The Pulitzer Prize--winning team of Naifeh and Smith (Jackson Pollock, 1990, etc.) collaborate on this haunting,...


"A STRANGER IN THE FAMILY: A True Story of Murder, Madness, and Unconditional Love"

The Pulitzer Prize--winning team of Naifeh and Smith (Jackson Pollock, 1990, etc.) collaborate on this haunting, compulsively readable account of how a ""typical"" middle-class family produced a serial rapist and murderer. When 28-year-old nuclear engineer Danny Starrett was arrested in 1989 for kidnapping and rape, his family rallied reflexively to deny his guilt. Danny was their ""hero,"" a ""model child,"" the ""perfect son."" Never mind his unsettling behavior of late: extended absences from work, a disheveled appearance, an unexplained estrangement from his Mormon wife and baby daughter. Not to mention a long history of odd behavior, some of it traceable to two childhood head injuries (paralyzing headaches, a tendency to black out), some of it not (a youthful obsession with drawing pictures of devices for chopping girls into dog meat). Naifeh and Smith produce long stretches of Danny's jailhouse journal, which chillingly describes how he concealed his mental illness and serial crimes from a doting family. These passages are deftly juxtaposed with an account of how Danny's mother, Gerry Starrett, finally awakened to her son's insanity, guiding him through the criminal justice system that demanded his death for the murder of a 15-year-old Georgia girl. (Danny was ultimately sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences for crimes committed in South Carolina and Georgia.) But the book is too narrowly focused on Danny's indomitable mother: What of the other family members, to whom Danny was also a ""stranger""? And while the authors know how to make their story accessible to the general reader, they give short shrift to the law, dismissing complicated issues, such as the various state standards for mental competence, as mere ""legalese."" A riveting though slightly simplistic story of crime and punishment, mental illness, and mother love.

Pub Date: June 19, 1995


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995