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American Sherlock by Kate Winkler

I was kindly gifted an early digital copy of the book by Icon Publishing in exchange for a review.

When asked to read this book then write a review for this book, I said yes without hesitation. The inner workings of Forensics as a discipline and a toolkit from which many professionals draw in order to bring us steps closer to solving myriad cases over weeks, months and sometimes decades are endlessly fascinating to me. I didn’t know much about Edward Oscar Heinrich as his work has so far been largely overlooked, despite the rise in popularity for this topic.

After the first few pages, I was reminded, unsurprisingly of how much I love Forensics by Val McDermid. A book I’m still recommending 5 years after I first read it. 

What struck me about Winkler’s writing was her masterful delivery of using just the right amount of words to set you up in the world that she was creating. There was no soft introduction, we were told right at the starting line exactly what we are getting ourselves into. Chapter 1, for examples, is entitled ‘A Bloody Mess: A Tale of Allene Lamson’s Bloody Bath Part 1’ and the chapter names go on like that, sounding wonderfully Victorian.

Winkler has clearly laboured over the research for this novel, including such minutiae in her paragraphs that I imagined her writing amongst mountains of notes, post-it’s and the stereotypical wall full of papers and connecting strings. I have a sense that this labour and this investment in her craft contributed to the incredible detail Winkler writes in and for me, this was distracting. Where sentences are masterful and beautifully constructed, I find that she labours points that could be peppering the scene rather than featuring so heavily in them. 

For example, in the first 10 pages, the reader is given two separate descriptions of how Allene Lamson styles her hair and ‘smoothes her braids, coiled them, and fastened them either side of her head neatly with hairpins..’ I’m sure than many readers will devour this level of specificity and how these layers and nuances of our characters are revealed to us, but for me this was a little too much. I’d prefer to learn about her personality, Allene’s wholeness. Winkler’s choice to introduce Allene to us by way of her achievements, societal standing and family situation may have been a conscious choice and a reflection of how victims are so often described in news media, but it felt clinical and a little demeaning to me. 

I also felt that the author took certain creative liberties that pulled me out of the realism, too. Despite her evidently exhaustive research, we can’t know exactly a tone of voice, a glance across a room and indeed, how someone stroked their hair as they got ready in the morning and I found this embellishment to be another distraction.

Though the cases are fascinating and Winkler’s choice to lay bare this largely unheard of set of cases and the often pioneering talent of Edward Oscar Heinrich, this was tough for me to get into. True crime fans who love meticulous detail to the nth degree, this is absolutely a book for you. The crafting of this book could only be achieved by a highly skilled researcher, writer and an insatiably curious mind and Winkler demonstrates all of that clearly. 

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