Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Greed, Rage, and Love Gone Wrong: Murder in Minnesota by Bruce Rubenstein

Good journalistic writing is characterized by detailed research, descriptive writing, and unbiased facts; something Bruce Rubenstein delivers in an interesting book on ten high profile murders in Minnesota. I particularly liked the retelling of the Congdon murder that filled in the blanks after years of hearing bits and pieces of this murder growing up. I've driven past the old Victorian mansion that overlooks Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, and Rubenstein's story reads like a twisted murder mystery. A pyromaniac and dipso character emerge and the author doesn't neglect to show the likable side of Marjorie Hagen who garnishes loyal friends. She's a complex villain who fooled many people.

The Lund's murder story gripped me the least and I thought the writing format was the culprit. In journalism, reporters are taught to write using the inverted pyramid meaning the most important information is told at the beginning of the article and the least at the end. The old days of the telegraph necessitated this style to make sure vital information was given first in case of a lost connection. Later it benefited editors in that if they needed to cut an article they could eliminate nonessential facts from the bottom. It's not as prominent today because online doesn't have the same layout restrictions, but it still exists. The problem is that this format can work against the fundamentals of narrative nonfiction writing as it takes the tension out of the story as facts are presented up front. For instance, the reader knows immediately that Lund killed his wife and lover after page one, "He never stood trial for the 1992 murders of his estranged wife and her lover, but he surely killed them." The rest of the story shows the bungled work of police and attorneys, which might capture the interest of readers interested in due process, but I found it boring. I would have preferred information being withheld to keep me guessing until the end of the chapter.

I thought the first story was particularly well-written and I liked how the author slowly revealed details beginning with the guy in the cell sharpening a table knife into a weapon. I thought he was going to murder someone in jail and liked the twist. This suspenseful start hooked me on the book. Then a couple of chapters later I was floored reading about my high school biology teacher. I knew he had an affair with a student, but I didn't know that the student later killed a boyfriend who had rejected her and is now serving a life term in the penitentiary. Nor did I know that this biology teacher chased after the student from Minnesota to Florida leaving his wife and two kids. The student also named a second teacher she had an affair with and I wondered if it is my relative that lost his job at that school about that time. No one in my family will talk about it. An interesting read, especially if you live in Minnesota.

3 Smileys

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