A 1920s rape and murder spree, re-created with grisly details both real and imagined.
Between 1926 and 1928, Gordon Stewart Northcott murdered at least 20 boys at a chicken ranch near Los Angeles. (The 2008 film Changeling dealt with the mother of one of his victims.) During those years, Northcott held hostage and assaulted his teenaged nephew, Sanford Clark, forcing him to assist in the killings. True-crime writer and novelist Flacco (The Hidden Man, 2008, etc.) depicts Northcott as a conscienceless monster, killing innocents he deemed inferior to demonstrate his own presumed power. He was physically repulsive as well, if the author’s description of a hairy body, “more animal than human,” is to be believed. Sensitive readers should take a pass on this book, given the scenes of chained, terrified children subjected to hideous sexual assault and murder. Flacco relies on court records, news accounts and his collaborator, Clark’s son Jerry. He acknowledges covering gaps in the historical record with embellishments that sometimes keep the narrative chugging along, but other times bog it down. The real events are so mesmerizing, if sickening, that it seems superfluous to spend ten pages imagining Clark’s thoughts as he lies imprisoned by his uncle in a boarded-up pit. Most of the book details the crimes, but Flacco ends by describing the aftermath for Clark, whose testimony against his uncle helped send Northcott to the noose. The final pages show Clark’s inner strength, abetted by his loving wife and sister, taming his nightmarish memories enough to give him a decent and even admirable life.
Gripping if occasionally drawn-out account of a gruesome crime wave and a victim who survived it.