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.