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Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America by [Kaufman, Peter]
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Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Length: 307 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Not a perfect crime, but a perfect page-turner by a skilled storyteller.”—Lester V. Horwitz, author, The Longest Raid of the Civil War


“Peter Kaufman has pulled off an impressive piece of historical detective work, digging deep into the archives to uncover a remarkable murder mystery and sleuthing adventure that stretches from Iowa to the Klondike and back. The captivating story opens a window on American life in the beguiling 1890s.”—Robert Loerzel, author, Alchemy of Bones: Chicago’s Luetgert Murder Case of 1897



“From Iowa to the Klondike and back again, Peter Kaufman scatters clues as he draws upon the actual words of dogged reporters and legal aces, a crack detective and a parade of witnesses. Just as the chain of events packed a courtroom a century ago, this real-life crime story will enthrall readers today.”—Ginalie Swaim, State Historical Society of Iowa

About the Author

Peter Kaufman is the author of the novel Barometer’s Shadow. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Product Details

  • File Size: 8121 KB
  • Print Length: 307 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Iowa Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2013)
  • Publication Date: September 15, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00EVPY7BS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #859,007 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley.)

True crime stories are among my favorites, and particularly those which have Midwest settings. So when I saw that an Iowa author had written about an infamous case set not too far from my home, I was intrigued. The book is Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a gold rush manhunt, and the birth of circumstantial evidence in America, by Peter Kaufman (University of Iowa Press, 2013).

Kaufman begins with the description of a fire in the small town of Walford, Iowa, on February 3, 1897. After the fire, a body was discovered, which began the mystery, a manhunt, a trial, and a very exciting story. The first question that had to be answered was who had died in the fire; two men were missing, Frank Novak, who owned the dry goods store, and Edward Murray, a local man who had been in the store. Kaufman does an excellent job of explaining the forensics of the day and how forensic evidence was used to identify the body, charred though it was.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the body was that of Edward Murray, and a manhunt was conducted to find Frank Novak, who had disappeared that night. A detective agency was hired by the insurance companies to find Novak, and it was quite a chase. Detective C.C. ("Red") Perrin tracked Novak through the western U.S. and Alaska/Canada and the detective's journal was used to describe the story of the manhunt. This section could have been deleted without damage to the story. Kaufman seemed to feel compelled to include every detail of the detective's journey, and while interesting it wasn't central to the story; I rushed through it to get to what I hoped would be the capture of the fugitive.
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Format: Paperback
Skull in the Ashes is a great read...from an intriguing murder, to a cross-country manhunt, to a legal thriller, the author provides a riveting account of a case that made headlines across the country. The research is outstanding: period newspapers, trial transcripts, genealogy, and - most interesting - archival records from life insurance companies and detective agencies engaged in the manhunt. The personalities he features are larger than life - self-made men...ambitious prosecutors and defense attorneys...determined private detectives...and more. If the book were just about the case, it would be interesting enough, but the author ups the ante by providing interesting social commentary as well, especially as regards the prison system in the late 19th century, without straying too much from the main storyline. The only drawbacks are that the manhunt narrative did get tedious after awhile, the organization of the bibliography is peculiar, and - most important - he never really delivered on the promise to explain how the case represented the "Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America." Otherwise, this is a great book that will appeal to people interested in Iowa history, 19th century detective and forensic work, prison life, and much more. Well Done. Many thanks are due to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for the review copy.
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Format: Paperback
ARC provided by NetGalley

On a cold February night in 1897 the general store in the small town of Walford, Iowa burned to the ground. The next morning the townspeople made the shocking discovery of a charred corpse that appeared to be the store's owner, Frank Novak, who had taken to sleeping in the store as a safeguard against burglars. But...doubts soon arose as to whether Frank was really dead and if murder had been committed. Peter Kaufman takes us a wild ride as an ambitious county attorney and private detectives use new forensic techniques to attempt to bring Frank Novak to justice.

Peter Kaufman has clearly done a great deal of research to bring this previously untold story to light and to introduce the modern world, to some of the early forensic techniques and practices of private detectives. He traces each clue, back to its source intricately weaving a tale of how each person in the tale played a part in the story and what their background and future was. More importantly he focuses on three men, Novak, Tobin (the county attorney) and Perrin (one of the detectives in the case) to give us someone to focus on and keep our interest. The one issue that I do have with the book, is that sometimes Kaufman overwhelms us with information and jumps back and forth in time in the same paragraph, such as when he's introducing us to someone new, such as Perrin. Kaufman will tell us about where they presently are in their life, a bit about their background, and then mention something about them in the future, which while interesting throws me for a bit of a loop at times.

All in all though this is a well researched book and a fairly captivating read. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I occasionally wallow in IDTV mysteries & am intrigued by the solution of cold cases, so this book was a no-brainer. It had the added benefit of tapping into my interest in Iowa history. I'm also fond of the intriguing related material & anecdotes that good researchers tuck into the back pages for those who enjoying skimming the "Footnotes" pages. And Kaufman's research is impressive. If you enjoy any of these reading pleasures, I recommend this book.
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