“The Vidocq Society’s mission was simple and straightforward: As many as one in three murders in the United States went unsolved…. In a world that had forgotten its heroes, they resolved…to hunt down murderers in cold cases, punish the guilty, free the innocent, and avenge, protect and succor families victimized by murder.”
A noble cause brought to fruition by three distinctly different yet brilliant men. Surprisingly drawn to each other, these founders of the Society are as quirky as characters in a Stephen King thriller.
Forensic artist Frank Bender, with his uncanny ability to recreate victims in clay, is the epitome of a free spirit. His creative side reached beyond his art into his marriage when he found Jan, a woman totally in love him yet tolerant of his numerous affairs. In fact, if you were to ask her, she’d say she’s happy about the affairs; it gives her some space. But it only works as long as Bender has affairs with the right women. In a stroke of good fortune, they seem to have figured out what that means.
Next, there’s acerbic Richard Walter, quite nearly a Sherlock Holmes look-alike, who is as confident in his skills as the famous London detective, as dismissive of silly theories as Holmes was reputed to be, and as addicted --- fortunately to cigarettes, not cocaine. Aside from his work, Walter prefers solitude.
And, finally, the force behind the formation of the Vidocq Society is William Fleisher, a lawman with an extensive resume, a lust for solving murders, a palate for fine food, and a good grounding force for his two fellow founding members.
These men live and breathe murder, each bringing to the table their individual talents and extraordinary intuitions about criminals. Their goal of identifying killers the police have been unable to catch is almost as much fun for them as an amusement ride is for a 10-year-old at Disneyland.
So, when the police are stymied, it’s time to consult the 82 members of the Society. They’re almost always up to the challenge, with an amazing solve rate. In fairness, the police have their hands full with new cases daily, while the VSMs (Vidocq Society Members) tackle just cold cases, and only if they are at least two years old. Once a month, they listen to pleas from fathers of murdered children, spouses whose loved ones’ deaths were unconvincingly ruled suicides, or detectives who have hit a dead-end. If they agree to look into it, the VSMs gleefully investigate with relish.
One of the most abiding cases to come before them, the Boy in the Box, remained a mystery from the time some of them were mere boys themselves. At least one member remembered when he heard about it first --- back in 1957, when the body of the anonymous child was found in a cardboard box. It stuck with him throughout his career.
THE MURDER ROOM has to be the scariest book I’ve read in a long time --- because the cases are real. The saving grace is that the men of the Vidocq Society are very good at what they do; they serve justice to the killers and allow the dead to finally rest in peace. But, beware, these crimes will haunt your dreams, so be ready for some sleepless nights!
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on June 28, 2011