Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes"

David Grann is one of the finest writers of contemporary long-form investigative journalism, and his new book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Doubleday, 2010) collects twelve of his previously-published essays (nine from The New Yorker, one each from The Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, and The New Republic). Grann's style makes for great reading; he takes fascinating subject matter and somehow manages to both compress and expand it into perfectly-paced segments, just right for a leisurely read.

Each of the twelve essays is completely enthralling in its own right, from the first (on the mysterious death of Sherlock Holmes scholar Richard Lancelyn Green), to the last (on Haitian death squad leader Toto Constant). Sandwiched between these are careful examinations of whether the state of Texas executed an innocent man, how the Aryan Brotherhood came to control America's prisons, and how Jim Traficant got involved with the Youngstown mob; and profiles of a scientist obsessed with finding the giant squid, baseball player Rickey Henderson, bank robber/escape artist Forrest Tucker, and the "sandhogs" who are working underneath New York to construct a new water system.

Grann's travels take him to small boats in stormy waters of the New Zealand coast, deep into the mucky depths of New York's subterranean tunnels, into prisons and small-town baseball stadiums, arson It was great fun to go along for the ride.