If you can get beyond the first of these true life crime stories, you’ll be able to relax.
Expect no punches to be pulled in journalist Peter Landesman’s “The Girls Next Door,” a harrowing journey into the dark feral subsistence of children who are sold as sex slaves. They work here, in the USA. Latino and Eastern European kids, the prey of international sex traffickers, may walk in to a sex ring innocently, having been promised legitimate employment, or may be offered by their families in the hopeful belief that they will be given dignified work. They are sold one by one, often disguised in attractive uniforms and hired out to adults who pick them up by pre-arranged signal in places as innocuous as Disneyland. The reality of these children’s lives – the physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence and death – is something no parent could ever wish for a child and ruins the child’s chances of ever returning home. One older girl, inured to her own enslavement over the course of constant brutalization, found a shred of redemption: “I’d teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn’t hurt.”
Beyond this excellent opening piece, we have a wide range of subject matter. Take for example, the case of the man who passed away in “Mysterious Circumstances.” David Grann’s fascinating look at a Sherlock Holmes fanatic whose odd life and strangely choreographed death lead us into a world of kooks who genuinely believe Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth to have been a real person. Their zeal to guard and possess every document in the case of Doyle/Holmes may – or may not – have led to the bizarre murder of an eccentric Holmes biographer, Richard Green, who had much to gain from the latest legacy of Doyle’s intellectual property. “Not long after Green turned thirteen, he carried an assortment of artifacts from local junk sales into the dimly lit attic…to create a strange tableau…a rack of pipes and a Persian slipper stuffed with tobacco…empty ammunition boxes…a sign: BAKER STREET. Relying on stray details…Green had pieced together a replica of Holmes’s and Watson’s apartment.”
There is a life-like walk with trackers on the Texas/Mexico border with Mike McCarson, an FBI agent who’s been trawling the desert for eighteen years looking for the most subtle signs of human passage, signs of people crawling, tiptoeing, even walking on their hands to escape detection. McCarson tells the author, Jeff Dietz (“Fine Disturbances”) “They all get away.” The illegal immigrants and their trackers are locked in a long-term, no-win tango of pursuit, capture, return and start over.
There are rather droll stories of white-color crime, including a revealing walk in the shoes of some computer hackers (Clive Thompson’s “The Virus Underground”) whose vocabulary is redolent of a fresh, frontier spirit – they “release their viruses into the wild,” test the limits of mega-systems, and stick it to the big corporations using big brains and a lot of butt-in-chair time that could presumably be so much better spent. But the thrill would be gone if the work were directed to something practical.
If you like “Cold Case Files” (I do) you’ll enjoy taking a dip into this intellectually satisfying compendium.