From Publishers Weekly
Despite journalist Capuzzo's obvious reverence for the crime fighters he profiles, his account of the formation of the legendary Vidocq Society is as scattered as many of the cold case files they wade through. Based in Philadelphia, the Vidocq Society was the brainchild of three wildly different men brought together by their desire to speak for the dead: freewheeling exboxer turned forensic sculptor Frank Bender; FBI and U.S. Customs agent William Fleisher; and pre-eminent forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter. What began as an informal meeting of colleagues in 1990 evolved into an expansive international think tank of sorts modeled and named after France's famed criminal-turned-sleuth EugeÌÇne Vidocq, a model for Sherlock Holmes. The cases--ranging from Philadelphia's long-festering "Boy in the Box" murder to the "Butcher of Cleveland," a serial killer who taunted Elliot Ness in the 1930s--are fascinating, but Capuzzo (Close to Shore) loses much of his narrative momentum by abruptly shifting between the founding members' individual backstories and homicides the society investigates. Yet there is no denying that the 82 "VSMs"(Vidocq Society Member) do an immeasurable service in the name of justice.
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Here is the Pickwick Club for people who study psychopaths: once a month, several forensic experts gather in a posh Victorian brownstone in downtown Philadelphia, have a sumptuous lunch, and then consider cold cases brought to them by baffled detectives. The club is called the Vidocq Society, named after the nineteenth-century French criminologist who was one of the inspirations for Sherlock Holmes. Journalist Capuzzo (formerly of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Miami Herald) has gained access both to this club (his description of one meeting ending with the projected image of a murder victim is brilliant) and to its founders, including a forensic psychiatrist, a forensic artist, and a former FBI special agent. Members also include Robert Ressler, the father of criminal profiling; forensic pathologists; and some Philadelphia cops. Capuzzo provides background on the founders and gives sketches of some famous cold cases the group has solved. This is compelling reading, but Capuzzo’s narrative style often has the reader guessing at details, methods, and outcomes. --Connie Fletcher