• Caitlyn Lynch

Book Review: The Case of the Vanishing Blonde; and Other True Crime Stories by Mark Bowden


This is a collection of six long-form journalistic pieces Mark Bowden wrote for Vanity Fair. Six true crime cases, each of them different in their own ways, not so much for their shock value but for the fact that they caused seismic shifts in the way certain types of crimes are examined.

Incident at Alpha Tau Omega tells the story of a girl who got drunk and/or high, and was raped by a number of brothers at a frat house at Penn State. The incident and its aftermath definitely changed the way consent in such cases are discussed. Bowman tries to present the facts of the case without bias, but his implicit distaste for the failure of the fraternity brothers to not only take responsibility, but even comprehend the wrongness of their actions does come over somewhat.

why don’t u tell me wht ur into raises some intriguing questions about entrapment. A cyber detective phishes for paedophiles by posing as a mother with two young girls. The fish she hooks seems more interested in her than the girls, but she insists they are a package deal. Arranging to meet her, planning to have sex with her before the girls get home from school, the man is arrested. Having never seen the girls, in possession of no child pornography, is he guilty? And of what?

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde is the first of three stories centring on the investigative skills of PI Ken Brennan. Leading to the capture of a serial rapist, it’s really a commentary on the police failing to do the investigative work to close the case.

… A Million Years Ago is told as an interview between two detectives looking into a cold-case homicide and a fellow police officer, the highly decorated and respected Stephanie Lazarus, who turns out to have killed her ex-boyfriend’s new wife. It seems apparent that Lazarus conspired to destroy evidence in the case which could have pointed in her direction and that other police officers aided and abetted her, although an investigation cleared them. Bowden makes no comment about this, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

The Body in Room 348 is a case which only came about because the medical examiner performing an autopsy missed a bullet wound which was the actual cause of death. It turns out to be an accidental shooting - a drunken fool messing around with a gun - but it takes super PI Ken Brennan to figure it out and bring closure to his family.

Who Killed Euhommie Bond? once again features Ken Brennan, this time investigating the shooting of a police officer outside the bar he and his wife owned during a scuffle. It’s probably particularly relevant at the present time due to Bowman’s rather pointed observations about the failures of the Jackson police to properly investigate the killing of a fellow police officer… because Euhommie Bond was Black.

The articles are a little bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality; in the first one I was annoyed by Bowman’s constant switching between present and past tense, and I’d also have very much liked to see that particular one followed up to see what the principal players are doing in the modern day, even if their names are still kept anonymous. Because the articles are reproduced in full from their original format, Ken Brennan gets introduced three times, which definitely seems overblown by the third time.

These are interesting, groundbreaking cases; I’d honestly never heard of any of them before reading this book. However, to reproduce them without revisiting any of them, following up with any of the major players in the present day, feels like something of a lazy cash grab, which is a little disappointing. Definitely worth a read if you’re not familiar with these cases because of their thought-provoking nature, though. I’ll give it four stars.

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde; and Other True Crime Stories is available now.


Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.

© 2016 by Catherine Bilson

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