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Ripper – Review

by: Rosencrance, Linda and Capt. Edward Lee Jr

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing Corp, 850 Third Ave

Location: New York, NY 10022

Copyright: 2008

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/23/2008

Summary: Rhode Island serial killer Jeffrey Maihot confesses to murdering prostitutes in Woonsocket. The real story of this book is the hype and the execution.

Interrogation techniques. RIPPER, a title seemingly aimed at conjuring the sinister flaying of a psychopath, is one long transcript of the interrogation of Jeffrey Maihot. The interrogation takes up forty-percent of this 311 page book. This particular interrogation resulted in a genuine confession. There are some which do not. (See the April 2005 TG review of Jeanine Cummings’ excellent A Rip In Heaven.

On July 16, 2004, Jeffrey Maihot was arrested and eventually charged with the murder of three women in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The women, Audrey Harris, Christine Dumont, and Stacie Goulet were prostitutes and drug abusers. Maihot appeared to be, in practically every respect, a normal, law-abiding motorcycle enthusiast with a compulsion for neatness and orderliness. Authors Linda Rosencrance and Captain Edward Lee Jr. gives us the surface of Jeffrey Maihot. We also get the interrogation and confession. Neither justifies a book. However, the authors go one step farther which mitigates this opinion.

The lives of the three women Maihot murdered and those he merely assaulted are sketched in this book in a way that makes the reader realize that they are real people with real problems. All were inherently self-destructive–the drugs, the prostitution. But those attributes do not make them less people. They come across as ordinary, very troubled women. The man who murdered and assaulted them also comes across as ordinary. Ordinary except that he murdered. The disconnect here is that you have victims whose life-style and attitudes plasters a sign on their foreheads screaming victim. But the victimizer, Jeffrey Maihot, is merely a guy who went to work everyday and was, according to those who knew here, incapable of committing the crimes he was accused of committing. Victimizers don’t walk around with a sign on their foreheads screaming victimizer.

If this is the point RIPPER is attempting to make, it makes the point with numbing precision. The basics of police investigative interrogations are repetitiveness. The same questions are asked over and over. The duration of the repetitiveness is fed by the degree of inconsistency in answers received. When Detectives Edward Lee and Steve Nowak started the interrogation of Jeffrey Maihot, they were immediately confronted with an inconsistency in Maihot’s answers to questions. The detectives were as persistent as Maihot was evasive. What was demonstrated was Detective Lee’s belief that “. . . you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” So the reader ploughs through nearly six hours of interrogation spread out over one-hundred and twenty pages.

Of course, RIPPER presents a practical example of interrogation. But there is more going on than mere education. Aside from showing prostitutes as human beings with problems, the book also shows what is apparently an improved side of the Woonsocket, Rhode Island police department. It is not until late in the book that the authors disclose that one Raymond “Beaver” Tempest Jr. was convicted of murder in 1992 based on the work of the department. By the time the Maihot investigation got underway, the Tempest investigation and his subsequent conviction for the murder of Doreen Picard was being re-examined in light of charges of a police cover-up. It is a fascinating side-trip from discussing the crimes of Maihot. If it were the only side-trip, then one might speculate that the entire purpose of RIPPER is to show how the Woonsocket, Rhode Island police department has recovered from a binge of nepotism and incompetence. But there are other side-trips. The authors make a comparison between Maihot and other serial murderers to bolster their contention that Maihot, despite his calm exterior, and relatively calm upbringing as a child, fits neatly into the profile of a serial killer. In a way, their contentions is very convincing because there is nothing on the surface of Jeffrey Maihot’s life, as outlined in this book, to explain why he seems totally devoid of empathy and compassion.

RIPPER is recommended for the way it presents a police interrogation technique employed by the detectives. If you have no interest in investigative techniques, you will not find anything of thought provoking interest in this book.




Soul Catcher, The – Review

by: Kava, Alex

Publisher: MIRA Books, 225 Duncan Mill Rd, Don Mills

Location: Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9

Copyright: 2002

Type: Paperback


reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/15/2008


Summary: A serial rapist and a cult leader are targets of FBI agents Maggie O’Dell and partner R.J. Tully.


Put together an FBI agent with a good Irish name like Maggie O’Dell and a non-descript FBI agent named R.J. Tully and you have some pretty good names floating around in a story with a good title and non-descript plot. In a one-two count, this is THE SOUL CATCHER.

THE SOUL CATCHER suffers from oversimplification. Villains are villains and good-guys are good-guys and with a plethora of dunces milling around waiting for direction. Real life? Hardly. Entertaining? No. The problem with this novel is that the characters are created for the storyline rather than the storyline creating the characters. This makes for a very flat, monotone drama. Response and reaction is how the plot is developed. We feel the author’s presence on every page.

A group of young cultists die in an explosion after a stand-off with federal agents. The explosion is triggered remotely to cover up a cache of weapons and to erase any possible link to the mastermind sitting on the weapons. But of course, there is a link. There is also a young survivor of the destruction.

Meanwhile, there is a serial-murderer-rapist littering the environs with bodies. Profiling these types of killers is the special job of special agent O’Dell. But she is called in to assist with the investigation of the deaths of the cultists and she wonders why. Is there connection? There are actually two connections. This is where the reader starts getting the feeling that the author is manipulating the story. The feeling builds as events continue to unfold. The suspension of belief, the rational of picking up a book of fiction, is imprisoned in the mechanics of a story grinding to a conclusion.

THE SOUL CATCHER has all the ingredients of a film noir, pulp fiction cartoon. Bad and greedy Snidely Whiplash has poor Nell tied to the train tracks and the hero inadvertently fumbles his way to the rescue. The Reverend Joseph Everett is Snidely. Nell could be the young, awe-struck follower Alice Hamlin, whom fellow cultist Justin Pratt wants to rescue. Or, Nell could be Kathleen O’Dell, a recovering alcoholic and the mother of special agent Maggie O’Dell, who has given up daily intoxication for immersion into the cult of Reverend Everett. Who is the hero in this predictable tale? Obviously special agent Maggie O’Dell. She stumbles into the lair of the serial-murderer-rapist and inadvertently saves all the possible Nells.

What is really irksome about this novel is that everything is so predictable. There are more intriguing stories out there. Read elsewhere.




Blink – Review

by: Gladwell, Malcolm

Publisher: Back Bay Books / Little,Brown and Co, Hachette Book Group USA

Location: 237 Park Ave, NY,NY 10169

Copyright: 2005

Type: Softcover


reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/12/2008


Summary: The capacity of people to “thin slice” reality or make snap judgments is examined.

In summary, first impressions are correct. Almost.

The website mentioned in BLINK, a computerized Implicit Association Test or IAT is still on the Harvard University research site. This reviewer took one of the IATs, Labor and Management, and had a score of a “slight preference for Labor over Management”. In a labor intensive vein, we will get back to this later.

BLINK is an entertaining look at the ability of the mind to quickly digest, analyze, and assimilate new information. The author almost makes the distinction between information collection and action that is opened ended and information that is tittered to specific time or place, or preconceptions and which may or may not result in action (or a quantifiable reaction). “Thin slicing” is the jargon used to describe the act of forming a first impression. “Thin slicing” is more than sentient reactions however, going by author Malcolm Gladwell’s definition.

“Thin slicing” can allow us to instantly assess the character of a person we meet for the first time. It can allow us to react appropriately to danger even when that danger is three or more levels beneath the signals coming from our environment. “Thin slicing” can also make us look very, very stupid.

Gladwell spends the first part of this book explaining the psychological and physiological mechanisms which make it possible for us to appear “psychic”. He mentions but does not adequately credit the enormous amount of information we process continuously. As Dr. Bruce Lipton points out in his book, THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF [TG review November 2006], the subconscious mind is processing some 20,000,000 environmental stimuli per second. Malcolm Gladwell uses the term “rapid cognition” to denote the processing and eventual “awareness” we have resulting from the process of this environmental stimuli. He gives specific examples.

Gladwell introduces us to research conducted by John Gottman at the University of Washington. Gottman can determine whether a husband and wife engaged in serious conversation for fifteen minutes will still be married fifteen years later. His predictions are 90 percent accurate. The concept is not surprising. We all make such “thin slice”-snap–assessments in any number of situations. What is surprising is that judgments made after only fifteen minutes can be so accurate.

Situations in which “thin slicing” becomes the basis for action are the most entertaining discussions in BLINK. Car salespersons for instance. Personnel specialist who evaluate potential employees are another example. The underlying circumstances in which “thin slicing” is made about the other person in these situations are what I call open-ended. Gladwell relates the example of a car salesman who is successful because he does not allow snap judgments about the capacity of a potential customer to afford to buy a car to control the situation. The customer is there to buy a car. The salesman is there to sell a car. Everything else, how the customer is dressed, the color of their skin, their accent and whatever preconceived notions the salesperson may have in reaction to these personal traits are subordinate to the purpose at hand. Sale a car. Gladwell’s excursion into this area of transient personal relationships which are established within seconds are the enjoyable parts of BLINK.

A less enjoyable though still informative part of BLINK is the exploration of snap decisions grounded in preconceptions. Gladwell makes the distinction in a less than direct manner in part because it is a difficult distinction to make. A “gut” level reaction to meeting a person for the first time to determine whether they are friend or foe versus having preconceived notions of where the person fits within a category of persons is based on their ethnicity is a very subtle difference. But the former snap judgment may is based on the shared commonality of being human, a legacy of our just being part of the animal kingdom; the later is based on experience and ingrained attitudes emanating from our existence as social animals.

Gladwell explains the Pepsi cola challenge in examining snap decisions based on experience. It is an excellent discussion.

In the mid-1980s, the Pepsi cola company launched an advertising campaign in which consumers participated in a blink (blindfolded) taste test of Pepsi cola and Coke. Pepsi easily came out ahead in these taste test. The reason: Pepsi cola is sweeter than Coke and people have a preference for sweets. Gladwell goes on to relate how the reaction of the Coke-a-Cola company to these “thin slicing” reaction by consumers resulted in a disaster for the company.

Unfortunately, two-thirds of BLINK is about snap judgments in the market place. It is unfortunate because there is apparently a great deal more to “thin slicing” and personal relations than presented between its covers. Still, it is a highly entertaining work and well worth reading.

About that Implicit Association Test or IAT: there are apparently a number of IATs on the Harvard University website. Gladwell reports his results for the race relations test. This reviewer did not get that test. Instead there was the management-labor test. The “slight preference for Labor over Management” rating received expresses my (1) belief that labor is more significant in getting results than management or (2) labor, as in work, gets results while management merely lays the framework, or (3) the effectiveness of a labor-management tandem is more apt to be judged by the effectiveness of the labor rather than the direction of the management. Frankly, I have no idea what the test results mean.




Digital Fortress – Review

by: Brown, Dan

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 175 Fifth Ave

Location: New York, NY 10010

Copyright: 1998

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/3/2008

Summary: Susan Fletcher and boyfriend David Becker participate in a drama to save the National Security Agency decryption supercomputer, TRANSLTR, and acquire the program code for a super-encrption algorithm–or something.


This is a strange novel. First, it is 525 frisky pages long with an Epilogue. Second, it feels like there are two stories going on. There is only one. Thirdly, there is the very distinct impression that, if this were a movie, it would be one of those in which all the pictures are of nose-hairs and skin pores–the marvels of close-up cinematography. Fourthly and finally-we could go on here, the story is very unbelievable. Now, for the bad points. . . .

Assume for a moment you have worked your way through the political bureaucracy of a national spy agency like, say the National Security Agency (NSA), and are a deputy director of operations for said agency. In a moment of self-assessment, just at a gut level, you posit an answer to the question of just how stupid and emotionally unstable can you possibly be? Right. You may have a couple of quirks, a couple of ticks. True, the human brain is wired to love a dopamine high, but as a life style pursuit, such critters are quickly weeded out of staid bureaucratic institutions for obvious reasons. So, would you risk destroying your agency’s super-duper de-encryption computer system by turning off its antivirus software to de-encrypt a program you downloaded from the internet?

This is one of the problems with DIGITAL FORTRESS. The characters are stereotypes and even as stereotypes, they are still unbelievable. Granted, fiction is taking character and situation to extremes. Extremes make drama, the bathos and pathos, the elation and joy of life. However, an author must choose which fictionalized extreme dominates his or her story. DR. STRANGELOVE ( can effectively get away with Major King “Kong” riding an atomic bomb into oblivion because the situation of nuclear annihilation between two superpowers is so extreme. But DIGITAL FORTRESS attempts to maintain a grip on a believable situation with believable characters. The situation is NSA and its code-breaking expertise. The characters are Commander Trevor Strathmore, the deputy director of operations, Susan Fletcher, the code-breaking queen of NSA, and David Becker, a professor and the boyfriend of Susan, and a host of bit-players. None of the characters are believable. The situation, the super-duper NSA computer called TRANSLTR, gets stuck in an endless processing loop and hardly anyone notices. This NSA and this computer are not believable.

The action in DIGITAL FORTRESS takes place in four locations, centered within the specially built annex to NSA headquarters. The annex houses the TRANSLTR computer. Susan and Commander Strathmore are the characters locked in a dramatic unfolding. Supporting characters include a sleazy, lecherous fellow code breaker, a computer security person who pops in and out of the pages until he is eventually killed because he gets in the way (none of that civil-service rules for removal crap here). And of course there are the security maintenance people at the headquarters building who thinks there is something wrong with TRANSLTR (it is in an endless loop), but their reactions are too late to make a difference to the final outcome for the computer system.

The other action in DIGITAL FORTRESS takes place in Europe: Tad bit more interesting because of the scenery, but just as unbelievable. Professor David Becker has been recruited by Commander Strathmore to go to Europe and retrieve the belongings of Ensei Tankado, your typical ex-NSA employee and evil-brilliant computer encryption wizard who has developed a highly sought after program for generating unbreakable encrypted information. Of course, David Becker is not an NSA employee and it not a spy. He is however the love interest of super code-breaker Susan Fletcher. Important mission? Send an amateur. But little does Commander Strathmore know…little does super code-breaker Susan Fletcher know. . . in fact, little does Professor David Becker know. Little does any of the characters in this novel know because they are made of ink and fiber.

This is definitely not a book to read. What little is exhibited about ciphers and encryption routines can be handily picked up elsewhere. DIGITAL FORTRESS is a real letdown.




First We’ll Kill My Husband – Review

by: Riddle, Lyn

Publisher: Pinnacle Books, 850 Third Ave

Location: New York, NY

Copyright: 2007

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/27/2008

Summary: The only woman on Georgia’s death row, Kelly Gissendaner’s role in the murder of her husband, Doug Gissendaner is recounted.

As Riddle’s book points out in the epilogue, in 2007 there were 105 adults under death sentence in the state of Georgia. Among them, Kelly Gissendaner was the only woman. (The Atlanta Journal Constitution, in a report written by staff writer Carlos Campos, ran a story on Gissendaner on July 18, 2004). FIRST WE’LL KILL MY HUSBAND attempts to explain how she got on death row. The short explanation appears to be a confession by her one time boyfriend, Greg Owen. The long explanation is a combination of Owen’s confession and the less than concerned attitude Gissendaner displayed after her husband, Doug Gissendaner, was found shot to death near an isolated road in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Doug Gissendaner disappeared, was killed, on February 7, 1997.

There is nothing imperatively read-worthy about this book. An issue which the book inadvertently highlights however is the death penalty. Author Lyn Riddle does not come out one way or another regarding use of the death penalty. She does quote Gissendaner as saying that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Perhaps not. The caveat for Gissendaner as the only woman on Georgia death row is that no woman has been executed in Georgia since 1945. Of the six women condemned to death in Georgia, all have had their sentences changed to life in prison. Gissendaner is still going through the appeals process for a murder that took place in February of 1997. Odds are that eventually her appointment with death will be commuted. Deterrent? For the calculating murderer, as Gissendaner is accused of being, the death penalty would definitely not be a deterrent when you factor in all the other traits characterizing such a person. After all, the underlying rationale of such a person is that (1) they will never get caught and (2) they are smarter than the mercenaries of the justice charged with bringing them to justice.

As we wrote in the August 2003 review of Jerry Bledsoe’s book, Death Sentence, concerning the capital murder crimes of Velma Barfield,

Does the state have the right to take a human life? The answer is an unequivocal yes. The state which provides the framework in which individuals may enjoy the freedoms of life has the right to protect itself from any who would abridge or negate that framework. The state does not and can not have the right to enact vengeance nor act as a surrogate for those who would enact vengeance.

Velma Barfield of North Carolina was executed in 1984 for the murder by arsenic of Stuart Taylor. It is very easy to imagine that if Barfield had been liberally provided her daily mega-does of Valium and other assorted mind-altering drugs, she would not have murdered Stuart Taylor or anyone else. She was not so much a calculating murderer as a driven murderer. In Barfield’s case, she was driven by an addiction to mind-altering drugs, which in less extreme form, is sanctioned by society at large. Perhaps, at a fundamental level, all murderers are “driven” by elective ignorance. Caught up in the downward spiral of drug addiction in one instance, tittered to the mental prison of a bad childhood in another. Between the two, which is a candidate for the death penalty? Which of the two types truly chooses their ignorance?

Kelly Gissendaner had been married to Doug for six years before his death. They had three children. About a year before the murder, Kelly met Greg Owens. She was separated from Doug at the time–one of several separations during their marriage–and they were talking divorce. They reconciled and purchased a house for the first time in their lives in December of 1996. In February 1997, Doug was dead.

Author Lyn Riddle seems satisfied with the explanation that Kelly Gissendaner masterminded or was actively complicit in the death of her husband because she wanted sole possession of the house the couple shared as well as the double $10,000.00 life insurance on Doug. It is a decision a jury of Gissendaner’s peers, ten women and two men, also accepted. It seems an awfully lame excuse for murder. (There are weaker excuses from seemingly rational people–see our review of Ken Englade’s Beyond Reason). There was more than sufficient evidence to show that Gissendaner goaded Greg Owen into committing the murder for her. The only real question whiffing through FIRST WE’LL KILL MY HUSBAND is whether Gissendaner deserves the death penalty for the crime committed.

Did Kelly Gissendaner kill for financial gain? That the question can be raised in connection with the murder of Doug Gissendaner is the most disturbing aspect of Kelly Gissendaner’s life. Author Riddle attempts to provide readers with an alternate train of thought that would raise another question. “Anger. Alcoholism. Divorce. That was the fabric of Kelly Brookshire’s early life”, Riddle starts out in chapter seven of the book. So we have the “social influence” of a life formed in an atmosphere of self-centeredness, drug induced escapism and violence. Does that explain Kelly Gissendaner’s inability to devise an acceptable life-strategy for acquiring something she wanted–a house, money?

Even if we answer yes to that question, we are still left with the question of whether ego–me, myself and I above all else–is an acceptable excuse for murder.

FIRST WE’LL KILL MY HUSBAND is not a must read book by any definition, but it does contribute to examining the pros and cons of the death penalty.



Kelly Gissendaner was executed on September 30, 2015. Seventeen years after her crime. Seventeen years after Doug Gissendaner was buried.

Does the state have the right to take a human life? Absolutely.

The state does not have the right to torture.
The state does not have the right to demean a human life.
The state does not have the right to marginalize a human life.
The state did all this and more in the execution of Kelly Gissendaner.

If the justice system is so bent on the pursuit of justice that it takes seventeen years to find it, maybe it should not be pursuing justice at all. Seventeen years between the commission of a capital crime against society and the imposition of a death sentence is an expression of contempt for human life; it is an expression of utter incompetence at weighing the good of society against the value of human life. Seventeen years to fulfill a the results of a decision serves neither justice nor society. Seventeen years to carry through on a life-or-death decision is bureaucratic arrogance disguised as justice.

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