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by Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson
New York University Press, February 2007
394 pages
ISBN: 0814719805

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 1924, a young woman and her new husband decided on a drastic solution to their money problems Ė holding up grocery stores. A couple of successful robberies later, the newspapers were bolstering their circulation with increasingly breathless, competing stories of the daring 'Bobbed Haired Bandit' and her tall, silent back-up man. Although it was Ed Cooney who planned the robberies and obtained both weapon and getaway car, the idea of one of those new-fangled flapper girls turning to crime was irresistible to media and public alike, making Celia Cooney the celebrity.

And she was a huge celebrity. The newspapers were full of cartoons, jokes, and such contradictory stories that Duncombe and Mattson often have to admit that itís impossible to know exactly what happened sometimes. Still, they do an excellent job of ferreting out the details and reconstructing the lives of the Cooneys, presenting them against the society of the time with its newspaper wars, political cover-ups, and claims of police corruption.

With all this work, itís hard to say just what it is about the book that didnít engage me. The research is impeccable, the social background fascinating, and the true story of the transformation from a laundress into a media darling via crime should be more exciting than any rendition of the musical Chicago.

And yet, the book didnít hold my interest. While Iím relieved that the authors donít become as hyperbolic as the vintage newspapers they quote so extensively, maybe itís because they tell the story so plainly that THE BOBBED HAIRED BANDIT comes across more as a research paper than a popularization.

The writing is mostly quotes and footnoted references; in Joe Friday style we get the facts and nothing but the facts (and when the facts canít be determined, we get both sides of the story.) While this is informative and appreciated, thereís nothing in the writing itself to make the story spark to life. In other words, this is a superb reference book, but itís not the sort of thing youíd want to sit down to read just for pleasure, even if you are fond of historical true crime.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, March 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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