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Incendiary
Cover of Incendiary
Incendiary
The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling
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Long before the specter of terrorism haunted the public imagination, a serial bomber stalked the streets of 1950s New York. The race to catch him would give birth to a new science called criminal profiling.

Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall—for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters "FP" and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters. His victims were left cruelly maimed. Tabloids called him "the greatest individual menace New York City ever faced."

In desperation, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber's letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson—a handsome New York socialite, protégé of William Randolph Hearst, and publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American—joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement.

Long before the specter of terrorism haunted the public imagination, a serial bomber stalked the streets of 1950s New York. The race to catch him would give birth to a new science called criminal profiling.

Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall—for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters "FP" and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters. His victims were left cruelly maimed. Tabloids called him "the greatest individual menace New York City ever faced."

In desperation, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber's letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson—a handsome New York socialite, protégé of William Randolph Hearst, and publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American—joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement.

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About the Author-
  • Michael Cannell has written for the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek and many other publications. He was editor for The New York Times for seven years. His book, The Limit, was published by The Twelve in 2012. The Limit is now in development as a Sundance/AMC series.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 27, 2017
    In this fascinating true crime account, Cannell (The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit) recounts the 16-year hunt for a man known as F.P. who sent off almost three dozen bombs in New York City public spaces in the 1940s and ’50s. F.P. was ultimately brought to justice by the NYPD with the help of James Brussel, a psychiatrist, who provided deductions about him that would have made even Sherlock Holmes proud. Cannell is at his best in making the impact of F.P.’s crimes palpable: he conveys in detail the dangers faced by the members of the NYPD Bomb Squad, whose ultra-hazardous work and irregular hours were not rewarded with a higher salary, and also aptly captures the state of terror created by explosions in random places such as movie theaters and train station restrooms. But his choice to include frequent depictions of the thoughts of the terrorist, which he concedes are speculations, is an unwise one, as it casts doubts on the reliability of sections providing Brussel’s inner narration. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from February 15, 2017
    Summer of Sam? Fuggedaboudit. If you want to scare a New Yorker of a certain age, evoke the Mad Bomber, the subject of this taut true-crime whodunit.George Metesky, as former New York Times editor Cannell (The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, 2011, etc.) writes, was known for a span of two decades only as the Mad Bomber. Injured in a boiler explosion at a power plant and denied workers' compensation on tedious but technical grounds, Metesky came to harbor a maniacal grudge against Consolidated Edison. From 1940 to 1956, he planted more than 30 pipe bombs around New York, which, as Cannell shrewdly notes, "brought into being a culture of fear more than four decades before terrorism became an American fixation." But that culture of fear was just one result. As the author documents, the NYPD's quest to find the serial bomber introduced a couple of modernizations, supplanting at least some of the police culture of the corrupt, thuggish precinct cops of yore with a cadre of college-trained technicians, their avatar a lab scientist named Howard Finney, who had three graduate degrees and wartime service in military intelligence and who could read a crime scene from the tiniest of clues. Pair such technicians with psychiatrists, and you have the recipe for what Cannell calls a "new breed of cop" and, indeed, a new era of policing. This new culture also took pains to involve the community in looking for clues, with sometimes bizarre results. As the author writes, one informant urged that a certain kind of person be rounded up ("check brown-eyed people, they're no good"), while psychics and psychotics alike volunteered their services. In the end, catching Metesky involved the labors of many, from beat cops to techies, and the story holds its tension from start to finish through all those twists and turns. A fascinating study not just of a historical crime and its consequences, but also its unintended effects.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from May 15, 2017

    Editor and journalist Cannell (The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit) tells the riveting story of George Metesky, the "Mad Bomber" who terrorized New York for 16 years in the 1940s and 1950s. It is surprising that Metesky's role as seminal domestic terrorist is not more notorious, but this captivating book remedies that obscurity, illuminating the machinations of the man who perpetrated the bombings, along with the police personnel and psychiatrist who ultimately identified and captured him. Despite the police's labored attempts to catch him, Metesky eluded and frustrated the authorities for years, until they enlisted the aid of psychiatrist James A. Brussel. He provided an uncannily accurate psychological profile that led to Metesky's capture and eventual commitment to a hospital for the criminally insane. Brussel not only provided the crucial assessment leading to Metesky's arrest, but he also pioneered the field of criminal profiling. This story fascinates like the best police procedurals or true crime narratives. VERDICT A sine qua non for readers intrigued by criminal minds, certain to engage fans of Gerold Frank's classic The Boston Strangler.--Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Incendiary
Incendiary
The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling
Michael Cannell
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