the book, and I wondered what the heck the last 40% could possibly be about (I don’t consider this a spoiler because it’s non-fiction, but sorry if that was more information than you wanted!). A case isn’t closed as soon as a suspect is caught. There’s still lots to determine. Like, why?
This book shares the case that couldn’t be solved by traditional police methods, that needed a bigger picture. This book shares how criminal profiling began, the conflict and teamwork between police and psychiatrists, and the struggle of having people regard criminal profiling as a legitimate thing when criminal profiling wasn’t a thing yet.
Schizophrenics follow their own logic. We just don’t understand it.
How does one apprehend the wits of a madman?
He looked unremarkable in every way, as if life had failed to make a distinguishing mark on him.
He was content in the company of bombs, despite the harrowing possibilities. If anything, he was too brave.
Incendiary power had not been his main goal. He was not trying to kill people, not yet anyway. He was simply trying to make a point.
Instead of starting with a known personality and anticipating his behavior, as Langer had, maybe Dr. Brussel could start with the bomber’s behavior and deduce what sort of a person he might be… Dr. Brussel called it reverse psychology. Today we call it profiling.
“The mind stores enormous amounts of data over the course of years, but not all this data is available to the conscious thinking process. Some of it lies just below the surface. It’s knowledge, but you aren’t consciously aware of it. Every now and then, however it makes itself felt: it produces a sudden and rather mysterious flash of knowing. A hunch. You don’t know where it came from and you aren’t sure you can trust it, but it is there in your mind, insistently demanding to be considered. What do you do with it? Throw it out, or use it? This is the choice you must make. In general, I use such intuitive flashes as long as they are consistent with other data I have on hand.”
He often spent the next afternoon, before his shift began, gardening behind his home in suburban New Jersey. “I like to see things grow,” he said. “I’ve seen so many things dying.”
Sometimes the difference between failure and success is a new thought.
A house can hold a human presence forever.
The difference lies in your interpretation of reality.
“As I grew older, I began to conclude that the benefits of law were only for the well-to-do, and the poor didn’t have a chance.”
Brains meant nothing without heart.
Most wrongdoers, he believed, were decent characters corrupted by inadequate upbringings.