The book chronicles sixty-three dastardly crimes actually perpetrated in Newtown, Connecticut, between 1889 and 1933; included are murders, arsons, assaults, burglaries, safecrackings, rapes, chicken thefts, even statutory mayhem. Vigilante groups had deep roots in the region: the anonymous White Caps dealt out their own form of justice and the KKK did business on the other side of the law. Perpetrators also included neighbors, family, hired help, as well as hoboes who road the many trains that stopped in town at the height of the resort era.
The five decades of crime covered in the book include both casual acts of thievery and passionate, villainous crimes fueled by insanity, hunger, revenge, jealousy, and greed. All were reported in the local papers of the time.
These true crimes are presented by fictional detective Laszlo Briscoe, an investigator and crime diarist who keeps his true-shooting Smith & Wesson revolver at the ready. He offers insightful and sometimes humorous observations that invite the reader to reflect on human nature and the social norms of the times. At the beginning of the book, the detective’s voice is in the language of the late 19th century; as the book and years progress, his chronicles adopt more modern constructs and idioms.
The narrator not only documents the calculated and evil deeds, but allows the reader to understand the crimes in the context of the eras in which they take place — horse-and-carriage, agrarian, railroads, the advent of the automobile and decline of the resort era, Prohibition, World War I, and the beginning of the Great Depression.