Non-Fiction
 

Incendiary

Written By: Michael Cannell

Published By: Minotaur Books



Reviewed by Melissa Minners

 

                When I first heard of Incendiary and read the description of the book, I was surprised.  Here was a book about a person committing terrorist acts in New York City in the 1950s and I had never heard about it.  Iím someone who loves history and prides herself on knowing a great deal about the history of New York City, so I was shocked that I had never heard mention of a man arbitrarily setting bombs in public places to settle a score with the company he once worked for.  Even more interesting to me was the fact that this case was the first time that the NYPD used profiling to catch a criminal.  I knew I had to get my hands on a copy of Incendiary.

                We begin with 1956 and the moment Captain Howard Finney of the NYPD Bomb Squad approached Dr. James A. Brussel, a psychiatrist who served as Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene.  Captain Finney would seek out Dr. Brusselís expertise in criminal minds to help create a profile of the man the tabloids had dubbed the Mad Bomber of New York

                Beginning in the 1940s, an individual began leaving pipe bombs concealed in public locations.  One of the earliest bombs was found in a toolbox on a Consolidated Edison power plant windowsill wrapped in a note.  Deactivated before it went off, police read the note signed by ďF.P.Ē  Written in distinctive block letters, the note called out Con Ed as being crooks.  Later, another bomb was found near Con Edison headquarters.  But, with the outbreak of World War II, the bomber sent the NYPD a letter promising to stop setting bombs until the end of the war.  As he explained, he was a patriot.  However, he promised to bring Con Edison to justice for some untold act against him.

                He began his campaign again in 1951 and stepped up his game, building more sophisticated mechanisms for his pipe bombs and filling them with nasty shrapnel.  At first, his bombs were left in places where the least amount of people would be hurt, but, realizing he wasnít being taken seriously enough, the bomber began concealing his pipe bombs in places where they would gain more notice.  There were bombs placed in the Grand Central Terminalís menís room, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Radio City Music Hall during a showing of White Christmas, on the platform of the IRT, at the Roxy Theater, at the Paramount Theater and more.

                While F.P.ís bombs had yet to kill anyone, they had certainly injured quite a few people and drove the NYPD to distraction as they worked to hunt him down.  Captain Finney had been delving into the forensics side of the investigation, but the bomber wasnít using anything that couldnít be purchased by nearly anyone at a number of locations to create his bombs.  Psychiatric profiling was not a thing as yet, but Captain Finney was a cop who believed in trying new things.  After all, forensics were relatively new to the department and he had been using it with great effect, why not ask a psychiatrist with experience with the criminal mind to offer up some ideas.

                Dr. Brusselís description of the bomber ended up being spot on, describing the man from his ethnicity, marital status and the possible location of his home to the type of clothing he would be arrested in.  His insight into F.P.ís mind revealed a paranoid schizophrenic who wanted attention for his actions. Dr. Brussel suggested that the NYPD appeal to the press in aiding them to find the criminal as he would want to tell his story.  Working with the press meant quite a few prank bombs and copycats, but in the end, the NYPD got their man, a Slavic man living in a Slavic community in Connecticut, who was unmarried, living with his sisters and was arrested in a double-breasted suit Ė all traits Dr. Brussel predicted.

                What I loved about this book is it gave readers history prior to the events.  For instance, the reader learned all about the rise of the bomb squad, Captain Finneyís rise in the department, backstory on Dr. Brussel, even backstory on the New York Journal American, the newspaper that helped bring about the arrest of George Metesky (aka: F.P).  But it didnít stop there, it kept us engaged throughout the investigation and manhunt and didnít stop at the manís capture.  It continued by letting us know just what happened to all involved in the case, including the folks at the newspaper.

                We were offered insight into the field of psychology and the various methods of therapy available at the time.  We were also offered insight into the ever-changing world of police investigations and the backlash of traditionalists in the department who fought against progression in favor of the old fists and fear tactics.  It was interesting to learn of the origins of profiling and how Dr. Brussel went on to become the mentor of the man who created the first profiling unit for the FBI.  It was also interesting to see the case unfolding and realize that the bomber may have been captured much earlier if those in charge of Con Edison at the time would have released employee injury reports that took place before 1940 instead of denying they existed for so long. 

                I was amazed to read about the case after Metesky was caught and how a man who was on his death bed shortly after his arrest could last until his release decades later from Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and eventually survive until 1994.  Passing away at the age of 90, Metesky managed to stay on the straight and narrow after release from the psychiatric center, vindicated that the world finally heard his grievance against his former employer and understood his anguish, though never receiving any compensation for what happened to him while working there.

                I was utterly captivated by Incendiary, not just for the history imparted but for the investigation itself and the look into forensics and profiling from the very beginning.  I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of New York City, psychiatry, criminal investigation or anyone who enjoys an intriguing story that just happens to be true.

 


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