The Man On The Train-Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James   3 comments



I chose to read this book from Netgalley, thereby agreeing to write a review for the publisher before, or just after the book was published. I enjoy true crime, I have read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and the true crime books by Kate Somerscale; this sounded in a similar vein.

The book is due to be published this month. The author, Bill James is better known as a baseball statistician, in which role he has published many books, has a subscription website, has made TV appearances, including a guest appearance on The Simpsons; which to a non-baseball literate Brit, like myself, means he is truly established as the best in his field. He has also written a previous true crime book, but that seemed more generalised. It appears here, that his hobby has paid off and his application of his statistical skills has helped him establish new potential facts concerning a series of murders during the period 1899-1913 in the USA.

I read this book in one sitting, once I got into it, I could not put it down. I found James’ writing style very easy to read, it is conversational and full of jargon and modern phraseology. However, when it came to establishing facts, James is very clear and straightforward. He likes to write numbered lists, which is unusual, but then I found his entire writing style unusual.
The format of the lists works very well, it becomes a method of quickly and clearly putting the salient facts into your head, and would serve extremely well if just scanning the book or using it for reference.

James takes an established list of serial killings, each an event when an entire family is murdered using the blunt edge of an axe, there is no evident motive to any of the crimes, and at the time it was acknowledged that they were probably done by the same man, a stranger who rode into town on a train, randomly chose a nearby house and struck. He talks us through each crime and the investigations, whilst gradually establishing a signature for the killer. He eventually compiles a list of 33 significant traits to each killing which together make up the signature of this particular murderer.

He then explains that he felt each of these cases showed organisation, and all the signs of a mature killer. He then employed his daughter, the co-author, to research previous murders for him. He was astonished how many they found. He then goes through many of these giving pros and cons as to whether he believes his murderer, ‘the man from the train’ committed the crime of not. He includes a lot of discussion placing these crimes in context of how singularly unusual they were and the likelihood of other similar crimes occurring.

Towards the end he discusses other serial killings which occurring during 1911-12, and the concept of copy-cat versions of those of ‘the man from the train’.

Finally, he presents what he believes was the first crime, and thus the identity of his murderer. He finishes by considering why the murders suddenly stopped, which a quite chilling reconstruction of a later crime his murderer may have committed elsewhere.

I loved this book, was completely entranced by the easy writing style and straightforward presentation of material. A lot of the time, I could not wait to get on, to find out more information.

I felt I discovered a lot about turn of the century policing in “small town”, USA. James patiently explained what techniques the police would have had available, what resources they could call on and how they went about each step. This for me was the most interesting part of the book. He recalls the investigations to each crime and any trials involved, commenting of where he felt they made mistakes, but always making it clear that given their resources at the time, they were always going to struggle to solve these crimes. He explains the system of hiring private detectives, used by the police and district attorneys, and that there existed no trained in house detectives.

I felt all of his deductions were reasonable, his versions of what happened made sense and his theory of his killer’s mentality made a lot of sense. I was convinced by his arguments that there were many more crimes committed by this same murder than previously considered. It would be fascinating to attempt to trace this man after 1913!

I look forward to reading more of Bill James true crime research, applying statistics to history can produce some interesting by products.


Posted November 3, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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3 responses to “The Man On The Train-Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James

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  1. Please read and review my book too. I am a beginner and it would really help me if someone could read and review it. It is available on Amazon-” COMPLICATED US”

    Please read and review. It would mean a lot to me.


    • I have downloaded the sample you sent me, i will review it soon and review it.


      • Oh… That is so sweet of you. You can download the entire book for free on Amazon on 5th of November. Don’t miss it. And once again, a big thank you…. ❤😍


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