Friday, December 18, 2009

True Crime: The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

The Corpse Had a Familiar Face (Edna Buchanan, Charter Books, 1989 — the cover shown here is of the up-dated re-release of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, which came out in 2004.)
One of the most readable true crime books around, despite the stupid chapter about why Edna Buchanan loves cats. Written in a style that often brings Dashill Hammett or Raymond Chandler to mind, Buchanan is not one to mince words or shy from an apt description, no matter how tasteless or shocking. But then, she has years of experience as a journalist, and her natural talent for the catchy turn of a phrase is not only apparent but has obviously been honed well.
Partially an autobiography, The Corpse Had A Familiar Face also narrates how the young inexperienced lady from New Jersey, who wants to write, ended up becoming a journalist, moving to Miami and establishing such a solid career. Not that she was taken seriously at the beginning, what with her high heels and all. But over five thousand corpses and a Pulitzer Prize later, she has a career behind her that few journalists’ can compare.
The biggest problem with the book is that she manages to refer to the most minute murder in such a way that the reader wants to learn more about how the case ended or how the murder even ended up happening, but she rushes ahead at such a speed that almost everything is covered superficially. Too much information and too little detail, so to say—at least when it comes to crime: the bits about herself are not always that much fun to read. Buchanan comes across slightly, well, damaged, as if she is unable to relate to living people on an adult level. Why she might be so she does not reveal, but somewhere along the way something must have happened to make her such a cat-loving workaholic.

The book leaves one with the impression that if she can plot half as well as she can put together a sentence, then she could probably write some killer fiction. A quick look on the web proves that she did indeed go on to write fiction: her first novel Nobody Lives Forever came out in 1990. More about her and her work can be found here at her website.

Images: Above, the cover. Below, the good lady herself. Both taken from the web.

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