Review: The Murder Room

| Oct 23, 2017

The purpose of this column is to review books by transgender authors, about transgender topics, or about topics of concern to transgender readers. This month’s book is the latter of the three. In one way, it has only tangential connection to trans issues. But the reason I’m reviewing this book, isn’t because of those. Not really.

I’m reviewing this book because of how trans women are mentioned.

Why bother? Well, I’m doing this to show how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.

The book is The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo. From the cover blurb:

Murder Room

Murder Room

Three of the greatest detectives in the world — a renowned FBI agent turned private eye, a sculptor and lothario who speaks to the dead, and an eccentric profiler known as “the living Sherlock Holmes” — were heartsick over the growing tide of unsolved murders. Good friends and sometime rivals William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter decided one day over lunch that something had to be done, and pledged themselves to a grand quest for justice. The three men invited the greatest collection of forensic investigators ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to the Downtown Club in Philadelphia to begin an audacious quest: to bring the coldest killers in the world to an accounting. Named for the first modern detective, the Parisian eugène François Vidocq — the flamboyant Napoleonic real-life sleuth who inspired Sherlock Holmes — the Vidocq Society meets monthly in its secretive chambers to solve a cold murder over a gourmet lunch.

I picked this up because I’d heard of this society, and they solved the murder of an old friend and classmate of mine at Drexel. Debbie Wilson was murdered at Drexel University in November 1984. We had a class together that semester (despite her being a senior), and we were friendly. Years later, this society met and solved her murder, and her murderer was brought to justice. I occasionally read True Crime, and thought this would be interesting.

Deborah Wilson

Deborah Wilson 1963-1984 Rest in Peace

What I didn’t count on was the insulting way the author wrote about trans women. In a chapter about a mob hit man in the early ’70s who was killing federal witnesses. Somehow, the case involved the Boston trans community (the chapter is called “Death of a B-Girl.”) Okay, interesting. But then came his descriptions of the women involved. I quote:

He looked closer in the hazy light and focus returned like a blow to the head — Her Adam’s Apple is the size of Johnny Appleseed’s, he thought. Her hands are as big as Sonny Liston’s. A fantasy about a he-she, he thought, could wake you up like twenty-four ounces of cold coffee. (p 76)

… a gorgeous copper-toned young woman, half Filipino, half Cajun American, half man, half woman until recently… (p 78)

… she was a he-she too. (p 79)

Art was a brunette, “half man, half woman, not finished with the operation,” Fleisher said. “she had boobs but didn’t have her winky removed yet.” (ibid)

This book was first published in 2010 —  years before Caitlyn Jenner thrust trans people into the spotlight (Chaz Bono came out in 1995, but that was nothing compared to Jenner.) This is a True Crime book, so I suppose that was the way trans women were thought of back then.

So why get my panties in a bunch over this?

Because in late 2017, many people STILL think of us this way. We were stripped of our rights by the justice department. Does law enforcement still see us as “he-shes” or worse? Anecdotal evidence from friends of mine suggests that many still do.

BUT.

Things HAVE improved. Many in law enforcement are learning to respect our humanity. Despite the hatred and bigotry we experience in this era of Hate, we HAVE made strides.

Oh, aside from that, the book is disjointed; the author hero worships his subjects to the point of absurdity; and there are few facts about the cases to draw the reader into the cases.

But they did justice to my friend Debbie’s case.

So… well, aside from that, I don’t recommend this book. At all.

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo. 9781592406357

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Category: Opinion, Product Review

Sophie Lynne

About Sophie Lynne: http://sophielynne1.blogspot.com/ : http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/stories/sophie-lynne : http://articles.philly.com/2016-06-29/news/74075409_1_transgender-students-gender-identity-transgender-people

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