03/07/2013 08:34 am ET Updated May 06, 2013

Did Lee Harvey Oswald Act Alone? Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn Set Up? Edward Jay Epstein Investigates

I met Edward Jay Epstein in 1965, a lifetime ago. He was researching a book about the Kennedy assassination. I wondered why. Wasn't JFK killed by Lee Harvey Oswald? As I say: a lifetime ago.

As a reporter and researcher, Ed Epstein gives new meaning to "meticulous." He is a crackerjack interviewer, but his greater skill is reading and re-reading masses of documents. And then his greatest skill comes into play: his ability to see contradictions and omissions, and to subject the events in question to logic.

Over the years, Epstein has written fifteen books. They cover a big field: Nixon-era crimes, the CIA, diamonds. Only once have we worked on the same story: the criminal prosecution of junk-bond financier Michael Milken. We had the same take: the government had it wrong. As did all the writers who used prosecutors as key sources --- if you believe "Den of Thieves," I regret to inform you that you are badly misinformed.

Milken once asked Epstein what his hobbies were. "Conspiracies," Epstein replied. And now he's collected his takes on his hobby in "The Annals of Unsolved Crime."

Some of the pieces are historical (Lincoln, the Reichstag fire, the Lindbergh kidnapping). Some ask: Suicide... or accident? There's a Cold Case file (Jack the Ripper, JonBenet Ramsey, Jimmy Hoffa). And an exploration of "unsolved" crimes (Oklahoma City, OJ Simpson, Amanda Knox.)

These are solid, smart pieces, but it's the two new investigations that raise the bar for readers and journalists alike. One is an analysis of the sexual encounter between Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund --- and, very likely, the next President of France --- and Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at the Sofitel Hotel in New York. This case dominated the headlines for weeks, and, in the early stages, there was no doubt that Strauss-Kahn was a pig who had forced himself upon the maid. Later, the case against Strauss-Kahn dissolved.

Epstein takes 30 pages to recreate just four hours. What he uncovers --- what he was first to report --- is stunning: DSK had become "a prime target of French intelligence for at least two months before the Sofitel incident." Which might explain the videotape of two hotel employees high-fiving one another when the incident was reported to the police. Epstein's conclusion: "The true crime in the DSK case was the manipulation of the American justice system."

The other piece is a distillation of half a century of reading and thinking about the Kennedy assassination. Epstein, a devoted student of the CIA, here tracks the CIA's efforts to kill Fidel Castro, cross-cutting that narrative with the story of Lee Harvard Oswald's eagerness to make history. A second gunman on the grassy knoll? No, Epstein concludes. But there was another assassin in play that day --- there were, he concludes, two men plotting CIA-sponsored death that day, albeit with different targets. Fascinating stuff.

Armchair detectives will eat this book with a spoon. Journalism students need to read the Strauss-Kahn piece yesterday. The JFK piece is required reading for assassination buffs, And for the rest of us? "The Annals of Unsolved Crime" is a guilty pleasure.

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