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Toxic Rage: A Tale of Murder in Tucson by A.J. Flick

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

Summary: On October 5, 2004, Dr. Brian Stidham is found dead outside of his office building in Tucson, Arizona. A.J. Flick, a former reporter for the Tucson Citizen recounts the details of the murder through court documents, interviews, and more.

{Free book alert! Thank you WildBlue Press books for the advanced reader copy.}

Review: There is something addicting about a true crime story. It's like when you drive past an accident and crane your head to see as much as you can. Then, when you get home, you start googling because you just have to know what happened, who it was, and was anyone injured.

Toxic Rage: A Tale of Murder in Tucson definitely hit the pleasure center associated with morbid curiosity. As soon as I started, it was difficult to not keep going, absorbing every detail of the case.

The death of Brian Stidham is the type that a community can care about; a prominent pediatric ophthalmologist who is adored by patients and medical professionals with no criminal background murdered in his prime. (Because no one cares about those pesky drug dealers and gang members. They're just asking for their deaths, right? No, but that's a whole other discussion.)

Brad Swartz also made the perfect villain. (Like almost to Disney proportions.) His anger problems and struggles with drug addiction and mental health made it easy to hate him. Plus his inability to be faithful to any woman led to a feeling of justice when he was put behind bars. (Score 1 for monogamy!) But the author suggests that perhaps he did not receive fair treatment by the criminal justice system.

While many other individuals involved throughout the case had character flaws, they seemed minimized as Swartz's were emphasized. (Oh, you manipulated Brad into giving you money? No problem. He cheated on you so eye for an eye?) This led to other potential leads not being investigated. Perhaps they would have been dead ends, but it raises the question of whether things should have been done differently to at least rule them out.

What was also interesting was the level of conflicts that occurred in this case. Besides the actual facts of how the timeline proceeded, Flick recounts the issues the court faced with how to handle the involvement of attorneys and law enforcement that knew Brad and other witnesses. He also describes the complicated process of how to pick a fair jury in a case that is so high profile that it would almost require calling hermits with no access to any type of media to be completely unbiased. (Let's face it, even when the media ONLY reports facts, that doesn't mean it is done in a way that does not fuel the fires of bias. Ahem, Fox News.)

The plot certainly was interesting and it was a quick read (I finished in just a few hours), but there were certain points where I struggled. For being written by a professional journalist, it was halting and a bit jumpy. There were many times where information was repetitive, which could have been for effect, but seemed overdone. Also during interviews, which appeared to be transcribed, were littered with "you know"s, "I mean"s, and "um"s. (It had more fillers than a hot dog!) Even the officers seemed unable to finish a coherent sentence. I felt these parts could have been edited just a little bit for readability.

I was also a little disappointed to not get more from Brad Swartz's side of everything, though that is not the author's fault. He made it very clear that he tried numerous times to fill in those pieces, but was denied.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading about this case as it was one I don't remember hearing of (I was still in high school, after all). It is a great read for those who enjoy true crime.


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