Saturday, April 26, 2014

'The Skeleton Crew'

Just the other day, I was channel surfing, hoping I'd catch past episodes of the brilliant BBC production of 'Sherlock'.  I had a mild hankering to watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman discover clues that the somewhat inept police department seemed to overlook. Besides, I needed my 'Cumberbunny' fix.

But I think the real reason I needed to watch the show again was because I was reading an advance copy of 'The Skeleton Crew', by Deborah Halber.  

'The Skeleton Crew' concerns a group of every day people who are obsessed with finding the identities of nameless murder victims.  It has become a strange past-time, or hobby, but when these folks 'hit' on a match, the search (some lasting many years) is well worth it.

These web sleuths share tips with the police, although not long ago, law enforcement wouldn't give them the time of day.  But with nameless victims piling up in morgues (and even boxes), the police didn't have the manpower nor the time to do their own searches.  So, it was up to the relentless amateur Sherlocks to bridge that gap and find names for those who had suffered the utmost cruelty.

This isn't the most pleasant book to read, but not because it isn't well written.  It's the subject matter; it brought tears to my eyes.  I continually thought about the victims and their families, the fact that most of them would never have closure.  I especially cried when I read about the police departments that treated the victims with the utmost respect and dignity by providing a grave, a tombstone, and a compassionate burial.

When the amateurs first began their searches, they had to depend on dial-up internet service, which, as we all know, was a joke in itself.  But times change; brilliant techies have made improvements, and now searches are speedier.  And as the word got out, more and more curious people became obsessed with finding clues, and they eventually produced their own web sites.  Now that facial reconstruction and DNA have proven to be valuable tools for law enforcement, the sleuths are slowly gaining ground.

The book delves into the jealousy and rancor of such a hobby, but it also brings to light the friendships that some of the sleuths share.

My only complaint about the book is the flow.  One chapter will deal with a man who has discovered a body wrapped in a tarp, and the next will explore yet another case.  I really wish that each chapter had covered each case from the beginning of the search to the conclusion.  I hated having to backtrack.  

Author Deborah Halber
But that's it.  I couldn't put it down.  I was so eager to find out if some of these famous cases had ever been solved. Some of the families did find closure; most of them didn't. But that doesn't mean these intrepid sleuths will end their search.  

Despite the petty jealousies, despite the fact that some are pushing others away from the 'finish line', it is these people who are determined to place a name with a body.  They help restore dignity to a human being, no matter who they were, no matter what they did to place themselves in such horrid circumstances.  Halber does a great job in portraying their strengths and weaknesses.  She has a knack for digging deep and getting to the heart of each case.

Let's hope that her book will inspire others to do just that.

'The Skeleton Crew', by Deborah Halber, will be published on 

July 1st 2014, by Simon & Schuster.  

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