Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Though the subject matter was interesting, the telling of it was only so-so.

3 out of 5 stars

“Compulsively readable.” You see that quite frequently in front cover (or back cover, whichever) blurbs, but what exactly does that mean? And can it really apply to so many books? Well, I can't answer for the second question, but as to the first, I would say the phrase describes something that can't be put down; a book that one keeps reading well into the wee hours of the night, perhaps even until the first rays of dawn peek through the windows. If the “compulsively readable” phrase gets tossed around too much until it loses some of its punch, in the case of Harold Schechter's The Mad Sculptor it is thoroughly deserved and 100% true.

And yet...

After a while, the story begins to slow down, especially when it comes to the detailing of Robet Irwin's, The Mad Sculptor himself, many stints in mental institutions and his movements in between those stints. The whole thing becomes so tedious after a while, you begin to wonder exactly what kind of story Schechter is trying to tell. Especially when he includes the stories behind the many murders that occurred in the same Beekman Place neighborhood as where Irwin killed Veronica Gedeon. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those side excursions, but to me all it did was muddle the direction of the book. When I reached the end, I wondered what exactly was the point. If Schechter wanted to explore the strange history of Beekman Place and why so many murders occurred in such a short period of time in the early part of the 20th century--was the neighborhood cursed? Did it have anything to do with the deprivations of the Great Depression? etc.--which I would've found interesting, then why focus so much on Irwin? If Schechter wanted to explore the psychopathy of Irwin, why did he peel off so many times to focus on those other murders, in which Irwin wasn't involved? It just came off as messy and uneven. Which is strange because I've read several of Schechter's other true crime books and have always found him to be both informative and entertaining, with a very readable narrative. Certainly nothing like what I encountered in The Mad Sculptor.

Read from January 26-February 1, 2014
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program March 19, 2014

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