Saint Bloodbath

Saint Bloodbath by Frederick Douglass Reynolds

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

True crime stories tend to explore the darker facets of human nature and society. Yet, in Saint Bloodbath, Frederick Douglass Reynolds artfully highlights both the extraordinary and the mundane good that twinkles in the deep night.  Purchase Here.

The book is formed by carefully braided narratives that come together in a layered and captivating story. Starting in the fringes of society, we walk alongside those who exist on the periphery, the homeless, runaways, and disreputed gang members. We share their struggles, dreams, and aspirations, even if only for a brief moment.

A savage homicide scene propels two detectives into a complex investigation, where they work to substantiate gruesome details surrounding the crime. Five victims were brutally murdered in a homeless camp in Long Beach, California. The case becomes known as the “Quintuple,” based on the number of victims found at the scene.

The possibility of a socially targeted crime sweeps a wave of fear over the homeless community. Yet, in this tense environment, the detectives must unearth their initial leads. Taking into account possible gang-related and personal motives for the attack, a suspect slowly comes into focus.

When a severed hand leads to what appear to be the remains of a person who died under suspicious circumstances, the true magnitude of the bloodbath starts to reveal itself. A life ended in the desert becomes the missing catalyst that brings the “Quintuple” to the next stage.

Frederick Douglass Reynolds conducts an exhaustive analysis of the case to write a complex and compelling narrative of the tragic events. His keen vision underlines the interplay between psychological and social factors that give context to the unexplained.

The author helps readers meet protagonists as flesh-and-blood characters and not just victims. One of the most difficult feats for a true crime author is capturing the essence of real-life people in an honest yet considerate way. Nevertheless, Reynolds makes this seem effortless.

Containing violence and profanity, Saint Bloodbath promises to be raw and abrasive. However, Frederick Douglass Reynolds sprinkles in delicate introspective notes, amusing anecdotes, and witty comebacks to soften the experience. While not a comfortable read, the book invites us all to ponder our role in the magnetic dance of light and shadow.

Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage

Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage: A True Story of Murder in San Diego’s Jazz Age by James Stewart

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Reaching back in time to the roaring 20’s in southern California, author James Stewart’s debut work, Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage, offers a compelling view of the intricacies of an unsolved homicide, the murder of young and beautiful, interpretive dancer, Fritzie Mann. Purchase Here.

Based on years of research, this true-crime narrative poses an adept tracing of the history of this once sensationalized murder mystery brought forth through a multi-faceted lens which explores not only the murder but journalistic behaviors, the investigative processes during that era, and a Hollywood sex scandal connection as well as exploring the culture of the time.

Piquing the curiosity from the outset, this work of true crime immediately draws the attention into the fascinating backstory of Fritzie who, for the most part, was a seemingly sensible but “modern” woman in her early twenties who worked to help with her sick sister’s medical bills by dancing. However, to her family, there was an air of mystery in her life when it came to her romantic associations, relationships or dating.

Fritzie’s tragic story starts with the initial discovery of her body with a severe bruise on her forehead on a nearly empty stretch of beach. Initially unidentified as a corpse, it was not until several clues leading to her identification, including a note on a card stating “I am Fritzie Mann” along with other identifying but not immediately associated belongings strewn around the beach, began to build up to her true identity especially once the connection was made that she was a well-known exotic dancer. Her death quickly became front page fodder and grew into one of the most sensationalized news stories at the time in Southern California.

Additionally, the ensuing investigation seemed to lead to a path of evidentiary twists and turns, as clues led to inconsistent theories about her death; Was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? or Did she drown? Moreover, she was discovered to be in “delicate condition” adding more confusion and scandal as to the real reason for her demise. Albeit, once it was discovered that she actually was murdered, Who did it? and Why? became the prevalent questions which then changed the tone of the investigation and introduced several interesting suspects including a Hollywood actor whom Fritzie’s mother insisted was the actual murderer. Moreover, what follows within the narrative is a well- organized, thoroughly detailed work which takes the readers through the intimate details of the life and death of Fritzie as well as bringing to the edifying forefront the culture and lifestyle at the time which did seem to embody a seamier side.

Overall, I enjoyed Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage. I found it to be a completely engrossing true crime read set in an era when life, love, womanhood and murder were perceived very differently from current modern life. I was captivated by the detailing of the police work, autopsy scenes, investigation methods, culture of the times, and insight into the secrets and scandals played out in the roaring 20’s Hollywood. I do highly recommend this book. It is well worth the read and I personally would love to see it made into a movie.

Black, White and Gray All Over

Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Douglass Reynolds

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

If you are looking for an exploratory journey into the many dimensions of gray, look no further than “Black, White, and Gray All Over:  A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement” by Frederick Douglass Reynolds. The author goes beyond the dichotomy of good and evil – from within an individual, institution, or community – to investigate this precarious and uncomfortable in-between state. Purchase Here.

This memoir is not a comfortable read. It is a daring tale that bravely exposes the inner workings of an individual. The book goes even further, piecing together a puzzle of the many faces of humanity painted in blood and gore, but also acceptance, kindness, and love.

Frederick Douglass Reynolds took a circular approach to his life story, starting from his childhood and closing with his golden age, and this embracing fleeting decades of the life of a community. The opening pages provide a closely intimate look into the upbringing of the main protagonist inviting the readers to observe his family life and the community in which he grew up.

While circumstances seem to be pulling a young Reynolds into a life of crime, deeper down into the underbelly of society, counter-acting forces – a fortunate combination of willpower and helping interventions – have led him to a path of serving others and the community. Despite being exposed to gangs at an early age and committing minor crimes, Reynolds successfully defeats a predestined fate looming over him.

It is a difficult battle; one that involves family struggles, several failed relationships, periods of unemployment, and homelessness – all followed by a deep sense of lack of purpose. However, Reynolds relies on resourcefulness and deep determination to find and walk on his life path.

We are invited to follow his professional evolution from recruit to detective. During his vast career with the police department, he uncovers the many faces of evil and crime in Compton. The author shares his in-depth knowledge of the history of local gangs and organized crime. However, he proves to also be somewhat of a rebel scholar in the psychology of human behavior and crime.

From chasing down thugs, solving elusive crimes as a detective, and exposing police and political corruption, Reynolds’ career is filled with vivid depictions of heroics. Yet, the lesson that resonated with me the most was the value of small good deeds. Regardless of the role we play in society, micro-good deeds are within our reach and these often have macro reverberations.

“Black, White, and Gray All Over” is a beautifully weaved narrative of a police officer’s memoir interwoven with raw introspection. As the title suggests, it is the memoir of a black police officer. This is all the more relevant considering the socio-historical background for the book, mainly 1960s’ Detroit and the volatile 1980s’ Compton, California. Yet, as the author underlines, as well, while the story touches on issues of racism, it is about so much more than that.