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A Cold Case ()

    I don't like to leave things hanging and I thought it might make it a little less hard to retire if I got
    this thing settled.
        -Andy Rosenzweig, A Cold Case

In this short but surprisingly affecting book, Philip Gourevitch examines just one "cold case", a twenty seven year old double murder that has bothered Andy Rosenzweig since it occurred.  In 1970, after an argument in a bar, Frank Koehler met the two men he'd been in the earlier confrontation with and left them, Richie Glennon and Pete McGinn, dead on the floor of McGinn's apartment.  Koehler then disappeared.  Rosenzweig was just a patrolman then, but Glennon had attended his wedding, so the failure of police to ever capture Koehler was galling.  In 1997, with his retirement just around the corner, Rosenzweig was on his way to the doctor's office and passed by the restaurant where the original argument had occurred, recalling, for the first time in a while, that Koehler had still never been brought in, Rosenzweig, by now the chief investigator for the Manhattan District Attorney, determined to finally close this case in his waning days on the job.

This is an unusual kind of crime story.  There's no mystery : we know who the culprit is in the first few pages.  All the violence and most of the action takes place early on too.  There's a little bit of courtroom drama, but it's mostly kept off stage.  Instead, the book is mostly a profile of a few fascinating characters.  Rosenzweig dominates the book's first half, a nearly perfect cop--honest, hardworking, and dedicated to the ideal of justice.  It is his personal obsession with seeing that Koehler pays for the murder of Glennon that drives the story.  He's kind of the positive version of Javert in Les Miserables.

In the second half, with Koehler at last arrested and facing trial, it is the criminal who dominates.  Frank Koehler, who had already done time for a murder he committed as a teenager, comes across as a cold-blooded killer, who, even now, in his 70s, contemplated shooting it out with the officers who came to arrest him in Penn Station or, before that, killing a cop a day until they agreed to stop pursuing him.  In what Gourevitch says law enforcement officials consider a textbook depiction of the criminal mind, Koehler gives a videotaped confession in which he expresses no contrition about the original crime and seems to think he deserves credit for the killings he contemplated but didn't commit.

But then, once he's imprisoned, Koehler shows a surprisingly spiritual side to his nature.  Though Gourevitch, thankfully, never lets him off the hook for his violent past, he does show Koehler to be a more complex man than we might wish to believe.  One particular facet of his personality that should give us all pause is that he appears to have modeled his behavior on that of characters in old gangster movies, like James Cagney.  It makes you wonder what kids who learn their values from today's pop culture will be like.

This latter part of the book introduces another interesting character, defense attorney Murray Richman.  Amusingly free of any scruples about the work he does, representing admitted criminals, Richman provides some comic relief to the story and serves as kind of a moral bridge between the two main characters, straddling the line between the Law and the bad guys.

Much of this first appeared in The New Yorker, for which Gourevitch is a staff writer, and it has the feel of a stretched out magazine piece, even if a superior one.  I wouldn't have minded hearing more about all three of these men, but I suppose it's better to leave us wanting more than overstuffed.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

True Crime
Book-related and General Links:
    -The Forward (Contributing Editor)
    -BOOK SITE : A Cold Case by Philip Gourevitch (FSB Associates)
    -BOOK SITE : We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch (FSB Associates)
    -EXCERPT :  Chapter One of  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Philip Gourevitch  Title: We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda Air date: November 22, 1998 (C-SPAN)
    -ESSAY : No More Tigers : These are desperate times for the world's largest cats, and for the people who are killing them. Can Siberia save itself, or will it soon be a land of no more tigers? In search of Panthera tigris altaica, icon of a culture that assumes the worst for itself and always finds that assumption confirmed. (Philip Gourevitch, Outside Magazine, February 1995)
    -ESSAY : "What They Saw at the Holocaust Museum" (Philip Gourevitch, New York Times Magazine, February 12, 1995)
    -AUDIO ESSAY : Mortality Check (Philip Gourevitch, Zoetrope All Story)
    -INTERVIEW : with Philip Gourevitch (Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley)
    -INTERVIEW : Remembering the 1994 Rwandan Genocide (Online NewsHour: ,  Sept. 2, 1997)
    -INTERVIEW : with Philip Gourevitch  (Sage Stossel, Atlantic Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW : frontline: the triumph of evil: interviews: philip gourevitch (PBS)
    -INTERVIEW :  with Philip Gourevitch: International Responses to Genocide in Rwanda (Gina Jae, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, JAMA, March 7, 2001)
    -INTERVIEW : God no longer wants you : Philip Gourevitch, the Guardian First Book Award winner, talks to Giles Foden (Guardian, December 4, 1999)
    -INTERVIEW : Coping with the aftermath of genocide (, 10/24/98)
    -DISCUSSION : Worlds Apart: The Roots of Regional Conflicts (
    -DISCUSSION : The Holocaust in American Life, by Peter Novick (Philip Gourevitch and James Young, Slate)
    -PROFILE : Dead Reckoning : Philip Gourevitch is a journalist familiar with murder on a massive scale. But he narrowed things down for A Cold Case-the story of a New York double homicide and the detective who solved it (Mary Christ, July/August 2001, Book Magazine)
    -PROFILE : 'A kind of formal perfection' :  New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch had good reason to write about a 1970 homicide case: great characters, protagonists criss-crossing paths and a killer who saw himself on a grand historical scale (Lauren Mechling, August 2001, National Post)
    -PROFILE : Big shrug again makes genocide possible (BERT ARCHER, Toronto Now)
    -PROFILE : Writer explores Rwandan holocaust (Ravi Nessman, Associated Press)
    -ARCHIVES : Philip Gourevitch (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : Philip Gourevitch (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : gourevitch (Slate)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case   (Luc Sante, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Marc Silver, US News)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Jonathan Kiefer, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Taylor Plimpton, Men's Journal)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Carol Memmott, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW :  of A Cold Case   (Scott W. Helman, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW :  of A Cold Case   (John Freeman, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (BARRY SIEGEL, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (ROGER K. MILLER, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Michael Sauter, Biography)
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Rob Thomas, Capital Times [Madison, WI])
    -REVIEW : of A Cold Case (Craig Little, Book Browser)
    -REVIEW : of Cold Case (Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Philip Gourevitch A Cold Case (Jesse Berrett, City Pages)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Wole Soyinka, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Gary Rosen, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (David J. Garrow, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of We Wish to Inform You (SCOTT SUTHERLAND, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Peter Beaumont, Guardian Unlimited )
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (PAMELA BONE, The Age )
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Cameron W. Barr, Christian Science Monitor)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Zondi Masiza, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Cath Byrne, Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (JACKIE STEIN, Jerusalem Post)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Anthony Daniels, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (TONY FREEMANTLE, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Review and Teaching Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Imre Szeman, Other Voices)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Richard Dowden, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  ( Patrice Clark Koelsch, Hungry Mind)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  (Sara Catania, LA weekly)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch  (New Internationalist)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You  ( Simon Doney, Damaris)
    -REVIEW : of  We Wish to Inform You   (Christian Hummel, Dartmouth Review)
    -REVIEW : of We Wish to Inform You... by Philip Gourevitch (James Norton, Flak)
    -BOOK LIST : Forgotten Favorite : Lazarillo de Tormes, by Anonymous (Philip Gourevitch, Feed)
    -AWARD : 1998 : General Nonfiction: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch (National Book Critics Circle)
    -AWARD : Journalist Philip Gourevitch Wins the 1999 New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award
    -AWARD : Guardian First Book Award : Rwanda genocide book takes award (Fiachra Gibbons, The Guardian, December 03 1999)
    -AWARD : George Polk book award : We wish to inform...

    -ARTICLE : Hanks snaps up crime story (Guardian Unlimited, February 8, 2000
    -ARTICLE : Sayles to script new Hanks film (Guardian Unlimited, April 06 2000)

    -Africa South of the Sahara : Countries : Rwanda
    -The US and Genocide in Rwanda : Evidence of Inaction :  A National Security Archive Briefing Book (Edited by William Ferroggiaro,  August 20, 2001, National Security Archive)
    -ESSAY : Bystanders to Genocide : The author's exclusive interviews with scores of the participants in the decision-making, together with her analysis of newly declassified documents, yield a chilling narrative of self-serving caution and flaccid will-and countless missed opportunities to mitigate a colossal crime (Samantha Power, The Atlantic Monthly | September 2001)
    -ESSAY :  Imagining Genocide : The ultimate evil has always been impossible to fathom. Paula Bomer peers into its heart of darkness (Feed, 11.17.98)
    -ESSAY : The Holocaust Without Guilt : 5000 UN Soldiers Could Have Ended It (Nat Hentoff, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY : The Moral Dilemmas of Doing Good : Everyone wants to aid refugees. But humanitarian work in the midst of war raises some hard questions---and carries the risk of unintended consequences. (Pearl Sensenig, August 1999, Sojourners)
    -ESSAY : Rwanda, Kosovo, and the Limits of Justice (Nicholas Confessore, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : Ripe for Genocide A critical look at sub-Saharan Africa (Mr. Kopel, Dr. Paul Gallant, & Dr. Joanne Eisen, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda by Scott Peterson (Joshua Hammer, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda by Scott Peterson (Anthony Daniels, booksonline)