A sometimes plodding but ultimately satisfying study in true crime.

LITTLE BROTHER

LOVE, TRAGEDY, AND MY SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

A journalist seeks to tease out the truth behind the murder of a young Black man.

Jorell was an at-risk child in a rough part of St. Louis, where his single father was trying to raise eight children; his mother was in prison. Westhoff, a White journalist and author of Original Gangstas and Fentanyl, Inc., came into the picture as a volunteer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. During a stint in Brooklyn, Westhoff brought Jorell to the city: “We looked out from the top of the Empire State Building. We explored art galleries in Chelsea. He tried sushi for the first time.” Still, searching for an identity and as a footloose adolescent at the time that racial violence was widespread in his hometown, punctuated by the rioting in Ferguson in which Jorell participated, the young man entered dangerous territory, literally and figuratively. When he was shot and killed in 2016, the police took little interest. Following clues and talking with witnesses and Jorell’s friends, Westhoff worked to find answers, and he recounts his quest in diligent yet sometimes stultifying detail. “Learning the truth about Jorell’s killer required me to understand the troubled history of St. Louis, how discrimination and pervasive poverty has shaped life for millions,” he writes, and there’s plenty of sociology to follow. His investigation also forced him to confront his own identity and privilege. Having narrowed his list of likely suspects down to three Black men and closing in on the likeliest, he raises a hard point: “Was it right for me, as a white person, to try to get him thrown in prison?” He adds, “Especially in the post–George Floyd era, with millions demanding societal change and criminal justice reform, this was a pertinent question.” It’s a question he answers in thought-provoking fashion.

A sometimes plodding but ultimately satisfying study in true crime.

Pub Date: May 24, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-306-92317-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.

THE LAST DAYS OF JOHN LENNON

Beatlemania meets autopsy in the latest product from the Patterson factory.

The authors take more than half the book to reach John Lennon’s final days, which passed 40 years ago—an anniversary that, one presumes, provides the occasion for it. The narrative opens with killer Mark David Chapman talking to himself: “It’s like I’m invisible.” And how do we know that Chapman thought such a thing? Well, the authors aver, they’re reconstructing the voices in his head and other conversations “based on available third-party sources and interviews.” It’s a dubious exercise, and it doesn’t get better with noir-ish formulas (“His mind is a dangerous neighborhood”) and clunky novelistic stretches (“John Lennon wakes up, reaches for his eyeglasses. At first the day seems like any other until he realizes it’s a special one….He picks up the kitchen phone to greet his old songwriting partner, who’s called to wish him all the best for the record launch”). In the first half of the book, Patterson and company reheat the Beatles’ origin story and its many well-worn tropes, all of which fans already know in detail. Allowing for the internal monologue, things improve somewhat once the narrative approaches Chapman’s deranged act—300-odd pages in, leaving about 50 pages for a swift-moving account of the murder and its aftermath, which ends with Chapman in a maximum-security cell where “he will be protected from the ugliness of the outside world….The cell door slides shut and locks. Mark David Chapman smiles. I’m home.” To their credit, the authors at least don’t blame Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” for egging on the violence that killed him, but this book pales in comparison to Kenneth Womack’s John Lennon 1980 and Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life, among many other tomes on the Fab Four.

A thimbleful of fresh content lies buried in tales familiar and often told.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-42906-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2021

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IN COLD BLOOD

"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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