The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad
by Stacy Horn
Publisher – Penguin Books
Rating – 8/10
Summary – By profiling four cases, Stacy Horn brings the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad to life. The Restless Sleep benefits from a talented author, with a great story to tell. While the book wanders off course at times, it is still a winner.
Review – During the early-2000s – all of sudden – cold cases became a popular topic. TV shows focused on the topic and so did books. Stacy Horn’s The Restless Sleep – in which she follows the members of the New York Police Department’s Cold Case Squad – is one of the best of this genre.
Horn chooses to structure her narrative around four cases worked by the Cold Case Squad in the early-2000s –
1) Linda Leon & Esteban Martinez – a December 1996 murder in which two people connected to the drug trade were bound and then murdered in The Bronx. The murderers spared the couple’s children, who were in the next room.
2) Ronald Stapleton – an NYPD officer who was shot in December 1977 and died in January 1978. This is one of the most-interesting stories in that it reveals a labyrinth of barely-connected murders spanning more than a decade.
3) Christine Diefenbach – a fourteen-year-old girl who was murdered in February 1988 while walking to the store. This is the most-difficult story to read, as Horn does a fine job of recounting how Christine’s murder devastated her family and friends.
4) Jean Sanseverino – was an Alabama woman who married a GI from Brooklyn during World War II. After moving to Brooklyn, the couple split and Jean was murdered at her home following a night on the town in 1951. This case is interesting in that it gives a portrait of New York City right after World War II. Unsurprisingly, the case proves difficult to investigate as the evidence – and many of the people involved – are long gone by the early-2000s.
There are many things to like about this book. Horn does a good job of “bringing people to life” on the printed page. Both victims and cops become vivid to the reader, which makes it easy to care about what happens in these cases. Also, while Horn is not overly sympathetic to the killers, she does a good of describing them as well.
Horn also has a gift for describing New York City’s neighborhoods. Her prose makes the reader feel as though he or she is walking down the streets with the killers, the cops, and their victims. She describes one neighborhood as follows –
“…a small, off-the-beaten-track neighborhood in Queens. Back in the eighties, the area’s town bar was in someone’s home. On some corners, instead of standard, city-issued signs, there are hand-painted street signs nailed to telephone poles.” (p. 160).
Here, Horn describes another neighborhood –
“… a remote town in Queens called Broad Channel. Broad Channel has a shabby, wrong-side-of-the-tracks feel. Culturally, it dug in its heels sometime in the sixties. This is the place were a police officer and two firefighters lost their jobs after appearing on a 1998 Labor Day float in blackface with watermelons and fried chicken buckets while mimicking the murder of James Byrd, who had been dragged to his death in Texas three months earlier” (pp. 164-165).
The only thing that I didn’t like about the book was Horn’s tendency to delve into long digressions about the way the NYPD operates. For instance, she includes much detail on a) how evidence is stored when a case goes cold, b) how NYPD officers gain and lose influence during internal power struggles, and c) the various ways the NYPD has rearranged its organizational chart over the years. A true police junkie might enjoy this material, but it simply didn’t “hold” me. I would estimate that these digressions take up about 20 percent of the book.
For true crime buffs – especially those who enjoy reading about cold cases – The Restless Sleep is a must-read. It has a few flaws, but there is more than enough great material to “keep the pages turning” all of the way to the end.