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Celebrity Murders and Other Nefarious Deeds

by Max Haines

Max Haines is the country’s self-described “master of mayhem.” He’s been writing the Crime Flashback column for The Toronto Sun for more than 20 years. And he claims to have researched more than 1,500 cases of true crime. But all of those years of telling tales of terror may have made Haines complacent. Celebrity Murders and Other Nefarious Deeds reads like a hastily put together scrapbook, without any coherent theme.

The scrapbook quality is reinforced by the somewhat bizarre entries in the book. There are the inevitable sections on Fatty Arbuckle and O.J. Simpson (almost half of this entry, though, is taken up with a recounting of his football statistics). But there are also sections on Adolf Eichmann (Haines says he qualifies because although he wasn’t a celebrity, he was a high-ranking German officer), painter Tom Thomson, and Charlie Chaplin. No great revelations about a secret Chaplin life of crime, though, it’s just that the criteria for selection in this book are very open-ended.

Celebrity Murders is meant to be read in bite-sized portions. It’s a trivia book, and that’s a field that seems to be maintaining its popularity. But Haines descends too far into the trivial. He bombards entries with numbers: birthdates are always included, as are home addresses. His descriptions of the lives of these nefarious people are no more compelling. The writing is usually just a chronological listing of events. There is little description, and when there is, it’s cliché. In the section on Errol Flynn, for example, Haines says the movie star’s lawyer was so good he could “talk a partridge out of a pear tree.”

Haines’ regular column is widely syndicated. He has obviously tapped a market for true-crime trivia. But Celebrity Murders is unoriginal in its presentation, and surprisingly dull for a book that contains so much nefariousness.