Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris

I keep trying to think of a way to describe this book that doesn't make it sound like true crime and I just can't.  But you guys should know that I am NOT a true crime reader.  I think true crime as a genre exists to sensationalize violent crimes and use them to entertain the masses.  It takes the same amount of "forensic science" that you can find on an episode of CSI and sells it to readers as top notch scientific information that makes them feel like experts getting the inside scoop.  I really just don't like it.  But, while this one has the outward appearance of a true crime, it really is more like investigative journalism.  The author is an Academy Award-winning filmaker and former private detective, but this does not read like a crime story. 

The basic summary is that in the early 1970's a horrific triple murder was committed on an army base.  A woman and her two children were killed but the husband survived.  He claimed drug-addled hippies attacked them.  Over the course of the next 20 years he would be tried, convicted, released, sent back to prison, etc. for the crime.  Errol Morris doesn't go so far as to claim that the man is necessarily innocent, but he does poke enormous holes in the state's ability to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Where I think this one diverts from typical true crime is that the crime plays a very small role in the book.  We aren't treated to exploitative descriptions of the crime - it is really barely described at all.  I hugely appreciated that because I am not a fan of real-life depictions of violence.  But it IS fascinating as a work of investigative journalism.

I wasn't a huge fan of Morris's writing style.  I can tell he's a very intelligent man and I was very impressed with his research and documentation skills, but I wasn't really thrilled with his writing technique.  It was very basic with lots of very short sentences.  It didn't flow the way I expected it to and it suffers from some of the simplification that I think all true crime suffers from.  I felt like it was being written for the lowest common denominator.  However, like I said above, his investigation and documentation are flawless. 

Entertainment Value
This one is kind of a chunker (over 500 pages) but it reads so quickly, probably because of the simplicity of the writing.  It also contains a lot of charts, graphs, and diagrams that were used in the trial.  When I saw how long it was, I'll admit I was anticipating a tiresome trudge through it, but it kept me entertained and moved fast enough to hold my interest.  There was some redundancy, but the nature of the book requires it to accurately describe the court case.

I'm torn on whether or not to recommend this one.  I actually really enjoyed it, but I'm not sure most of my readers would feel the same way.  If you're into procedurals or true crime, I think this is better than most of that fare and you should definitely give it a try.  If you aren't interested in court cases, how trials work, and the minute details that are significant in proving guilt and innocence,  I don't think you're going to be a fan.  When I review a book that I really like I can usually think of at least one book loving friend who will also enjoy it but I'm having a hard time coming up with someone specific I'd recommend this one to.  That said, I truly enjoyed it.

Thanks to TLC for letting me be part of this tour.  Check out this link to see the other stops!

1 comment:

  1. I think it says a lot that you don't usually like this type of book and yet you liked this one overall.

    Thanks for being on the tour!