A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.




An accomplished literary debut weaves memoir and true-crime investigation.

Essayist and lawyer Marzano-Lesnevich (Writing/Harvard Kennedy School of Government) fashions an absorbing narrative about secrets, pain, revenge, and, ultimately, the slippery notion of truth. In 2003, working as a summer intern at a Louisiana law firm that defends clients sentenced to death, the author discovered the case of a child’s murder by a confessed pedophile. Passionately opposed to capital punishment, she realized that she wanted this client to die. That response—unsettling and unexpected—incited an interest in the case that became nothing less than an obsession. For 10 years, she read 30,000 pages of documents, including court transcripts, newspaper coverage, and a play based on interviews with the victim’s mother; watched the killer’s taped confessions from three trials; and traveled multiple times to Louisiana. That fixation inflames another investigation, as well, into her own troubling past. “I am pulled to this story by absences,” she writes. “Strange blacknesses, strange forgettings, that overtake me at times. They reveal what is still unresolved inside me.” With care and pacing that is sometimes too deliberate, the author reveals the blacknesses in her own family: her father, a successful lawyer, succumbed to rage and depressions; her mother, also a lawyer, was stubbornly silent about her past; the author learns that she was not a twin but really a triplet, with a sister who died within months, never mentioned by the family; and, most horrifically, her grandfather sexually abused her and her younger sister for years. When Marzano-Lesnevich finally revealed the abuse to her parents, they buried it, refusing to acknowledge her pain even when she became severely depressed and anorexic. Her family members, she realizes now, were “prisoners” of their own triumphant narrative: children of immigrants, they were living the American dream, “determinedly fine.” The author admits that she has “layered my imagination” onto her sources to make her characters vivid, inevitably raising questions about the line between nonfiction and fiction and about how such embellishment can manipulate the reader’s perceptions and sympathies.

A powerful evocation of the raw pain of emotional scars.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08054-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history...


A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery.

Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi’s radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife’s “disappearance” (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship’s captain, who soon discerned the couple’s identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship’s progress—by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tedious early stretches regarding Marconi’s business struggles.

At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-8066-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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