- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 17, 2006

A SIMPLE ACT OF MURDER: NOVEMBER 22, 1963

By Mark Fuhrman

William Morrow, $25.95,

240 pages

REVIEWED BY A.G. GANCARSKI

“This book is an effort to clear away some of the fog that surrounds the J.F.K. assassination so we can see it for what it is: a simple act of murder,” writes Mark Fuhrman.

In his latest true crime book, Mr. Fuhrman, whose press materials describe him as “America’s most famous detective,” offers his take on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Though this slender volume is not without its virtues, the general reader likely will be frustrated by the book’s reliance on familiar material, questionable argumentation and inconsistent authorial positions.

“A Simple Act of Murder” begins in a manner faintly reminiscent of the seminal work of Los Angeles crime novelist James Ellroy, who has shown a knack throughout his career for writing crime books about incidents of which he had a keen personal interest.

Mr. Fuhrman depicts his coming to terms with the assassination of President Kennedy almost as a Bildungsroman. He thought of it throughout his adolescence, and the nation along with him. A self-described “patriot,” the present-day Fox News analyst nonetheless found that due to the “vast public record” created by entities like the Warren Commission, by “the 1970s, there was no escaping conspiracy theories.”

In his latest book, Mr. Fuhrman attempts to navigate the mountains of documents about the assassination of John Kennedy and get at the real truth. But this endeavor clearly was ill-fated from the outset. Almost 43 years after the incident, what is left is picked-over primary evidence and the faded transcripts of eyewitness accounts.

Though America’s most famous detective gamely applies contemporary forensics techniques to the murder, his efforts are in vain. Attempting to prove that the JFK assassination, at this late date, was a “simple act of murder,” is a fool’s errand. And while Mark Fuhrman himself is no fool, this book ultimately is an intellectual counterfeit and an exposition of authorial folly and hubris.

The reader is forced to patiently wade through an account that describes, in an attempt to “clear away some of the fog,” events like Geraldo Rivera narrating the Zapruder film on a 1970s talk show. Such shaggy-dog tales, however, have the opposite effect. They lull the reader and actually divorce him from the forensic inquiry that is at the heart of the book.

Perhaps that is on purpose. Because what is here feels flimsy and incomplete.

Mr. Fuhrman’s take on the murder is as simple as his subtitle: that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, a “lone gunman,” enabled because of “means, opportunity, and motive.” As he does often in the book, the author begs the question to tweak the noses of conspiracy theorists, asserting that in “a homicide investigation, we must listen to the evidence and follow where it leads, even if it contradicts … everything we believe to be true.”

But which evidence merits the most attention? According to Mr. Fuhrman, while “the photographic montages created by the Warren Commission are rich sources of evidence,” the “eyewitness record is vast and often contradictory” and the “ballistic evidence contradicts” those eyewitness accounts — especially regarding the now-infamous “single bullet theory,” which the author spends a considerable part of the book exhuming and defending.

Mr. Fuhrman, despite his appreciation for the Warren Commission’s efforts, criticizes its members and independent investigators both for missing key evidence — the dented windshield trim of the presidential limo, “an important piece of evidence in the Assassination of a President that ended up as scrap metal.”

Mr. Fuhrman believes that the disappearance of that evidence served a narrative function, and seems to charge Arlen Specter, the Warren Commission’s junior counsel, with inconveniently making that evidence disappear: “I believe [he] wanted the shot to miss because he didn’t want to have an unrecovered bullet responsible for any wounds.”

It’s possible that is the case. Of course, it is possible that Mr. Fuhrman is right, toward the end of the book, when he baldly contradicts his thesis, asserting that it is “impossible for anyone to solve this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The book treads water until the end, asserting the case for closure much better than it proves it, and unwittingly echoing the themes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”

Like “A Simple Act of Murrder,” the Garcia Marquez novel dealt with a murder and the wildly variant eyewitness accounts. Mr. Fuhrman, towards the end of the book, flashes a bit of insight, asserting that while there may have been no conspiracy to eliminate President Kennedy, the post-mortem framing of the events suggested that many ambitious people had a stake in correctly framing the assassination narrative for their own ends.

A useful insight and an all-too-rare highlight of an ultimately unsatisfying book.

A.G. Gancarski is a journalist and critic based in Jacksonville, Fla.

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