A numbing, sorrowful tale of teenagers drawn to murder, artfully structured by Boston Globe staffers Lehr (Black Mass, 2000) and Zuckoff (Choosing Naia, 2002).
The story opens in Chelsea, a hardscrabble, working-class Vermont town, quiet and conservative, though its remoteness drew a small counter-cultural population as well. Chelsea was home to Robert Tulloch and Jim Parker, high-schoolers with a lot of time on their hands and not-unexpected dreams of escape and adventure. Fulfilling them would take money. Among the dubious schemes the pair concocted, by far the most outlandish was a plan to rob a household of substance, not forgetting to kill the inhabitants, for there was rage percolating amid the boys’ dreams. They carried out the act across the river in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College and “conformist preppies,” murdering college professors Half and Susanne Zantop on January 27, 2001. Lehr and Zuckoff handle many strings with great dexterity: the nature of the two towns, the backgrounds of the individuals involved, the police work that solved the crime, and the horror of the murder itself. They are not content, however, with laying out facts; they want to know why. After all, lots of kids from sleepy towns want out, but they don't resort to murder. What sets this apart is the authors’ character study of Robert Tulloch, whose textbook-quality psychopathology becomes increasingly evident. Robert has delusions of grandeur, totally lacks conscience and empathy, and is heartbreakingly adept at manipulating people, all the while wrapping up his manias in a package of normalcy. Lehr and Zuckoff shift their attention back and forth between towns and families, daily lives and the gradual slip-slide of Tulloch and Parker, keeping readers both informed and slightly off balance, so that when they describe what actually happened on the day of the crime, it seems at once unspeakable and inescapable.
Emotionally draining. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)