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The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery Hardcover – September 19, 2017
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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“Impressive . . . an open-eyed investigative inquiry wrapped within a cultural history of rural America.”
—Wall Street Journal
“[An] incredible book . . . one of the most readable works of non-fiction I’ve ever picked up . . . James has a conversational style of writing that draws the reader in, even when he departs from murders to offer short history lessons on 19th century detectives-for-hire (pretty bad), 19th century newspapers (not great) and mob justice (truly horrifying) . . . Even more remarkable than the exhaustive research and addictive narrative, the [authors] actually seem to solve the case and reveal the identity of The Man From the Train. Skeptics may balk, but I’m convinced.”
—Raleigh News & Observer
“Truly spectacular . . . The book shines when we get to see the Jameses’ thinking. Like the recent Netflix documentary ‘The Keepers,’ it’s fun to watch these amateur detectives solve a puzzle. And solve it they do — after 400 pages, when Rachel discovers the killer’s first crime way back in 1898. Did they get it right? I’m pretty sure they did. Either way, the final twist in the story—set 10 years after the Villisca murders on the other side of the Atlantic—gave me chills.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The Man from the Train is a beautifully written and extraordinarily researched narrative of a man who may have killed 95—or more—people, dating back more than a century, mostly in small-town Middle America . . . This is no pure whodunit, but rather a how-many-did-he-do.”
"[A] suspenseful historical account . . . The strength of the book hangs on [the authors'] diligent research and analysis connecting crimes into the closing years of the 19th century. Even those skeptical at the outset that one man was responsibile for so much bloodshed are likely to be convinced."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Bill James, with his daughter, Rachel, has done something truly extraordinary. Not only has he solved one of the most tantalizing mysteries in the annals of American crime--the sensational case of the 1912 “Villisca Axe Murders”--but he has tied it to a long string of equally savage, though completely obscure, atrocities. The result is his discovery of a previously unknown serial killer who roamed--and terrorized--the country a century ago. Brilliantly researched and written in James’ snappily conversational style, The Man From the Train is a stunning feat of detection, an un-put-downable read, and a major contribution to American criminal history.”—Harold Schechter, author of The Serial Killer Files and The Mad Sculptor
"I began The Man on the Train a skeptic. Could the notorious Villisca Murders of 1912, an unsolved crime so well-chronicled over the past century, really be the work of a killer whose victims numbered well into the dozens? But by the end, Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James totally sold me on their reasoning, exhaustive research, and their sly, sober portrait of a justice system totally overmatched by the techniques and monstrosities of a man fitting the serial killer prototype we know almost too well. That they also fingered the culprit and name him is an even more shocking bonus. Don't even think about missing out on this beautifully brilliant, bananas book."—Sarah Weinman, editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 1950s
About the Author
Bill James made his mark in the 1970s and 1980s with his Baseball Abstracts. He has been tearing down preconceived notions about America’s national pastime ever since. He is currently the Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox, as well as the author of The Man from the Train. James lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Susan McCarthy, and three children.
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Unfortunately this book seriously needed editing and didn't get it. My guess is that the publisher was in such a rush to get it out, that they did very little (which is appalling because it would have made this a much stronger book).
My issues are with the style, which is inconsistent throughout; the arrogant insults to the reader ('if you think nothing ever happens in a small town - then you are an ignorant a&%$# too' aside in particular); the complete lack of any maps (he keeps telling the reader to find a map and put pins in it to connect the dots to prove he's right); and the non-linear timeline of the crimes (which make the book irritating and confusing).
There is another book, published earlier, that discusses the Man on the Train theory (and imho is a much better book on the subject) and the author refers to it - but seems to imply that his theory of a transient killer is unique. It isn't - as police back in the day had this theory also. Instead of using proper deduction, he uses amateur opinion. His reveal of who he thinks the killer is, was interesting, but a real stretch with the author coloring in what he thinks might possibly be facts. Very disappointing
However, the premise is fascinating, and clearly a lot of work was done. The identification of the killer is highly plausible. The arguments for linking the murders were well-presented. It's fascinating history, of which I was unaware. Definitely worth reading. Rated more highly than the writing/editing otherwise merits because of the strong detective work.
The Man from the Train, is a definite contender in the solution to these murders. It was difficult for me to finish, due to constantly being told, a topic will be revisited in a future chapter. Also if the author would have supplied maps and pictures, it would have been more to follow. Instead he tells the reader to procure maps themselves, to see how the killer travelled to each crime scene. The publisher should have known it would be better to apply them.
I made it to the end, but the journey wasn't as enjoyable, as I had hoped.