Mixing fascinating investigation and macabre memoir, this is a dark ride with substance.




The apparent suicide of a stranger becomes both the subject of an author’s true-crime investigation and the catalyst for her intimate memoir.

Brottman (Humanities/Maryland Institute Coll. of Art; The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison, 2016, etc.) opens this compelling, often creepy book with a “Missing” poster she spotted on her morning walk, asking for information about a strikingly handsome young man named Rey Rivera. His image stuck with her, and when his decomposing body was found in an unoccupied office in the building where Brottman lives, an obsession was born. That building is the Belvedere Hotel, a Baltimore landmark built in 1903. Rivera went off the top of the 13-story building and plunged through the roof of a smaller building. By all accounts, Rivera was a happy newlywed with a thriving business, a former Olympic-caliber water polo player who charmed everyone; in short, he was an unlikely candidate for suicide. Brottman, a scholar and psychoanalyst who often writes about true crime, spent a decade trying to understand his death, meeting mysteries at nearly every turn. Why did the Baltimore police seemingly conduct only a cursory investigation? Did Rivera’s death have anything to do with his former employment with Agora, a multimillion-dollar financial advising firm entangled with legal problems and conspiracy theories? Woven into Rivera’s story is the author’s own: her striking sense of being invisible to other people and her fascination with death (she catalogs historical suicides at the Belvedere). She writes of a police description of another suicide, “I felt I had found exactly what I am looking for—a crack in the surface of things that shows me the world is not the place I have assumed it to be….I am not a gawker: I am a connoisseur.”

Mixing fascinating investigation and macabre memoir, this is a dark ride with substance.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-16914-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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