Online Articles about A Soul on Trial and The Laughing Desert
“Author Tells Story of The Salome Sun” by Chris McDaniel. November 9, 2012. http://www.yumasun.com/articles/salome-83109-hall-cutler.html
William S. Niederkorn in his The Times Traveler blog (which has now ended) featured the Sutton Case. September 14, 2009.
Crime Historian Laura James, Esq. reviews A Soul On Trial
Robin Cutler’s article The First Mother Who Fought the Military to Find Out How Her Son Died on History News Network. September 30, 2007.
Excerpts from reviews of A Soul on Trial
”Robin R. Cutler describes one of the most remarkable cases of a civilian challenging the power of the U.S. military in American history. . . .Cutler has made a substantial contribution to the histories of the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Naval Academy. This book should encourage further investigations into other instances in which the military has failed to live up to its own high standards of accountability and honor, and will be the standard against which those studies are judged. This is an exhaustively researched case study, yet at the same time it is so captivating, dramatic, and vivid that readers will feel as if they are sitting in the inquiry room sweating through the humid Annapolis summer with the hearing’s participants. This book could easily become a screenplay, and it is narrative history at its finest.”
H. Michael Gelfand, The Journal of American History, (September, 2008)
“A Soul on Trial is a good read, a well- researched account of an overlooked and sensational controversy, and a promising example of how to examine and contextualize, rather than just to cite, newspaper sources from the past. ”
Stephen Ponder, American Journalism, (Summer 2008)
“Exhaustively documented, A Soul on Trial, is a gift to the expanding archives of Marine Corps history. Cutler’s mastery of detail is noteworthy for one without apparent personal military experience . . . a superbly evocative description of a crime and a time.”
Chas Henry, Leatherneck (August, 2008)
“Cutler’s well-written and painstakingly researched account is a page turner with surprises throughout.”
R. Gregory Nokes, Oregon Historical Quarterly (April, 2008).
Notable Naval Books of 2007, “. . .the author’s intriguing story is enhanced by some revealing looks at the culture and politics of the period.” Lt. Commander Thomas J. Cutler (no relation), U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings (May, 2008).
”A Soul on Trial . . . is a fascinating work of nonfiction . . .The author meticulously presents the facts surrounding Sutton’s death. She also conducts a historical examination of the training of newly commissioned Marine Corps officers prior to World War I, military court proceedings at the turn of the century, and the media’s influence on the military, executive, and legislative branches of government. . . A timeless account of the importance of properly conducting initial investigations and military court proceedings. It also contains valuable historical lessons concerning proactive interaction with the media in the context of high visibility military cases. The actions of Marines are closely scrutinized by the media in this current operational environment, and this book is an invaluable historical reference.”
Major Keith Forkin, Staff Judge Advocate, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Marine Corps Gazette (April, 2008)
“Cutler . . .seamlessly weaves together the proceedings with side trips into the widespread interest in the paranormal at the time, William James, military tribunal procedure, a little forensic medicine, politics and media spin circa 1909. The resulting tapestry never seems contrived or unduly weighted with tangential diversions.”
David J. Loftus, The Oregonian (12/16/07).
“Book Examines Mysterious 1907 Death at Naval Academy” a feature article by Earl Kelly, appeared in the Annapolis Capital on Sunday, July 15, 2007.
Comments by Experts
“A Soul on Trial is first a real-life murder mystery, with a wonderfully twisted plot involving a nervously secretive military, an outraged public and even a troubled ghost. And thanks to Robin Cutler’s meticulous research and talented story-telling, it is also a compelling portrait of America in the early 20th century, a country caught between the honorable beliefs of its past and the driving energy of its future. All of those elements combine to make this a provocative story and a terrific book.”
Deborah Blum, author of Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death; Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Robin Cutler has written a lively and gripping account of a pivotal era in American history. Modern readers will identify with her timeless themes — citizens confronting their government and a mother’s love for her son — as they are drawn into this tale of drama and intrigue.”
Nathaniel Fick, author of the New York Times bestseller One Bullet Away; former Captain, First Reconnaissance Battalion, USMC.
“It is a great pleasure to endorse as an outstanding piece of historical exploration, this incredible story which Robin Cutler unfolds. What is so unusual is that it is all true. In the midst of the progressive era, we have a mystery worthy of Hollywood: a murder– or was it suicide? a cover up– or was it simply playing by the book? a psychic who correctly saw what was happening close to three thousand miles away–or was it all an act? a quest for eternal rest–or was it merely a desperate attempt to avoid the church penalty for suicide? It is all played out in Cutler’s book. Further, she deals with the internal values and practices of the military as it investigated (or perhaps the correct word is reinvestigated) a fatality on post which received national press attention. Cutler’s book is better than fiction!”
Jonathan Lurie, author of Military Justice in America: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 1775-1980. Professor of History, Adjunct Professor of Law, Rutgers University.
“Robin Cutler’s A Soul on Trial is a gripping mystery story as well as an outstanding example of current social history at its best. A young Marine officer is found dead in ambiguous circumstances, and his mother doubts official suspicions of suicide. Fairness in judicial proceedings requires that individuals be able to participate in defense of their own interests. But few jurists could have anticipated that a ghostly apparition would seek to become part of the official record in determining his own cause of death! Even in 2007, readers can understand a mother’s challenging the official story about her son’s death, as happened in the case of former NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Cutler reveals a similar maternal zeal a century earlier. This wonderfully fresh and lucid book offers much to the general reader as well as the specialist – an always insightful fusion of social history, the study of religion and spiritism, the history of military justice, and “history and memory” inquiries into truth-telling and myth-making. I recommend this book enthusiastically!”
Donald J Mrozek, Professor of History, Institute for Military History and 20th Century Studies, Kansas State University; author of Sport and American Mentality, 1890-1910.
“This is an intriguing tale of the death of a young Marine Corps officer, a military cover-up, and a mother’s crusade that brought it to the nation’s attention. The Sutton murder mystery fascinated reporters, members of Congress, high-ranking military officials, lawyers, doctors, clergymen and even spiritualists. Engagingly written, A Soul on Trial is an extensively researched and astutely analysed account of a riveting episode from the turn of the last century that is relevant for us today.”
John Whiteclay Chambers II, author of The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era; Professor of History, Rutgers University.
“In this excellent historical narrative, Cutler sheds light on many aspects of the social, cultural, military and legal history of the Progressive Era. Her appreciation of the historical context combined with good control of the legalities at stake make this intriguing story about the Sutton case hard to resist. A Soul on Trial exhibits a nice feel for the new worlds of women in the early 20th century. She also offers us a detailed portrayal drawn from aggressive digging into archival documents, of the culture and traditions of the Marine Corps. We see in the Corps’ handling of the media scrutiny regarding Jimmie Sutton’s death that everything old is new again. A super story about military justice and the way military culture and civil society relate to one another.”
Thomas C. Mackey, author of Pursuing Johns: Criminal Law Reform, Defending Character, and New York City’s Committee of Fourteen, 1920-1930; Professor of History, University of Louisville.
“A Soul on Trial is a truly arresting book. Robin Cutler’s meticulously researched examination of the 1907 death of Marine Lieutenant James N. Sutton provides a panoramic overview of American life in the decade before World War I. Cutler evinces an insider’s knowledge of Annapolis and the naval culture in which the Sutton case unfolded — international in its share of action yet at times surprisingly class bound and provincial in its outlook. Rosa Sutton’s ordeal also illumines from a new perspective the vast gulf that separated, and still separates, the ways men and women experience the world, as well as the power of the press to shape the national agenda. Cutler proves a skilled storyteller who weaves the disparate strands of this event into a rich and vivid narrative, one that resonates strongly with Americans’ lives today.”
Michael P. Parker, author of Presidents Hill: Building an Annapolis Neighborhood, 1664-2005; Professor of English, United States Naval Academy.