A perturbing read that prods us to ponder guilt and innocence from new perspectives.

READ REVIEW

FACING THE WIND

A TRUE STORY OF TRAGEDY AND RECONCILIATION

A suspenseful, well-researched account of the life of a Brooklyn lawyer Robert Rowe, who murdered his wife and three children and escaped prison with the insanity plea in 1978.

Does mental illness excuse one from murder? Salamon (The Christmas Tree, 1996, etc.) draws on court and hospital records, Rowe’s diaries, and her interviews with the people who knew him to explore the psychological dynamics of his crime from every angle. His marriage to his first wife, Mary, seemed idyllic until their second son, Christopher, was born with severe visual and neurological impairments. Eventually the Rowes joined the Industrial Home for the Blind (IHB)—a support group in which parents, mostly mothers, discussed the emotional challenges of raising disabled children. The author’s sympathetic portraits of IHB members reveal that homicidal thoughts were common among such parents, forcing readers to realize the personal pressures that contributed to Rowe’s madness. During the 1970s, Rowe began to suffer from an undetermined mental illness that prevented him from working. Heeding what he claimed to be the wishes of his late mother, he bludgeoned his wife and three children to death with a baseball bat. Charged with four counts of second-degree murder, he was sent to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center for ten years. Salamon devotes the second half of her investigation to Rowe’s second wife, Colleen, who—although aware of Rowe’s crime—gave birth to his fourth child. In the final chapter, after Rowe has died of cancer, Salamon allows the women of IHB (who once admired the magnetic murderer) and Colleen to debate Rowe’s right to evade punishment and create a new family. While Salamon concludes that Rowe believed himself to be a victim of mental disability and refused to accept responsibility for his actions, she encourages readers to make the final judgments.

A perturbing read that prods us to ponder guilt and innocence from new perspectives.

Pub Date: April 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50022-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

A RIP IN HEAVEN

A MEMOIR OF MURDER AND ITS AFTERMATH

A wrenching tale of a notorious murder’s long echoes for its survivors.

Cummins terms her debut “both a true crime [story] and a memoir,” intending it to celebrate the lives of her young cousins, Julie and Robin Kerry, killed during a chance encounter in the summer of 1991. Traveling with her family from Washington, D.C., to vacation with relatives in St. Louis, Cummins ruefully recalls, “I thought I was tough.” On their last night in St. Louis, her older brother Tom snuck out with Julie and Robin; the rebellious 18-year-old rookie firefighter had developed a deep emotional bond with his cousins, both lovers of poetry and social justice. The trio went to the decrepit Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, where they ran into four local young men whose friendly demeanor quickly turned savage. The men beat Tom, raped Julie and Robin, then pushed all three into the raging Mississippi River. Only Tom survived, and his family’s horror was compounded when investigators inexplicably charged him with his cousins’ deaths. Tom was held for several grueling days before a flashlight found at the scene led authorities to the real killers, who quickly implicated one another. The least culpable accepted a 30-year plea; the others received death sentences. Identifying herself by her childhood nickname “Tink,” Cummins re-creates these dark events in an omniscient third-person narrative that lends the tale grim efficiency. Although her prose is occasionally purple (“Tink’s blood turned to ice and the room started to spin out from under her feet”), she succeeds overall in acquainting the reader with the horrific toll exacted by proximity to violence. The conclusion, which examines how the cruelest of the murderers became a cause célèbre thanks to his youth, offers astringent commentary on our society’s fascination with killers, who in media coverage often overshadow their victims. Cummins’s memoir does a good job of retrieving the lives of Julie and Robin from that obscurity.

Apt tribute to family endurance in the face of grievous loss.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-451-21053-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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