My goodness these historical true crime books are becoming popular! I remember when the novels were called “Bodice Rippers” in a very derogatory tone. They were distinctly out of favor with publishers and for university literature classes. History was thought of as material for a thick dry thick tome. Today it’s the stuff of Booker Prize winners while the associated college classes empty out.
Blood & Ink:
The Scandalous Double Murder that Hooked America on True Crime
by Joe Pompeo
2022 / 344 pages
Read by Robert Petcoff 10h 4m
Rating: 9 / True Crime- history
(read and listened)
The last time I read “True Crime” was only about 11 days ago and here I am again. And True Crime only started being an acceptable genre when the tabloids became the rage, in the 1920s. And it was this case, the case of the minister and the choir singer, which helped push the sales of dailies with their use of big photos and sensational headlines which really drew the increased sales. Pompeo’s book is both, history of tabloids and true murder mystery of Florence Hall and Jim Mill, as told to reporters possibly from the 7 morning and 11 evening papers operating in New York City.
The Introduction is very good. It’s written with the “how this book came-to-be” theme emphasizing the history quite naturally while wrapping it in a tale of horror. There is also some courtroom action in there – love it!
The opening pages of this book and Hell’s Half-Acre are similar in that they both open with the action of bodies being found.. Blood & Ink opens with two teenagers finding them and calling the police. Hell’s Half-Acre has a small group of men who have been alerted by a concerned neighbor.
The latter then moves to the violent history of Kansas while Blood & Ink starts the background and descriptions of key characters. Then Pompeo moves to procedures which include two of the policemen hitchhiking to the scene, gathering evidence, a lot of interviews and so on. Apart from these similarities the books are very different, except I certainly got the message of how important journalists and newspapers were in the US.
The main tale of Blood & Ink is the murder of the very married clergyman, Edward Hall, and his much younger paramour, Eleanor Miller a married singer in the church choir. They were both unhappy in their marriages so they embarked on an affair making someone very unhappy, and they were murdered.
So … who-done-it? The tale goes from two teenagers finding the dead bodies to the police and reporters investigating and reporting, hunting for suspects and/or evidence. Then come the trials. The minister’s wife, Florence Stevens Hall, is from a prominent, old-money, New Jersey family, while Eleanor Mills is from a family of a lower class, her husband works as a janitor at local churches. There are a lot of characters
In the title there are two stand-out words. The first is Blood which certainly points to a murder, but the other important word is “Ink” which, it turns out, refers to the highly competitive business of the newspapers and tabloids of the day, a lurid and lucrative driving force of the investigation and trial. This was the Jazz Age of everything including news which still had a few old muckrakers. The style of journalism in the 1920s reflected the times with an emphasis on photos and sensationalism. It definitely attracted new paying subscribers.
Pompeo seems to have the voice of the era, like Kate Summerscale in The Suspicians of Mr Whicher. Perhaps this is due in part to the style of newspaper reporting at the time. It’s very well done.