Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review: Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James D. Livingston

There was a time in my life that most of my reading was true crime books. Authors such as Ann Rule, Vincent Bugliosi, and Truman Capote were on my list of writers to look for when I went into the library every week. I like reading about criminals and how their minds work, so I was caught up in reading all about these people and their outrageous deeds of evil. Eventually, I had to stop (cold turkey) because I was having constant nightmares and I know it was simply not good for me to be immersed in all of that stuff for days on end. I still read an occasional true crime story, but not at the same frequency as before.

As I read Arsenic and Clam Chowder, I was reminded of this and how addicted I used to be. Thankfully, I read more eclectically (is that a word?) now. I do remember the books about Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and Jack the Ripper and how fascinating all this was to my curious mind. But now that I've read this one, I think I'll be content to wait a while before reading another one.

Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York (Excelsior Editions)

Arsenic and Clam Chowder is the story of a woman in New York in the year 1895 who was accused of poisoning her mother with arsenic in a bowl of clam chowder. There were many interesting pieces to this case, such as the young daughter who delivered the chowder to her grandmother, the part that the newspapers played in reporting all the news of the case to the public, and the baby born to the defendant while she was in the prison awaiting her trial. The author did a great job in rounding out the story with descriptions of New York society of that time and background facts of the main characters involved in this highly popular murder trial.

The last chapter, entitled "Reasonable Doubt and Judicial Murder" was interesting. The author explored the question "What is reasonable doubt?". After offering some ideas and possible answers to that question, the best statements came at the end of the book: "There were gaps and weaknesses in the prosecution's case, and there were other bases for reasonable doubt.......With the death penalty facing her, I think I wouldn't have voted for conviction, but if she sent me some clam chowder, I am certain well beyond a reasonable doubt, in fact to at least a 99 percent of certainty, that I would not eat it."

I give Arsenic and Clam Chowder 4 out of 5 stars.

Author's website:

(I received this book from Pump Up Your Book! for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation for this review. All opinions expressed are completely my own.)


Cheryl said...

Thanks for the great review of Jim's book. I enjoyed this one too.

I like how you posted the trailer. Jim wrote the lyrics to the song. I have to admit to being very impressed.

Thanks again.


V.R. Leavitt said...

This sounds like a great read. I'll definitely have to check it out.