Dear TCL Readers:
It took longer than anticipated to send out this newsletter, but then, the publication of Scoundrel has kept me busy since the book’s release on February 22. I’ll get to that momentarily, but first, a separate update:
Exactly one month ago, an email with the subject line “an idea for you” from New York Magazine’s city editor Chris Bonanos showed up in my inbox. Chris and I have worked on a number of pieces together — most notably, the Central Park story that garnered me a National Magazine Award nomination for Reporting — and so when he mentioned a “wild kidnapping story that ended up in the basement of Ukrainian Hall” I’d already said yes before finishing the whole message.
The story, of multiple kidnappings for ransom, of criminals with rumored ties to fascistic groups, of cremated remains in an East Village basement at the tail end of 1938, and the first executions for crimes other than murder in New York State, was indeed a wild one. It runs today in Curbed, the magazine’s city-focused website, as a complement to the current print issue’s attention to the history of Little Ukraine.
Because this was meant to be a short piece, there’s so much that didn’t make it or got cut (someday, maybe, I’ll write the longer version.) One tantalizing strand involved Marie La Monte, the paramour of one of the kidnappers, who claimed she never loved him and he knew it — but she still visited him at Sing Sing 39 times between his conviction and execution in the hopes that he’d give up the truth of his crimes. She told her story to King Features Syndicate crime journalist Fred Menagh in a two-part piece that ran in hundreds (if not more) newspapers in March 1940, two months after her lover was executed:
I also fell down a rather disturbing rabbit hole involving the still-unsolved 1938 kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Peter Levine, a boy in New Rochelle whose probable kidnappers were charged with other crimes, and never convicted. For a time the FBI thought Levine’s kidnapping was connected to that of Arthur Fried, but quickly moved on once they had the whole story on what happened in Ukrainian Hall. Ultimately, it’s another example of how some crime stories get fixed in the public consciousness, and most simply do not.
Now, back to Scoundrel. (The photo is from my March 9 event at Mysterious Bookshop with Abbott Kahler and Gilbert King.) One never knows how a book will be received, and publishing in a continuing pandemic has made this all the more nebulous. But the reviews have been, by and large, rapturous, and the in-person and virtual events were uniformly wonderful. Here’s the rundown:
The New York Times made Scoundrel an Editor’s Choice selection and Katherine Dykstra’s review ran in the April 3 print edition, rightly concluding that the book is about “who receives the benefit of our doubt and the privileges that attend that trust, whether or not it is warranted.”
Sam Adler-Bell went deep on the book for an essay included in the April 2022 issue of The New Republic, while Peter Tonguette examined the book from the opposite political spectrum in The American Conservative.
Esquire has already lauded Scoundrel as one of the year’s Best Books (So Far)
More great reviews in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, NPR.org, AirMail, the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, True Crime Index, Best Evidence, and the Associated Press
Here are archived livestreams of my events at Books Are Magic, Politics & Prose, Murder By the Book, and Poisoned Pen. I was interviewed by Shelagh Rogers for CBC’s The Next Chapter, Steven Beattie for That Shakespearean Rag, and Polly Hansen for Viewpoints Radio.
A number of events are lined up for the spring and summer, too:
On Sunday, April 24 at 11 AM PST, I’ll be in conversation with Elon Green, Liz Brown, and Jessica Garrison at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
The Darien (CT) Library hosts me on Wednesday, May 18 at 6 PM.
I will be taking part in the inaugural Crime & Mystery Festival hosted by the Toronto International Festival of Authors. Details forthcoming, though the festival runs from June 3-5.
Elon Green and I will be appearing at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT on Wednesday, June 8 as part of the paperback tour for Last Call, which is nominated for the Best Fact Crime Edgar Award.
Finally, Thalia Proctor died unexpectedly earlier this month from complications relating to breast cancer. She’d worked for a number of years as an editorial manager at Little, Brown, UK, but when we first became friends — first online, in the late 1990s, through the USENET group rec.arts.mystery, and then IRL at various Bouchercons and a memorable London summer in 2003, when I was supposedly working on my graduate thesis but mostly spent time drinking with crime writers — Thalia was a beloved bookseller at Murder One and later, Crime in Store and Goldsboro Books.
Crime fiction was in her blood and she lived and breathed it, though it was far from her only love (I’m pretty sure she got me into Doctor Who and Blackadder properly, and her knowledge of current music was expert-level pub quiz encyclopaedic.) Thalia also had the biggest heart, most gorgeous laugh, and a great sense of fun. She hurt, she ached, but she also embraced real joy and adventure, and the travel bug was a big part of that.
The photo (L to R: me, Ayo Onatade, Thalia, Katherine Armstrong) was from the last time we saw one another in person, at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a too-brief hang, and there was the hope and promise of a later meetup. But that wasn’t to be. And now it can’t be.
Miss you, babe. xx
With various holidays (Passover, Easter) and travel on the immediate horizon, expect the next dispatch sometime in the late spring/early summer.
Until next time, I remain,
The Crime Lady