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Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873 Hardcover – November 18, 2014
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"Most New Englanders think they know all about the brutal Smuttynose Island ax murders. I know I did. But once I began Robinson's new book, I truly couldn't put it down. The massive amount of new details he has uncovered are not only wonderfully horrific but are skillfully woven into a fascinating look at that time in our history. This is a superb piece of work." Judson D. Hale, Sr., editor-in-chief, Yankee Magazine
"J. Dennis Robinson opens one of history's most compelling cold cases and solves it with aplomb. This a gripping page-turner that will keep you up nightsso vibrant you can smell the brine and the blood and see the island shores. Lizzie Borden's got nothing on Louis Wagner." Andrew Vietze, bestselling author of Boon Island
"J. Dennis Robinson unravels history and mystery into one of the most entertaining and informative books I've read in years." Ernest Hebert, award-winning author of the Darby Chronicles
"Robinson’s book is thoroughly captivating. Why, Robinson asks, can we not let stories about murder end? This question cuts to the heart of genre. His meticulous study of the Smuttynose murders is an exceptional entry in the canon of American true crime literature." Elizabeth Hewitt, associate professor of American literature and popular culture at The Ohio State University
"Robinson places the Smuttynose murders in a wide historical context, encompassing a time when small fishing villages gave way to summer resort hotels and when a national press reported and fed rampant rumors. In this telling, the author considers how fact informed rumor and gossip informed fact as the accused, local residents, the authorities, and the press created multiple narratives of this infamous crime." Elizabeth De Wolfe, Professor of History, University of New England, and author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories
"Robinson's book has the scope and sweep of a great novelexcept that every word is true." Rodman Philbrick, award-winning author
"Many authors have written about the infamous Smuttynose murders, but none has delved as deep as J. Dennis Robinson. The reader is transported to the rough side of Portsmouth in 1873 and learns how police work and justice were carried out. An impressive work!" Peter E. Randall, award-winning publisher and author
"Case closed! J. Dennis Robinson’s meticulously detailed account solves the famous Smuttynose Murders once and for all. It is entertaining, fascinating, and horrifying, all at the same time." Emerson W. Baker, History Professor at Salem State University and author of The Devil of Great Island and A Storm of Witchcraft
"Enjoyed every page! This book is a reader’s delight, combining the thrills of a murder mystery with the intrigue of a courtroom dramaall of it played out against a colorful backdrop of nineteenth-century New England fishing communities and island resort hotels." Carolyn Gage, Maine playwright
"For decades there have been many questions about the murderous events that took place on the historic Isles of Shoals back in 1873taking the lives of two innocent womenbut J. Dennis Robinson expertly and skillfully peels away the legends and myths to get to what really happened. Highly recommended." Brendan DuBois, award-winning mystery author of Fatal Harbor
"Spoiler Alert! 'This book is not a whodunit. We know who did it.' So says author J. Dennis Robinson, whose reexamination of the Smuttynose murders is a form of the finest forensic journalism. Much like Truman Capote, Vincent Bugliosi and Joe McGinniss, he elevates the true crime genre to the realm of literature." John Clayton, author of You Know You're in New Hampshire When...
"Eighteenth-century history with twenty-first century cultural sensibility . . . a riveting tale told by a truly gifted and graceful teller of tales. I loved it!" Rebecca Rule, New Hampshirebased author
"An outstanding book. I predict this will become the gold standard for works about the historic Isles of Shoals." Jane E. Vallier, author of Poet On Demand: The Life, Letters and Works of Celia Thaxter
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The author has painstakingly researched this bloody crime, and has made every effort to present all he has learned in a fair, unbiased manner. When he expresses his own opinion, he does so clearly and with substantial backing. He carefully paints the scene, describing the typical lives of these hardscrabble fishing people, and through careful research gives brief histories of the region, the peoples (native and immigrant), the livelihoods. The reader feels embedded in this 19th century area, the pertinent towns of Portsmouth, N.H., Boston, Massachusetts, and Isles of Shoals, where the murders took place. By learning the history of the fishing industry with the subsequent decline of the fish, Robinson shows us the likely reasons for the murders, which probably were never intended but happened during the course of a burglary. The author brings together thousands of pieces of the puzzle as well as much careful research, and in the end we have a vivid idea of how and why the two women were murdered, why the one woman who managed to survive couldn't possibly have been the "secret" murderer as portrayed in the novel, and most importantly, we get a concise idea of what kind of man the murderer Louis Wagner really was. Robinson describes the meticulous way that Wagner throws out ever-changing stories to "prove" his supposed innocence, and shows why so many people even today, almost 150 years later, still think Wagner was indeed innocent.
"Mystery on the Isles of Shoals" proves that old crimes are just as fascinating as those from today.
Examples of great research and writing: Before being put on trial, murder suspect Louis Wagner was nearly lynched in Portsmouth, NH before being taken into Maine for prosecution. Details on jails in Saco and Alfred, Maine – including a daring escape from Alfred Jail. Extensive descriptions of Alfred and the trial that feel like you are sitting in the courtroom. For a view of how law cases were prosecuted in York County, Maine, in the late 1800s, this account fills out the scene like nothing I have ever read before. Not to mention the prison and executions in Thomaston.
Best of all are the wonderfully researched details on Portsmouth waterfront of 1873, the Piscataqua, New Castle, local newspapers, boarding houses, fishing,Boston's North End and immigrant communities, and of course the Isles of Shoals, which for a time were a summer destination of New England literati and artists gravitating to a hotel owned by the family of poet Celia Thaxter. All of them would tip their hats could they return today and read this book.
Even though the reader is told, early on, who the murderer is, Robinson keeps our interest with his sophisticated search and reportorial skills. I learned much about the area and this bizarre case.