Book: An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank
Author: Elaine Marie Alphin
Publisher: Carolrhoda books
Reason I read it: It was a required read for my YA lit class.
My grade: C+
Was an innocent man wrongly accused of murder? On April 26, 1913, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan planned to meet friends at a parade in Atlanta, Georgia. But first she stopped at the pencil factory where she worked to pick up her paycheck. Mary never left the building alive. A black watchman found Mary's body brutally beaten and raped. Police arrested the watchman, but they weren't satisfied that he was the killer. Then they paid a visit to Leo Frank, the factory's superintendent, who was both a northerner and a Jew. Spurred on by the media frenzy and prejudices of the time, the detectives made Frank their prime suspect, one whose conviction would soothe the city's anger over the death of a young white girl. The prosecution of Leo Frank was front-page news for two years, and Frank's lynching is still one of the most controversial incidents of the twentieth century. It marks a turning point in the history of racial and religious hatred in America, leading directly to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League and to the rebirth of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Relying on primary source documents and painstaking research, award-winning novelist Elaine Alphin tells the true story of justice undone in America.
I think that, like most of America, I suffer from an overdose of crime shows. I kept thinking while I was reading that this would be a fascinating story if I were watching it on Law and Order! Or even as a real-life crime documentary on Discovery Channel.
As a book, it was sort of hard to stay interested. The story was great, on a totally horrifying level and it really shows just how easy it is to convict the wrong person in the American justice system. But I wanted to be able to see everything moving, with shots of the places where things took place and maybe some re-enactments of the events.
Now, at first I thought that perhaps the problem was that it was non-fiction. But I don’t think that’s true. After all, “Born to Run” was also non-fiction and much longer but I enjoyed it much better. Perhaps Christopher McDougall is a better story teller. I kept finding myself looking up things on the internet when I was reading his book, but not when I was reading this one.
So, while the story itself is certainly interesting and more than a little disturbing, I find that I feel a little blasé about the actual book.
For this reason, I gave it a C+. It’s average, maybe at the top of average just because the real story is so compelling, but I think most kids would rather see the Learning Channel documentary version. Does CSI do historical episodes?