A DEATH IN CANAAN by Joan Barthel
Kirkus Star


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The core of this book--part true crime and part sociology--is the pages showing, word for word, how a lie-detector test and adroit ""fatherly"" questioning tricked 18-year-old Peter Reilly into a muddled confession that he murdered his mother. Parents of teenagers who read these passages will no doubt warn them to keep silent should they fall into the hands of the police until they see a lawyer. But Peter didn't have parents of any foresight; fatherless, he had a heavy-drinking mother, adrift and on welfare, with whom he shared a one-bedroom cabin and a slipshod life. When she was found brutally murdered, the police picked him up and kept him, and his confession followed exhausting hours of little sleep and the kind of food that comes out of coin machines. Luckily, his town of Canaan, Connecticut, seems nice in the New England tradition, and starting with the parents of his friends, it rallied around him and eventually won him a new trial after attracting to the cause such intellectuals as Arthur Miller and William Styron, who writes an introduction to Barthel's careful, unsensationalized account. She broke the story in New Times early in 1974 before the first trial, which ended in his conviction. Except for the townspeople's diligence, it's a sad story, made more distressing because we never really know the mother and what alienated her from life, or the son, who was so easily persuaded that any man was his father.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1976
Publisher: Dutton