THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN

The Atlanta child murders comprise the starting point for this virtuoso polemic against racism in America. Baldwin writes bluntly: "Others may see American progress in economic, racial and social affairs—I do not." It is this distinctive Baldwinian voice of outrage that powers his penetrating examination of why color still divides America. Baldwin thinks that Wayne Williams, the black man accused of the murders of 28 black children over a 22-month period, was railroaded. No matter that his conviction was presided over by a black judge in a Southern city governed by a black mayor. Williams was prosecuted under intense pressure to close a case that might tarnish Atlanta's reputation as a "city too busy to hate." A black administration's presence, says Baldwin, did not change the fact that the legal system served the commercial interests of a booming Southern city. To consider this only as an issue of class, contends Baldwin, is a denial by blacks and whites alike of America's legacy of slavery. He writes that ". . .this country, in toto, from Atlanta to Boston, to Texas to California, is not so much a vicious racial caldron—many, if not most countries are that—as a paranoid color wheel." By sketching the emergence of the black middle class and its complicity in maintaining the "white" rules, and the white flight from the city to the suburbs—leaving a mostly black, impoverished city. Baldwin describes how the wheel goes round. And its consequence remains: How do you become "white" enough to get up and out of the ghetto? Ironically, it was the rage of the parents of the murdered children that set Atlanta's color wheel spinning. Once they provoked national attention, according to Baldwin, the pressure to solve the crimes began. Until then, no one was ". . .compelled to hear the needs of a captive population."Baldwin delivers his judgment in cranky, idiosyncratic exposition that links the state of race relations with the prosecution of Williams. He details the official maneuvering that brought Williams to trial and the extraordinary legal decision to charge him with the murders of two black men, but permit the accusations and evidence of all the children's murders to be discussed at his trial. Baldwin has penetrated a sensational crime with his considerable novelist's skill for seeing things the rest of us don't. In the process, he's delivered a stinging indictment of racial stagnation.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1985

ISBN: 1568495757

Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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

THUNDERSTRUCK

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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