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The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP

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From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a page-turning, remarkable true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection and the launch of the NAACP. In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a page-turning, remarkable true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection and the launch of the NAACP. In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable to find the culprit, call upon the young manager of a New York detective agency for help. It is the detective’s first murder case, and now, the specifics of the investigation and daring sting operation that caught the killer is captured in all its rich detail for the first time. Occurring exactly halfway between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the formal beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954, the brutal murder and its highly-covered investigation sits at the historic intersection of sweeping national forces—religious extremism, class struggle, the infancy of criminal forensics, and America’s Jim Crow racial violence. History and true crime collide in this sensational murder mystery featuring characters as complex and colorful as those found in the best psychological thrillers—the unconventional truth-seeking detective Ray Schindler; the sinister pedophile Frank Heidemann; the ambitious Asbury Park Sheriff Clarence Hetrick; the mysterious “sting artist,” Carl Neumeister; the indomitable crusader Ida Wells; and the victim, Marie Smith, who represented all the innocent and vulnerable children living in turn-of-the-century America. Gripping and powerful, The Rope is an important piece of history that gives a voice to the voiceless and resurrects a long-forgotten true crime story that speaks to the very divisions tearing at the nation’s fabric today.


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From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a page-turning, remarkable true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection and the launch of the NAACP. In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a page-turning, remarkable true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection and the launch of the NAACP. In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable to find the culprit, call upon the young manager of a New York detective agency for help. It is the detective’s first murder case, and now, the specifics of the investigation and daring sting operation that caught the killer is captured in all its rich detail for the first time. Occurring exactly halfway between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the formal beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954, the brutal murder and its highly-covered investigation sits at the historic intersection of sweeping national forces—religious extremism, class struggle, the infancy of criminal forensics, and America’s Jim Crow racial violence. History and true crime collide in this sensational murder mystery featuring characters as complex and colorful as those found in the best psychological thrillers—the unconventional truth-seeking detective Ray Schindler; the sinister pedophile Frank Heidemann; the ambitious Asbury Park Sheriff Clarence Hetrick; the mysterious “sting artist,” Carl Neumeister; the indomitable crusader Ida Wells; and the victim, Marie Smith, who represented all the innocent and vulnerable children living in turn-of-the-century America. Gripping and powerful, The Rope is an important piece of history that gives a voice to the voiceless and resurrects a long-forgotten true crime story that speaks to the very divisions tearing at the nation’s fabric today.

30 review for The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP

  1. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    In Asbury Park, New Jersey 10 year old Marie Smith was murdered and sexually assaulted by a pedophile in November 1910. Thomas Williams, a 40 year old black man, was arrested for the crime because he knew Marie and didn’t have an alibi. Not everyone believed in his guilt and a private detective was brought in from New York to investigate further. The detective, Raymond Schindler, suspected Frank Heidemann of the crime and arranged an elaborate scheme to get Heidemann to confess. Heidemann did co In Asbury Park, New Jersey 10 year old Marie Smith was murdered and sexually assaulted by a pedophile in November 1910. Thomas Williams, a 40 year old black man, was arrested for the crime because he knew Marie and didn’t have an alibi. Not everyone believed in his guilt and a private detective was brought in from New York to investigate further. The detective, Raymond Schindler, suspected Frank Heidemann of the crime and arranged an elaborate scheme to get Heidemann to confess. Heidemann did confess, Williams was released and Heidemann was convicted and executed in May 1911. That is really all there is to this true crime story. It’s not enough material for a book so the author has padded it out with a biography of Schindler and a history of Asbury Park. However, most of the padding comes from the story of civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against lynching and was instrumental in the creation of the NAACP. The book contains a good deal of her biography, which was interesting but had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. Williams wasn’t lynched, Wells may never have even heard of him and NAACP lawyers made one very brief appearance in court on behalf of Williams. There are no footnotes to this book, which I would have expected to see in a history book. It probably shouldn’t even have been a book. The crime story should have been a magazine article and I am sure there are other, more detailed biographies of Wells. This was a disappointing attempt to tie a tawdry crime into the issue of lynching, and I am surprised the publisher let the author get away with that. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    The Rope’s style is vivid and dramatic—it’s rare that a historical nonfiction book can be called page-turner but Tresniowski’s description of events is consistently engaging. My real issue with the book is that it’s composed of two totally disparate halves. Tresniowski tries to unite a child murder case with the life and work of Ida B. Wells-Barnett—he tries, and ultimately he fails. Because, here’s the thing, Wells had nothing to do with the case. There’s no evidence she even knew anything about The Rope’s style is vivid and dramatic—it’s rare that a historical nonfiction book can be called page-turner but Tresniowski’s description of events is consistently engaging. My real issue with the book is that it’s composed of two totally disparate halves. Tresniowski tries to unite a child murder case with the life and work of Ida B. Wells-Barnett—he tries, and ultimately he fails. Because, here’s the thing, Wells had nothing to do with the case. There’s no evidence she even knew anything about it. And so all the pages we spend learning about her life feel kind of meaningless when in the end she doesn’t actually tie into the central story. Now, that’s not to say that Wells’ life and the founding of the NAACP aren’t interesting stories—they most certainly are—they just don’t really connect to the Marie Smith case that contains the book’s most thrilling moments, and so they wind up feeling like useless interjections or, worse, padding. Was there supposed to be a thematic connection drawn between these two halves? Probably. But there’s just no attempt at making one. Additionally, Tresniowski has a tendency to overload with names. It can be difficult to keep all of the bit characters straight, simply because he feels compelled to name every person in every situation, no matter how tenuous a part they played in it. I don’t want to seem like I’m dumping on this book, because I did enjoy it. I just think its structure is fundamentally flawed. ________________________ PRE-REVIEW: Hey, I won this in a Goodreads giveaway! It just came today. I’m in the middle of two books at the moment but when I finish them I’ll crack this one open—I hope to have a review up before it hits shelves on February 9th.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Madis Mysteries

    CW: murder, rape, racism, police brutality, severe assaults and explicit crimes Wow there is so much I want to say about this book. I wish I could quote ARCs because there’s so many quotes I want to pull from this book. I thought I knew what lynching was but I’m embarrassed to say I did not! I thought it was just another term for hanging but the actual definition is ‘lynching, a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender CW: murder, rape, racism, police brutality, severe assaults and explicit crimes Wow there is so much I want to say about this book. I wish I could quote ARCs because there’s so many quotes I want to pull from this book. I thought I knew what lynching was but I’m embarrassed to say I did not! I thought it was just another term for hanging but the actual definition is ‘lynching, a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture and corporal mutilation. The term lynch law refers to a self-constituted court that imposes sentence on a person without due process of law.’ There were thousands of racial driven lynchings in the States in the late 1800s to 1900s. This book was something I think everyone should read and I will absolutely be reading the book about Ida B Wells, who was a black woman and racial justice pioneer. She was a magnificent woman. She balanced her activism and taking a break to have children and enjoy both aspects of her life. One of the biggest things that will stick out in mind mind among her achievements was an article she wrote about the stark reality of lynching in America - an article in which she only consulted white people for descriptions of the crimes so no white person could tell her that the lynchings were exaggerated or simply false. For me especially who wants to go into the area of criminal law this book was so interesting. Different investigative techniques were just being founded (albeit some severely morally wrong ones) but very interesting in the historical context nonetheless. I think Alex did a phenomenal job setting the historical scene (you won’t believe the back story of the Ferris wheel!) and I learned a lot about the historical events that led to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples. I didn’t feel like I reading a textbook or any formal document but instead it read like an exciting thriller. There are VERY brutal descriptions of lynching and the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young child so be prepared, but I think it added very richly to the understanding of the racial interactions of the time. I thought this book was incredible, it was horrifying (although not surprising) to read the circumstances surrounding lynching and what innocent people would do to avoid the mobs. One man swallowed glass in an attempt to end his life in fear of a white mob lynching him. The two main story lines, the murder of Marie Smith and the life of Ida Wells never actually intersect the way the book makes it seem like they will however I was super intrigued and interested in both storylines regardless. All in all, read this book. Go into it knowing there are horrific scenes, racism and murder but read it if you are able.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Gardner

    I truly had difficulty putting this book down. As it toggled back and forth between the two both mysterious and informative historical narratives, I was eager to pick up where it left off and alway reluctant to stop reading. The stories told, which formed the foundation of the NAACP, center around the all too common subject of the era, lynching. Please be mindful when you read this book that the subject matter is handled frankly and the details of the cases, including the abuse and murder of a y I truly had difficulty putting this book down. As it toggled back and forth between the two both mysterious and informative historical narratives, I was eager to pick up where it left off and alway reluctant to stop reading. The stories told, which formed the foundation of the NAACP, center around the all too common subject of the era, lynching. Please be mindful when you read this book that the subject matter is handled frankly and the details of the cases, including the abuse and murder of a young child are graphic and you should be prepared.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    I absolutely loved this book and was not familiar with Marie Smith's case. I love that there was a little bit of everything ranging from the history of Asbury Park itself to the murder, to the life of Ida. B. Wells. The reason I'm giving this a 4 versus 5 stars is it felt like the Wells story didn't tie as neatly as the other stories. It seemed totally separate story that was interesting and well-written, but the connection wasn't as obvious as the other stories. I absolutely loved this book and was not familiar with Marie Smith's case. I love that there was a little bit of everything ranging from the history of Asbury Park itself to the murder, to the life of Ida. B. Wells. The reason I'm giving this a 4 versus 5 stars is it felt like the Wells story didn't tie as neatly as the other stories. It seemed totally separate story that was interesting and well-written, but the connection wasn't as obvious as the other stories.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paula Lyle

    There's just a little bit too much going on for this book to be as good as it should be. I loved the parts about lynching and Ida B. Wells, but it really didn't have much to do with the murder of the title. The murder is a sad, sordid story that takes up way too much of the book, in my opinion. Almost everyone will have some kind of disappointment because the two narratives don't really fit together. Interesting, though flawed. I received an eARC through NetGalley. There's just a little bit too much going on for this book to be as good as it should be. I loved the parts about lynching and Ida B. Wells, but it really didn't have much to do with the murder of the title. The murder is a sad, sordid story that takes up way too much of the book, in my opinion. Almost everyone will have some kind of disappointment because the two narratives don't really fit together. Interesting, though flawed. I received an eARC through NetGalley.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sandra White

    This book is excellent from the beginning to the end.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Nichols

    A biography of Ida B Wells and a history of the beginning of the NAACP. The primary topic was lynching, of which Wells was a major opponent. I only gave this three stars because the writing was good, the topics were each fascinating, but the connections among the various threads of the story were tenuous, at best. I enjoyed the book, but came away feeling I had just read parts of two or three good books.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Thoroughly enjoyed - it has intensity, history and mystery. It stays with you and you want to learn more from our past.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen Kuhn

    This is a good read with extremely interesting history interwoven with a murder story that is heart-breaking but ultimately solved. As a true crime buff, I enjoyed the descriptions of detective tactics as well as learning the background of technology that is still used today. Good book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I really love the way the author takes one specific case, and uses this case as the starting and ending point for a history of the NAACP, Ida B. Wells, Lynching & the emergence of the private detective. The narrative begins with the murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, and the railroading of an innocent black man for this heinous crime. It then interweaves complex and enraging historical narratives and facts into the timeline of the case. As it progresses another suspect emerges and the reader be I really love the way the author takes one specific case, and uses this case as the starting and ending point for a history of the NAACP, Ida B. Wells, Lynching & the emergence of the private detective. The narrative begins with the murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, and the railroading of an innocent black man for this heinous crime. It then interweaves complex and enraging historical narratives and facts into the timeline of the case. As it progresses another suspect emerges and the reader begins to wonder if justice will be done, or if prejudice will get in the way. Thank you to Netgally and Simon & Shuster for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Blue Cypress Books

    This book hits all the hottest topics: true- crime, American history, social justice, BLM (in the 19th Century way) and the remarkable Ida B. Wells in a completely compelling page-turner. "We are never better than when we give our voice to the voiceless, our strength to the weak, our lives to the battle between the darkness and the light." This book hits all the hottest topics: true- crime, American history, social justice, BLM (in the 19th Century way) and the remarkable Ida B. Wells in a completely compelling page-turner. "We are never better than when we give our voice to the voiceless, our strength to the weak, our lives to the battle between the darkness and the light."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rick Patterson

    I just read the review in the Calgary Herald last week and, before the end of the next week, I've already bought it and finished it. The review was quite motivating, let's say. Anyway, this is a sort of a mashup of true crime and social justice, a close look at a town that could be described as the capital city of the state of white privilege--Asbury Park, New Jersey (yes, the same place Bruce Springsteen sent greetings from on his first album, although he wasn't technically from there)--in which I just read the review in the Calgary Herald last week and, before the end of the next week, I've already bought it and finished it. The review was quite motivating, let's say. Anyway, this is a sort of a mashup of true crime and social justice, a close look at a town that could be described as the capital city of the state of white privilege--Asbury Park, New Jersey (yes, the same place Bruce Springsteen sent greetings from on his first album, although he wasn't technically from there)--in which a terrible crime happened and a terrible injustice almost followed. Marie Smith's murder is truly awful, but it would have been even harder to handle if Tom "Black Diamond" Williams had been lynched for it, and he very nearly was. He would almost certainly have been unjustly convicted of the crime had it not been for the dogged and creative detective work of Ray Schindler, whose pursuit of the real murderer is absolutely captivating. Surely no gumshoe today could get away with the sorts of dramatic interventions that Schindler employed to finally get his man. Because Williams was almost subjected to lynch mob "justice," Tresniowski adds the parallel story--really not parallel, actually--of Ida B. Wells, the firebrand campaigner for racial justice who was tireless in her advocacy against lynching (which killed 4000 African-Americans in the fifty years around 1900). The connection between the stories is tenuous, although it is there, but it creates an oddly discontinuous, rather patchwork impression for the whole text. The back and forth from Schindler's pursuit of the murderer to Wells' heroic one-woman stand against white injustice is, at times, jarring. Add to that the occasional sense that Tresniowski is appealing to religious rather than moral values--and I can't even put my finger on exactly where this happens, but it is there, I promise--and the text loses something of its strength by becoming a little bit tremulous and sententious. One last quibble: I find sloppy editing to be very irritating, and there are several points where I felt obliged to take a pen to the book and make an obvious correction. (less)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jen Juenke

    I loved this book. I had not heard of Ida B Wells and was fascinated with her story. HOwever, the main story is the killing of Marie Smith. This book is history in the making. How black men were constantly accused of crimes that they didn't commit. The detectives who were hired to help with the investigation, the NAACP, and the actual murderer. The author does a great job detailing why we should care about his forgotten case. I loved the interplay between Ida B Wells and the investigation. To me, I loved this book. I had not heard of Ida B Wells and was fascinated with her story. HOwever, the main story is the killing of Marie Smith. This book is history in the making. How black men were constantly accused of crimes that they didn't commit. The detectives who were hired to help with the investigation, the NAACP, and the actual murderer. The author does a great job detailing why we should care about his forgotten case. I loved the interplay between Ida B Wells and the investigation. To me, this book was fast paced and I couldn't put it down. It was richly detailed and well written. Two big thumbs up. Thank you to Netgalley and to the publisher for this ARC in return for this honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I got this book free from NetGalley and overall I liked it. I really liked the background on Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching work, and I like a true crime story that has a sneaky big impact on history. My only complaint is that it was a little shallow. It talks about a lot of things, and all of them are interesting but it didn't really tackle any of them in a really meaningful way. For example, it says right in the subtitle that it's about the beginnings of the NAACP and that's true, but the I got this book free from NetGalley and overall I liked it. I really liked the background on Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching work, and I like a true crime story that has a sneaky big impact on history. My only complaint is that it was a little shallow. It talks about a lot of things, and all of them are interesting but it didn't really tackle any of them in a really meaningful way. For example, it says right in the subtitle that it's about the beginnings of the NAACP and that's true, but the NAACP is hardly mentioned and he has to explain in the last chapter why Ida B. Wells and this murder were key in the beginnings of the NAACP, which felt a little sloppy because for being a key element it should have been way more obvious.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Krisette Spangler

    3.5 stars The author takes us on a journey to catch the true killer of a 10 year old little girl named Marie. A black man is in jail for the murder, but one man is determined to find the truth. Set amidst the story of the murder are chapters dealing with the crime of lynching of black Americans and also a short history of Ida B. Wells who devoted her life to fighting against racism in America. I really enjoyed the book, but toward the end, things got a little repetitive. I think some better editin 3.5 stars The author takes us on a journey to catch the true killer of a 10 year old little girl named Marie. A black man is in jail for the murder, but one man is determined to find the truth. Set amidst the story of the murder are chapters dealing with the crime of lynching of black Americans and also a short history of Ida B. Wells who devoted her life to fighting against racism in America. I really enjoyed the book, but toward the end, things got a little repetitive. I think some better editing could have made the story more concise and saved the reader from wishing the book would end.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carol Macarthur

    Tresniowski brings three stories together in this hard-to-put-down thriller. First, he presents the story of the creation and development of Asbury Park and the murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith. Then we are given the dramatic saga of activist Ida Wells, and, finally, Ray Schindler, pioneer detective who uses Poe and Holmes as references, enters the scene. The stories converge, and, in culmination, we are given the emergence of the NAACP. This novel is not to miss: riveting, timely, and inspiri Tresniowski brings three stories together in this hard-to-put-down thriller. First, he presents the story of the creation and development of Asbury Park and the murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith. Then we are given the dramatic saga of activist Ida Wells, and, finally, Ray Schindler, pioneer detective who uses Poe and Holmes as references, enters the scene. The stories converge, and, in culmination, we are given the emergence of the NAACP. This novel is not to miss: riveting, timely, and inspiring.!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Baker

    There’s two and a half really interesting stories in this book, but they are only tangentially connected. There’s the true crime tale of the investigation of the murder of Marie Smith. There’s a biography of Ida B Wells, with a focus on her work in anti-lynching. Then there’s a little bit about the founding of the NAACP (hence half a story.) It’s well written, but I wonder why it was so scattered.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diana N.

    This book toggles between the life if Ida B. Wells and the murder mystery of Marie Smith. I found myself engrossed in the mystery portion and the details of all of the creative detective work of Mr. Schindler. I see the importance/connection of the Ida/NAACP portions, but found myself trying to get through those parts quicker to see what would happen next as a part of the mystery. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bobbie Serensky

    The two parallel stories in this book each have something to offer: the true crime story is highly engaging and suspenseful, and the life of Ida B. Wells is an informative look into her impressive achievements. I learned a lot from reading this book!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Craig David

    With everything going on in the world, especially in the United States, this book is remarkable. The book is laid out incredibly well. The book is in layman's terms and reads a lot more like a novel than a work of non-fiction. I can't recommend this book enough. With everything going on in the world, especially in the United States, this book is remarkable. The book is laid out incredibly well. The book is in layman's terms and reads a lot more like a novel than a work of non-fiction. I can't recommend this book enough.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Macoffkilter

    So much more than a murder. Evokes the historical period and attitudes that contribute to the investigation. Very rich is detail. Really enjoy this author. Great detail on american history and emerging detective skills with the tools available.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aletha Pagett

    This book reads like a murder/thriller novel but it is heartbreakingly true. Despite the horror, it is a book of courage, of hope and of determination. This was received from Goodreads.

  24. 4 out of 5

    adeline Bronner

    « Murder has no tongue but miraculously it still finds a way to speak » (Hamlet quoted in the Rope) Brilliant, inspired and fascinating

  25. 4 out of 5

    Maire Kolb

  26. 4 out of 5

    Scott Book

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  28. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Noble

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bri-zyReader

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