Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling
A lot of people cannot drive without having some kind of music on in the car. I am not one of those people, which gets a little hairy when I’m on a road trip with someone who is. Recently I decided to try a book on cd, to see if the format would bug me as much as music, or if I would become distracted trying to pay attention to the story, or if it would make me sleepy (which is what happens when I listen to too much music – who knows why).
None of those things happened and I enjoyed ten hours on the birth of modern criminal profiling while dodging rocks flying off the end of the battered trucks running up and down the I-69 construction zone. Of course I went with the kind of story I’m fascinated with, the history of famous criminals and the people who tried to catch them in generally terrible ways. Most people today are so used to police procedurals on television that they don’t realize the actual tracking down of criminals is a very recent development in the history of the world, and criminal profiling is still in its infancy, relatively speaking.
During the 1940s and 1950s New York City endured a series of bombings that kept people on edge and made life difficult for the cops trying to catch him. Bombing was a not uncommon way to relieve a grudge in Eastern Europe, but in America it was completely baffling, which helped raise the fear factor. The cops had no idea what kind of person they were trying to find, and as you may imagine for that time and place, it didn’t really occur to them to try and figure that out. Instead they used the tried and (not so true) method of countless hours pounding the pavement trying to find where the bomb parts were bought, or trying to find witnesses. Eventually, someone got the bright idea of going to a psychiatrist who enjoyed thought experiments versus the criminally insane. The very idea, and laws surrounding the idea, of criminal insanity was at the same time undergoing massive sea changes.
The reader can follow author Michael Cannell as he paints a detailed portrait of the sixteen year hunt for the man who became known as “The Mad Bomber”. One piece at a time is explored, from the bombings to the cops to the journalist to the police commissioner to the brilliant psychiatrists to sneaky old Con Edison, and so on, until you step back and see a the whole picture of the perfect storm required to finally catch the bomber.
The reader is Peter Berkrot, and my, doesn’t he have quite the dramatic voice? I suspect he would sound terribly dramatic reading a grocery list. It never quite got on my nerves, but I did occasionally stoop to poking fun at his reading while alone in the car. I found it odd that every now and then he actually mispronounced a word. I would have thought someone would have pointed that out to him, and it made me wonder if the audio publisher didn’t mind the occasional gaffe if the reading was dramatic enough to suit them.
Overall, I enjoyed the format quite a bit and will definitely revisit it, and I liked the reader for the most part. The story can get quite thrilling for a work of history so his over the top dramatic rendering was mostly fitting. Incendiary is very well written, with deep and wide ranging research leading to a richly told true story of events that affected many aspects of American society. If you like this sort of book, I strongly recommend Incendiary.