December 19, 2009

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A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child

Written by Rick Geary
Illustrated by Rick Geary
NBM

Geary moves into the 20th Century but still writes about heinous deeds as his signature style and meticulous research takes on a case I'm less familiar with, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping/murder.

Charles Lindbergh became an American hero when he flew across the Atlantic ocean, proving that there will always be new feats to perform and adding to the growing feeling of American superiority. (It didn't hurt the slowly forming airline industry any, either.)

Soon he was famous enough to own multiple houses and have a bit of celebrity attached to himself. But tragedy strikes one evening, as his first child is stolen right out from under the family's nose.

How could this happen? Who kidnapped the child? A ransom demand is soon made but it only makes the situation worse. After a long period of delays and the involvement of those whose interest is serious and/or scandalous, a horrible discovery is made and the crime goes from extortion to murder.

The search for the killer takes some bizarre turns, but a likely culprit is discovered. The only problem? He insists until the end that he is innocent of the crime. An arrogant foreigner, long the bane of Good Americans everywhere, is convicted and all goes back to normal.

Or does it?

As he has done with so many other murder cases with ambiguous facts, from Jack the Ripper to Lizzie Bordon, Geary remains neutral about the official results of the crime, but points out many factors that give doubt to the generally accepted course of events. While there are quite a few pieces of evidence pointing to Hauptmann's guilt, Geary doesn't shy away from pointing out the prosecution's misdeeds, the possibility of a conspiracy, and some factors that just don't fit.

Unlike some of the other Geary murder books, I was not very familiar with the events he describes, so I can't speak for the presentation of the facts. However, the writing is exactly the same style as before, with each piece of the puzzle placed in chronological order. Geary lets the reader determine if there's something odd in the fact that a nervous dog never barked, no fingerprints were found in the room, or that John F. Condon felt the need to interfere in the proceedings.

There is a series of "what about...?" questions towards the back of the book, but they are more summary than speculation on Geary's part. I can sense that he may be a bit skeptical of the final results, but not enough to state this directly.

One change did occur with this book that I rather liked--each of the main characters get a bit of an epilogue. We learn about the claims of Lindbergh babies, the end of the Lindberghs and Hauptmann's wife, and Condon himself. I also liked the little bits of meshed history throughout, such as the involvement of J Edgar Hoover and the offer of help from Al Capone. Those extra touches make the series even better, I think.

My only complaint is that Lindbergh's politics are never discussed, and I think they should have been. Is it not possible that his fascist leanings helped stir the events? Or if they didn't, shouldn't that be noted as well? I would imagine most readers of this book (or their parents) are aware of Lindbergh's politics, so it felt like a major omission in the narrative.

Geary's line work is just as impressive here as ever, as his woodblock-like art captures each moment in a freeze frame. He has a lot of lines to draw on the suit styling of the early 20th Century, so many I wonder how he doesn't get severe writer's cramp drawing them! His faces are distinctive and expressive as always, and remind me of Victorian photos, even if we've moved into the movie age.

I really enjoy Geary's work, and am glad to see his move into the 20th Century is just as good as his Victorian-era books. His style works a bit better, I think, on the 19th Century, but it's still very entertaining and the factual approach to his subject never wavers from book to book. If you've only read his Victorian murders, you definitely need to travel through time with Rick Geary's newest set of Treasuries. You'll be glad you did.