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The Onion Field

The Onion Field - Joseph Wambaugh BLUF: Good for those who like to know the background of all players and enjoy true crime that reads like a novel.

Plot: The Onion Field is a nonfiction account of the kidnappings of Officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger and murder of Ian Campbell by Gregory Ulas Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith. Powell and Smith kidnapped these two officers after being pulled over for looking suspicious. After a long night and an incorrect assumption about the California’s version of the Little Lindbergh Law (later repealed), which states that kidnapping is considered a capital crime only if the kidnapped is ransomed or injured (His assumption was that kidnapping was considered a capital crime.), Campbell was murdered and Hettinger survived attempted murder. Unfortunately, the pain doesn’t stop after the capture and imprisonment of these two men. Many years and trials later, Hettinger is the ghost of the man he once was.

Contents: The Onion Field spends a significant portion detailing the backgrounds of the two officers as well as of the killers. We learn the full depth of the killers’ relationship with each other before we are brought to the crime. The crime is short compared to the rest of the content, but the real impact of this book is the aftermath of the crime. Between the trial, retrials, and destruction of Hettinger, the reader sees the effect surviving can have on a person.

My thoughts: When I picked this up, I thought “based on a true story” meant fiction loosely based on the event. I didn’t realize that it was nonfiction. Even as nonfiction, the pace of this book was painfully slow. I would consider this a methodical and thorough inclusion of all information necessary to get the true picture of the event, but it was drawn out and I really do feel like a jerk for thinking it.