DEATH BENEFIT

A LAWYER UNCOVERS A TWENTY-YEAR PATTERN OF SEDUCTION, ARSON, AND MURDER

The nail-biting tale of a female serial killer and the lawyer who dogged her to justice. Although Heilbroner is an attorney himself (three years in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, described in his excellent Rough Justice, 1990), the crusading lawyer here is one Steven Keeney, a prim, conservative tax attorney from Louisville. A tenderfoot at criminal law, Keeney finds himself knee-deep in a murder investigation when the victim's mother approaches him in church to ask for help in settling a life-insurance claim. It seems that the insurance company is balking with good reason: Another policy had been taken out on the victim just one day before her mysterious death in a fall off a cliff in Big Sur. Suspicion settles on the creepily nondescript Virginia McGinnis, mother of the beneficiary and landlady of the deceased. As Keeney sniffs around, horrifying revelations come to light. McGinnis's three-year-old daughter died of accidental hanging—if it was an accident; her husband and mother also succumbed in suspicious circumstances, and in each case McGinnis collected life insurance. She lived in six homes in 20 years, and all of them burned to the ground. Her sons turned out to be killers themselves (``Virginia McGinnis was not just a murderer herself: She bred murderers,'' intones Heilbroner). The melodrama reaches fever pitch as Heilbroner flashes back to McGinnis's miserable childhood, a muddy mix of poverty and abuse that helps explain her adult pathological behavior. As the case knits tighter, Keeney's law practice unravels. But he never gives up, and, after a suspenseful trial, McGinnis is convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. Like a long but intense TV-movie (with even an extraneous love subplot between Keeney and a fellow lawyer thrown in): stock characters and real thrills. (Photos—not seen.)

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1993

ISBN: 0-517-58284-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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