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Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Suspenseful, educational and entertaining! Love reading about local history.Published 17 months ago by cindi slater
I really tried to get into this book but found too many things in it distractingPublished 21 months ago by Jennifer Schell
First off I do have to say that if you are unfamiliar with the layout and towns of Iowa, this book might be harder for you to understand. Read morePublished on June 7, 2014 by Danelle Johns
Being from Iowa and somewhat familiar with the Cedar Rapids area central to the story, I found this a very interesting read. Read morePublished on June 1, 2014 by C. Lantz
As long as you don’t take the “birth of circumstantial evidence” bit too seriously, this is an entertaining true crime book. Read morePublished on May 15, 2014 by Randy Stafford
After discovering a burnt corpse in the ashes it was though it t was a tragic accident but new evidence suggested it was something else. Read morePublished on May 11, 2014 by BLUE FISH
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys non-fiction, American history, Iowa history, Alaskan history, true crime, criminology, law, sociology, mysteries and or adventures. Read morePublished on March 21, 2014 by alanincria
* I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Read morePublished on March 7, 2014 by LisaD