Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris - Book Review

 When I Googled Jeffrey MacDonald it received 2,860,000 results in .20 of a second, so it isn't as if no one cares about a murder case that shocked the country in 1970 when Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald was arrested for the brutal murder of his wife and two children in his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  After a rather long process, MacDonald was convicted of the murders and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.This search suggests that there remains interest in Jeffrey MacDonald. Despite numerous appeals, he remains in prison and continues to deny his guilt. A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris (The Penguin Press, 2012, 524 pages, $29.95) is a ponderous volume filled with lengthy testimony, transcriptions of statements by many of the people involved, numerous maps of the settings involved, and convoluted discussions of the supposed inconsistencies in testimony and evidence. There are extremely tedious pages of transcript from interviews with MacDonald himself and others involved in the investigations and the investigations of the investigations. Such material can only be of interest to those who have an obsessive need to constantly comb material seeking out supposedly conflicting details in an attempt to disprove the findings of several juries. I must admit that I found myself unable to sustain an interest in the obsessive search  for telling details and did not finish reading the book.

Errol Morris
  Photo by: Nubar Alexanian

Writer Errol Morris has himself led a fascinating and idiosyncratic life which could become the center of a first rate film or book, seeking often to lead his life on his own terms, unshackled by conventions or rules. A film by Morris, The Thin Blue Line, was influential in gaining the release of convicted mass murderer Randall Dale Adams through exposing the work of Dr. James Grigson, a professional witness who relied on diagnoses of psychopathology to aide prosecutors in gaining convictions. At least some of the current work relies on a similar argument, that MacDonald is not the sociopath he is pictured as. His career has featured numerous award winning commercials. He was given a Macarther "genius" award in 1989.  The current volume is film like in its layout and composition as well as continuing what Wikipedia describes as his obsessive interest in murder in its use of source materials. All this might work in development of a documentary film, but fails to grab and hold this reader's attention.

A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris is published by Penguin Press (2012) at $29.95. It was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours.