True-crime aficionados are going to eat up Trials of the Century: A Decade-by-Decade Look at Ten of America’s Most Sensational Crimes by Mark J. Phillips and Aryn Z. Phillips (Prometheus). But they won’t be the only ones. As the introduction tells us:
Americans are addicted to violent crime. Not to committing it, particularly, notwithstanding a history of nineteenth-century gunslingers, twentieth-century gangsters, and the wide prevalence of handguns, which outnumber citizens. Rather, Americans love to talk about crime, to read about it, relive it, and revel in it.
But this is not just crime. This is the ultimate, real-life Law & Order: the crimes as seen through the eyes of justice attempting to determine what was what in each of the 10 cases the Phillipses cover. You’ve heard of most (though probably not all) of these cases: Fatty Arbuckle. Charles Manson. Bruno Hauptmann and the Lindbergh baby. O.J. Simpson. And a postscript for the new century: Casey Anthony.
“In the country,” write the authors, “we have a trial of the century regularly once a decade.” And they bring us those trials, with a ghostly clarity that makes one wish some of this was fiction.
Trial junkies won’t be able to put this down. And the rest of us will unsuccessfully try to turn our heads away. But it’s almost impossible. Trials of the Century is riveting reading. ◊