When the Smoke Cleared a Murder Mystery in Malden by Bill Powers is an exciting and informative actual crime police procedural. Bill Powers was the lead investigator at the time, which gives him a particularly significant position to write about the case even though it’s been a good twenty years since the time of the crime. Bill walks us through the story of this investigation which begins as a fire investigation and quickly shifts into a murder investigation when one of the sniffing dogs alerts on to a possible scent of remains. As the investigation continues, the police finally learn that this fire was where a young girl was murdered, and from there, the search for her killer and to bring him to justice expands.
So I read and watch a lot of true crime stories. They have interested me since I was a child watching Unsolved Mysteries episodes in the 90s. However, I was particularly interested in reading When the Smoke Cleared by Bill Powers because I grew up in Massachusetts, not in Malden, where this story takes place, but about half an hour away in Lynn. So it was interesting to read about some locations I recalled seeing or being at. It was also stomach-churning to realize that the young girl who had been killed was only a couple of years older than me and stuck in a similar complicated parent-child relationship and DSS issues. With these things in mind When the Smoke Cleared may have proven a much more poignant read for me than others.
Bill Powers has given us a fantastic explanation of the court system, from the police gathering the needed information to the attorneys and other individuals helping to put the case together to a remarkably detailed description of the court process. We are all used to being given dramatized examples of these things—dramatic and short dramatizations of raised voices and death threats over concise explanations of the procedures. Bill Powers, however, has not shortened or dramatized any of the information. Instead, he has presented us with the necessary knowledge and how things are processed. When the Smoke Cleared is far from a dramatization, some parts of the book seem a bit dense, but this is not a novel. Instead, this is a procedural explaining a murder that happened to a real person by a real person.
If you enjoy learning about True Crime and the realistic process of catching and convicting a murderer, then When the Smoke Cleared is perfect.
If you are a bit more interested in Bill Powers I am happy to say I have a guest power from him which you can read below.
Most books in the true crime genre are authored by writers whose observations came from the side of the yellow tape where the words, “Do Not Cross” prevented their access to the crime scene. My book is different because I was the senior supervisor of a team of detectives who investigated a horrific murder case and eventually brought justice for the victim and her family.
I literally got my feet wet in the investigation when I stood on a carpet soaked in blood and water in the function room of a condo complex in Malden Massachusetts. What first appeared to be an arson fire quickly exhibited all the signs of a brutal murder By days end we developed a “person of interest”, but had no motive, eyewitnesses, weapon or body. Not the best way to begin a case, but a great challenge to all of us and one we accepted and worked on as a unified team.
Written from my first-hand perspective and in my voice, this book will appeal to all followers of the true crime genre. It is a classic police and courtroom procedural offered in minute detail. The book belongs on the Recommended Reading List or course syllabi of any criminal justice or law school class about criminal procedure. Additionally, it is perfect for college students who plan to work in one of the many disciplines related to the forensic sciences.
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