Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Corpse in the Cellar: And Further Tales of Cleveland Woe

(Note from Michael Lorenzen: While Julie is in Ohio without Internet access, I am going to post this book review she wrote several years ago. It used to be at a site which is now defunct. It is not about Autism but thought someone out there may find this of interest.)

Author John Stark Bellamy II has found his niche: murder and disaster in the Cleveland area. The Corpse in the Cellar completes his trilogy on the subject. His other two books are They Died Crawling and The Maniac in the Bushes. Bellamy's most recent work is a compilation of 25 true stories of mayhem. The stories are antiquated-ranging from a 1865 stalking-style murder to 1942 circus fire that killed more than 50 animals.

Bellamy has avoided more recent stories for two reasons-summed up by one quote. "They are too recent, in my opinion, to have acquired a vintage character in terms of the period detail their telling may display; moreover, [more recent stories] are still fresh enough to feature living victims: the sons, daughters, parents and other loved ones who have endured and survived the crimes and disasters of the last 30 years."(Preface)

However, the age of the stories does not make them less interesting. Though morbid, each story has the potential to intrigue readers. For example, there's the story about the teenager who killed a neighbor girl in 1889. He hid her body in the cellar of his mother's house, but was given away by the ensuing odor. And then there was the Ashtabula bridge disaster in which more than 80 train passengers died when a poorly designed bridge collapsed in December 1876.

The first two or three paragraphs of every story are well written enough to draw a reader in. However, each of the stories (most run ten or more pages) are too long to maintain one's interest. In light of the subject matter, shorter stories would have sufficed.

John Stark Bellamy II is a lifelong Clevelander who grew up hearing about Cleveland crimes and disasters from his grandfather, Paul, editor of The Plain Dealer, and his father, Peter, who wrote for The Cleveland News and The Plain Dealer. Also, Bellamy, history specialist for the Cuyahoga County Public Library, has researched his subject extensively and gives slide shows to community members.

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