Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Fruit Of A Poisoned Tree: A True Story Of Murder And The Miscarriage Of Justice by Antony Altbeker

Paperback:  In June 2005, Fred van der Vyver, a young actuary and the son of a wealthy Eastern Cape farming family, was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Inge Lotz, allegedly bludgeoning her to death with a hammer as she lay on a couch in her lounge.

The case against Van der Vyver seemed overwhelming.  His behaviour at the time of the murder appeared suspicious and incriminating, and a letter, penned by Inge on the morning of her death, suggested that the two had been fighting.

But it was forensic evidence that seemed to prove his guilt:  his fingerprints were found at the scene, one of his shoes was matched to a blood stain on the bathroom floor, and traces of blood were found on an ornamental hammer that had been given to him by the victim's parents.

And yet, in one of the most sensational and controversial murder trials in South African legal history, Van der Vyver's lawyers sought to turn the tables on the police, accusing them of fabricating evidence and lying to the judge.

In Fruit of a Poisoned Tree:  A True Story of Murder and the Miscarriage of Justice (2010), prize-winning author Antony Altbeker takes you into the heat of this epic courtroom battle.  Altbeker's eye-witness account of the trial presents the reader with all the evidence and testimony of the trial, while also placing it in the context of a society and a justice system that are being stretched to breaking point.

Marlene van Niekerk, author of Agaat and Triomf wrote, "This book is an important contribution to understanding the textures and dynamics of important aspects of South African culture as well as offering a compelling analysis of the degeneration of the investigative prowess of South Africa's law enforcers.  It is a chilling revelation of the rotten state of the administrative capacity and of the professional bankruptcy of policing in South Africa.  Fruit of a Poisoned Tree:  A True Story of Murder and the Miscarriage of Justice is obligatory reading for those interested in the current state of the nation.  It reads like a thriller and is utterly unputdownable.  It leaves the reader with serious food for thought."

The overriding question is:  Did Fred van der Vyver, whose father spent R10 million on his defense, get away with murder?

About the author:  Since 1994, Antony Altbeker has worked on issues relating to crime, policing and criminal justice in government and in a variety of think-tanks.  In government, he worked for four years (1994 to 1998) in the Ministry for Safety and Security, where he was responsible for establishing systems for monitoring police performance and was involved in a variety of policy and legislative processes.  Between 1999 and 2001, Antony worked in the National Treasury where he was a senior manager responsible for the negotiation of the budgets for the departments that make up the criminal justice system.  Finally and most recently, Antony worked as a Special Advisor to the Minister of Finance, assisting in the hand-over to a new minister before and after the 2009 elections.

Fruit of a Poisoned Tree is Antony Altbeker’s third book about crime and justice in South Africa.  His first, The Dirty Work of Democracy (2005), won the Recht Malan prize for non-fiction and was short-listed for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award.  His second, A Country at War with Itself (2009), is widely regarded as the most authoritative popular account of the causes of South Africa’s crime problem and of what to do to fix it.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Incriminating Evidence by Sheldon Siegel

Paperback:  The savvy legal team of Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez is facing a new and high-profile case.  It starts with a phone call Mike Daley never expected to get, from District Attorney Prentice Marshall Gates III, San Francisco's chief law enforcement officer and front-runner candidate for California attorney general.  Friends they are not - 'Skipper' Gates had led the charge to get Mike fired from his job as a partner in a prestigious law firm but Gates needs Daley now - and needs him badly.  He has just been arrested.

It seems that a couple of hours earlier, Skipper has been found dazed and incoherent in a hotel room with the dead body of a young male prostitute spread-eagled on the bed.  The details that continue to emerge from the crime scene are tabloid heaven.  The SFPD is certain Skipper did it.  The prosecutors are already talking the death penalty, and there is nothing in the mounting evidence, and certainly not in Skipper's unpersuasive denials, to convince Daley and his partner (and ex-wife) Rosie of his innocence.  But even if he is lying, it is their job to defend him, and that means finding out what really happened.

Sure enough, the deeper they dig, the seamier their findings.

It is typical of this unconventional pair that they are contending with a client they dislike, evidence that clearly implicates him and an array of powerbrokers ready to cover their own questionable activities that may - or may not connect - with the victim.  There is a campaign manager with his own dirty secrets, a shady Internet entrepreneur who trades flesh for cash and a prominent businessman who uses muscle to keep his enterprise prospering.

Moving from jail cell to courtroom, from the gated mansions of the San Francisco hills to the seedy streets of Mission District where drugs and bodies are always for sale, Daley and Fernandez find deception around every corner, and danger that mounts with each new revelation.

And that is before they even get to court.

Incriminating Evidence (2001) is the second book in the Mike Daley legal thriller series set in San Francisco.

About the author:  Sheldon Siegel graduated from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 1983.  He has been in private practice in San Francisco for over nineteen years and specializes in corporate and securities law with the firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP.

He lives in Marin County with his wife, Linda, and twin sons, Alan and Stephen.

Rating:  5/5

Stories On Stories On Stories

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Waterlow Killings: A Portrait of a Family Tragedy (Non-Fiction) by Pamela Burton

Paperback:  Anthony Waterlow left his decrepit room in a run-down boarding house at 4.45pm on Monday 9 November 2009.  By 6pm, the 42-year-old was seen leaving another home:  his sister Chloe's in Randwick in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in the state of New South Wales in Australia.

He left behind her slaughtered body and that of their father - celebrated art curator Nick Waterlow.

The pair had been stabbed multiple times, in front of Chloe's three young children.

Not only does the The Waterlow Killings (2012) paint a picture of a sad and terrible family murder but more importantly, delves beneath the public face of a successful and affluent family, to reveal private suffering that even their closest friends could not have guessed.

The story takes us deep into the world of musical, literary and visual artists who defy conventionality, push boundaries and become international celebrities.  But, behind that apparently glamorous life of the Waterlows - with British aristocratic blood lines and Nick's art world fame - lay a story of love, despair and torment.

Anthony Waterlow's descent into the pits of a mental darkness began at a young age.  Like too many of those who suffer from a serious mental illness, he fell through the cracks.  The Waterlow Killings ultimately highlights the issues that confront families coping with mental illness and the failings of the health systems in times of need.

"The respect held for Nick Waterlow and for his remarkable contribution to Australian culture has, in death, empowered him and his daughter, Chloe, to deliver a strong social message:  it is society's responsibility to properly care for those with serious mental illness - at a minimum, to ensure that the same level of care and access to medical and other appropriate interventions is provided as for other illnesses.  Politicians, social policy advisers, medical professionals, and those working in the areas of mental health and the law know what changes have to be made;  they're all there in the many reports and expert recommendations that lie around on public servants' desks waiting for the social and political will necessary to implement them," wrote Pamela Burton.

"Anthony was alone and lost in a world that he could not control;  a world that had chosen to leave him without proper care;  a world that respected his liberty and privacy more than his right to be helped, or that simply believed that helping people like Anthony was not economical.  So Anthony, no longer in control of his own actions, was in no one else's control either, and would not be till he emerged as an insane killer, when the police, in great numbers, would contain him, irrespective of the cost.  There is no waiting list for a bed in a cell, and consent is not required before a person is confined in a prison.  What were the courts and the health system waiting for before either would take stronger action?"

Anthony Waterlow was found not guilty of their murder by reason of mental illness, following a short trial in April 2011.  The NSW Supreme Court accepted psychiatric evidence that he had suffered from untreated paranoid schizophrenia and had been delusional at the time of the killings.  Anthony continues to be detained in a NSW forensic hospital.

About the author:  Pamela Burton is a Canberra lawyer and writer.  She studied Law at the Australian National University.  Her Master’s thesis was a study of the radical High Court Justice, Henry Bournes Higgins.  She founded her own law firm in 1976 and later practised as a barrister at the Canberra Bar.  She has held various positions, including Senior Member, Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal, member of the ACT Parole Board, and ACT Mental Health Official Visitor.  She is the author of From Moree to Mabo: the Mary Gaudron Story, published by University of Western Australia Publishing (2010), a biography of the first female justice of the High Court of Australia.  The Waterlow Killings was winner of Sisters in Crime 13th Davitt Best True Crime Award.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Paperback:  The dress was loose everywhere except in the sleeves and he felt warm and submerged, as if dipping into a summer sea.  The fox was chasing the mouse, and there was a distant voice in his head:  the soft cry of a scared little girl.

Copenhagen, 1925, the studio of American painter Greta Waud, anxious to put the finishing touches to her latest portrait but her diva subject has cancelled yet another sitting;  how is Greta ever going to get it done?

A sudden glint in her eye and she calls to her husband Einar.

And so, late on an April afternoon, in a hush of breath and a whisper of white silk, beautiful but tremulous, the Danish Girl or better known as Lili Elbe, is born.

With her comes a terrible confusion of tortured feelings, of guilty longings and searing fears and the most ecstatic passion, the most tender love that either has ever known.

David Ebershoff's extraordinary debut novel is actually based on a true story of Einar Mogens Wegener, a successful artist, and his wife.  In early 1931 Copenhagen, when the news broke that a man had changed his gender, newspapers around the world ran accounts of Einar Wegener's remarkable life and his successful gender reassignment surgery.  However, Ebershoff's The Danish Girl is entirely fictional and does not contain biographical details of Einar Wegener's life.

To read about the real Einar Wegener, check out Man Into Woman:  The First Sex Change (1933) edited by Ernst Ludwig Harthern-Jacobsen using the pseudonym Niels Hoyer (ISBN 0-9547072-0-6 at www.blueboatbooks.co.uk) or Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frĂĽhen Sexualwissenschaft by Dr. Rainer Herrn (2005), ISBN 3-89806-463-8 - German study containing a detailed account of the operations of Lili Elbe, their preparations and the role of Magnus Hirschfeld (sexologist from Berlin).

About the author:  David Ebershoff is the author of four books of fiction including The Danish Girl (2000), The Rose City (2001) and Pasadena (2002).  His most recent novel is the international bestseller, The 19th Wife (2008).  He has won a number of awards including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lambda Literary Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for excellence in gay and lesbian literature.  His books have been translated into eighteen languages to critical acclaim, and two of his novels are being adapted for film and television, one of them - The Danish Girl - is being produced and directed by Tom Cooper in Copenhagen at this moment in time and will be released later this year.

Ebershoff has taught creative writing at New York University and Princeton and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.  He is an editor-in-large at Random House and lives in New York City.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Special Circumstances by Sheldon Siegel

Hardback:  In 2000, debut author Sheldon Siegel bursts into the legal arena with a riveting courtroom drama, exposing the world of big-time law firms and lawyers in a sharp-witted, wonderfully sardonic page-turner of a novel.

Meet Mike Daley.  Ex-priest.  Ex-public defender.  Ex-husband.  And as of yesterday, ex-partner at Simpson & Gates, one of San Francisco's most prominent law firms.

Today, he's out on his own, setting up a private practice on the wrong side of town.  Then his best friend and former colleague is charged with a brutal double murder.  Daley has his first client and is instantly catapulted into a high-profile case involving the prestigious law firm that just booted him.

The victims are one of Simpson & Gates' most powerful partners and a beautiful young associate.

There is a suicide note on the partner's computer but neither the police nor the ambitious district attorney believe it is authentic and they think the man they have arrested is the killer.

It is up to Mike Daley to prove them wrong but time is very short.

As Daley prepares his case, he begins to uncover the firm's dirtiest secrets - and dirty they are - but he also discovers that his friend, too, has a lot to hide.  Even as the trial is under way, Daley and his investigators are still frantically digging for evidence that will clear their client.  Against a chorus of morning press reports and nightly TV commentaries picking apart each day's session, Daley comes to realize that ambition, politics, greed and long-standing grudges will play just as important a role in the outcome as truth and justice.  This is the real world of law practice at work and it is as ruthless as it is startling.

Brilliantly paced, witty, crackling with energy and suspense, Special Circumstances (2000) - the first book in the Mike Daley legal fiction series - not only brings us to a stunning denouement, it zestfully reminds us why we love to hate lawyers and at the same time, cannot get enough of courtroom drama when it is done this well.

About the author:  Sheldon Siegel graduated from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 1983.  He has been in private practice in San Francisco for over nineteen years and specializes in corporate and securities law with the firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP.

He lives in Marin County with his wife, Linda, and twin sons, Alan and Stephen.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 10 April 2015

Bitter Dawn: A Search for the Truth about the Murder of Anni Dewani (Non-Fiction) by Dan Newling

Paperback:  The man standing next to me was a tall, good-looking man of Indian heritage in his early 30s.  He was freshly shaved and smartly dressed.  Shrien Dewani seemed calm and composed.  The only outward signs or trauma I could notice were the two large, dark purple bags under each of his eyes.  I offered him a seat.  He accepted and we started to talk.  Over the following 45 minutes, the British businessman, then on the eighth day of his South African honeymoon, told me about the murder of his wife, Anni, 40 hours earlier.

So begins Bitter Dawn (2014), Dan Newling's journalistic investigation into a crime that ignited firestorms of fascination and outrage not only in South Africa, but across the world.  At first, they story seems simple enough:  Shrien Dewani, a young British businessman on honeymoon in Cape Town, arranges the murder of his newlywed bride in a clumsy township hijacking.

However, a close examination of the crime reveals some uncomfortable truths.

Basic questions such as "Why were the Dewanis in such a notoriously dangerous township at that time of night?", "How did the gun waving hijackers know the couple would be on that township road at that particular time?", not to mention "Why did the hijackers kill Anni...but leave Shrien unharmed?" are conspicuous.

Over the years - from the moment he interviewed Shrien Dewani just two days after Anni's death to the eve of the Briton's 2014 murder trial - Newling has painstakingly pieced together the many pieces of this puzzle.  Containing facts hitherto unpublished, interviews with witnesses until now unheard from, and the fruits of deep journalistic research into South Africa's criminal justice system, Bitter Dawn lifts the lid on a crime far more complex than the media narrative has so far assumed.

Featuring an extraordinary cast of real-life characters doing and saying things which at times seem barely believable, Bitter Dawn reads like a spine-tingling Hollywood thriller but every word of this impeccably researched book is true.

While it may be difficult to find anyone who believes Shrien Dewani to be innocent, the facts Newling has uncovered provide compelling reasons to question the establishment story and accurately predicted the exoneration of Shrien Dewani for his wife’s murder.

Bitter Dawn is a gripping work of investigative journalism which reveals some worrying truths, not only about a bloody murder, but about its investigation, South African politics, global media ethics and how we all, as news-consumers, respond to stories when boundaries between right and wrong, between innocent and guilty, and between truth and lies, become blurred.

Update:  The South African court may have cleared Shrien Dewani of involvement in his wife's murder on 13 November 2010 but as of today, he could face his first public questioning under oath over the murder of his wife, Anni, on their honeymoon in South Africa in a resumed UK inquest into her death.

About the author:  Dan Newling is a British freelance journalist who is based in South Africa.  He has written about South Africa for almost all UK newspapers and has helped produce television documentaries about the region for both the BBC and ITN.  Prior to moving to South Africa in 2010, Dan worked as a news reporter for the Daily Mail newspaper.  Born in London in 1976, Dan lives in Cape Town with his wife and two young sons.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Unmasked: The Gonzales Family Killer (Non-fiction) by Kara Lawrence

Paperback:  Late on a chilly July night in 2001, residents of a quiet Sydney suburb were roused by Sef Gonzales, the son of their new neighbours, yelling that someone had murdered his family.  The brutal triple slaying inside 6 Collins Street shocked even the police.

The twenty-year-old orphaned son Sef quickly became the prime suspect and after an eleven-month investigation, he was arrested and charged with three counts of murder and one count of threatening product contamination.  He was refused bail and held in remand in Silverwater Correctional Centre. He was also denied access to the family's estate to fund his defense.

Almost three years after the murder in 2004, the trial revealed that Sef had planned the murders several months before it occurred.  Initially Sef researched the idea of poisoning his family, which led to an elaborate contamination hoax.  The court heard of numerous lies told to his friends, family and police regarding his whereabouts at the time of the murders.  It was later suggested that he was a pathological liar.

After a two-month trial, Sef was found guilty of all four charges and in September 2004, the day after his twenty-fourth birthday, was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences without parole for the murders of his parents and sister.

Justice Bruce James said, "I consider that the murders show features of very great heinousness and that there are no facts mitigating the objective seriousness of the murders and hence the murders fall within the worst category of cases of murder at common law."

In 2007, Sef Gonzales' appeal - that statements taken from him by police on the night of the murders may be inadmissible, as he was not cautioned - was dismissed as there had been no miscarriage of justice.

He is now serving his sentence at the maximum-security super prison in Goulburn, New South Wales, and still maintains his innocence.

About the author:  Kara Lawrence is a crime reporter for Sydney's Daily Telegraph and is one of the few journalists to have interviewed Sef Gonzales.  Working with sources close to the investigation and trial, she uncovers the true extent of the case's twists and turns.  Through exclusive access to key members of Sef's extended family, she probes the Gonzales' history to ask:  what would lead a young man from a wealthy and apparently stable home to commit the unspeakable crime of slaughtering his own family?  Is Sef Gonzales mad, or genuinely evil?

Unmasked:  The Gonzales Family Killer was published in 2006.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Immoral Certainty by Robert K Tanenbaum

Paperback:  First the rituals, then the blood, then He shall come into His power and rule in the name of Lucifer.  And woe to any servant who does not bend her knee in homage...

A killer is working the streets of New York City, snuffing out the most innocent victims with the "immoral certainty" that he'll never pay for his crimes.  Even Assistant District Attorney Butch Karp and his colleague, Marlene Ciampi, have never encountered such savagery.  Three victims so far, three murders bound in one deadly knot.

The number one suspect is a charming sociopath who's only the first link in a twisted human chain.  And following that chain will lead Karp and Ciampi into an underworld where the most benign faces hide the most evil souls and the worst crimes are yet to unfold.

Immoral Certainty (1991) is the third book in the Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi crime series set in New York.

About the author:  New York Times bestselling author Robert K Tanenbaum is a nationally known attorney and legal expert.  He is one of the country’s most respected trial lawyers and has never lost a felony case.  Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tanenbaum attended the University of California at Berkeley on a basketball scholarship.  He received his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.  At the outset of his distinguished career, he was an Assistant D.A. in New York County, where he ran the Homicide Bureau, served as Chief of the Criminal Courts, and was in charge of the D.A.’s legal staff training program.  Mel Glass, John Keenan, and D.A. Frank Hogan were his esteemed mentors, and Echoes of My Soul is a tribute to them, written at the request of Mel Glass with his active involvement.

Tanenbaum’s tireless quest for justice led him to be appointed Deputy Chief Counsel for the Congressional committee investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Following an esteemed career as a successful prosecuting attorney and high profile defender, he served two terms as Mayor of Beverly Hills and continues to teach law in California, New York and Pennsylvania.  A popular media guest, he regularly appears on television shows as a legal commentator.

He is the author of three non-fiction books, including The Piano Teacher: The True Story of a Psychotic Killer and Badge of the Assassin, the true account of his investigation and trials of self-proclaimed members of the Black Liberation Army who assassinated two NYPD police officers – later adapted into a movie starring James Woods as Tanenbaum.  He is also the bestselling author of the Butch Karp series featuring two fictional District Attorneys in New York.  A native of New York, Robert Tanenbaum currently lives with his family in Beverly Hills, California.

Rating:  5/5