cover image Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t

Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t

Edward Humes. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-524742-13-3

Pulitzer Prize–winner Humes (Mean Justice) provides a searing look at the limits of forensics in this unsettling reexamination of the case of Jo Ann Parks, convicted in 1993 for intentionally starting a fire in her Southern California apartment in order to kill her three young children. Parks’s conviction was largely the product of testimony by a fire investigation expert who used since-discredited methodology. Humes, relying on the dogged efforts of attorney Raquel Cohen, of the California Innocence Project, convincingly demonstrates the fallacies underlying almost all traditional thinking about what evidence is relevant to a conclusion of arson. He provides a vivid picture of the reality of criminal investigations—cases are “assembled not with brilliant detective work and Perry Mason courtroom moments, but one little brick at a time, built of shifting memories, shifting stories, shifting theories, shifting details.” Humes’s measured goal is not to advocate for Parks’s innocence but to raise questions about “whether there was ever sufficient evidence to convict her,” and open-minded readers will join in his skepticism. An instant true-crime classic that reads like a thriller, this joins the ranks of recent works also throwing into question the belief that crime scene investigators can infallibly arrive at the right answer. Agent: Susan Ginsburg, Writers House. (Jan.)