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Secret Life Of A Crime Scene Cleaner Pick of the day

Sara Pankhurst cleans up after murders and suicides. Which is by no means the most striking part of her curriculum vitae. By her own account she was a steelworker, a sex worker and a funeral director before moving into the “trauma cleaning” business in Melbourne. “Twenty years later, here I am. Still psychotic” Her life partners have included a murdered fiancé, a wife, and a husband whom she met when she was burying his wife (5,600 words)

The First Million-Pound Painting

Remembering the first painting to sell at auction for more than a million pounds. Velasquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja sold at Christie’s for £2,300,000 in 1970, far above the previous record of £821,482 paid in 1961. “Even the most hardened dealers sitting in the audience breathed gasps of disbelief. Then there was a spontaneous burst of applause. The auctioneer left his rostrum and sheer pandemonium broke out” (720 words)

How The EU Lost Russia Over Ukraine

Gripping diary of the diplomatic struggle between Russia and Europe for the loyalties of Ukraine. Russia won. Europe lost. But Ukraine lost most of all when President Viktor Yanukovich’s surrender to Moscow brought rebellion in Kiev, provoking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nobody emerges with much credit from the sorry story splendidly told here, but Yanukovich’s incompetence beggars the imagination (6,900 words)

How Many Snowdens Are There?

Lots, probably, in the shadows. Edward Snowden was unusual in self-reporting his large-scale theft of classified data. Background checks for most American intelligence jobs are perfunctory, outsourced, and easily faked. “I was involved in several espionage investigations, and the one constant was that co-workers never reported their concerns, which turned out to be considerable, to the proper authorities” (1,790 words)

Christmas In Yiwu

Notes from Yiwu Market near Shanghai, a “vast permanent trade fair” of fancy goods for dollar stores, market stalls, souvenir shops. Twenty miles of Union Jack mugs, fridge magnets, passport covers, vuvuzelas, folding scooters, and seemingly half the world’s Christmas decorations. “It felt like Yiwu contained every possible product, a physical analog to Alibaba. As if someone had inflated the Argos catalog to the scale of a city” (2,850 words)

How The Strand Keeps Going In The Age Of Amazon

New York’s greatest used bookstore should be seen as “a real-estate business, fronted by a bookstore, subsidised by its own below-market lease and the office tenants upstairs”. The Bass family, which founded The Strand in 1927, bought the whole 12-storey building on Broadway in 1996. The Strand turns a modest profit, helped by its line in review copies bought cheaply from “broke editorial assistants” and re-sold as new (2,150 words)

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