MAMA'S BOY

THE TRUE STORY OF A SERIAL KILLER AND HIS MOTHER

The freakish tale of wife-killer Eric Napoletano and the mother who protected him from the police. Napoletano was reared in New York City by his racist mother, Carolyn, and a smarmy hustler he referred to as ``Uncle Al.'' Al and Carolyn disliked each other but doted on Eric, a surly youth with a taste for Hispanic and black women, those his mother hated most. Napoletano's victims—a girlfriend, a mother-in-law, and his second wife—were murdered with great savagery, and it's clear from phone records and witnesses cited by Pienciak (Murder at 75 Birch, 1992, etc.) that Al and Carolyn knew about the killings. Napoletano, a onetime trucker, dumped the mutilated bodies of his girlfriend and wife along rural roads near New York. He simply shot his mother-in-law in the street. His mother worked for the NYPD and managed to destroy records and files pertaining to her son's crimes. The story is bizarre, and the players uniquely evil, but the narrative is curiously dry and frequently dull. The details of the crimes are vague since Pienciak gives only the most cursory explanations of how they were carried out. It's clear that Eric's sadism had something to do with events in his childhood, but no theories about its origins are offered, and the details given here of Eric's trial for the murder of his wife are hopelessly muddled. The book works best in the brief sections where we are given Carolyn's own corrosive words, which do tell us concretely about these hideous lives. Pienciak's sarcastic tone, from the book's title to his mockery of Carolyn's appearance, repeatedly disrupts the narrative, which never adequately explains what happened, or why. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-93851-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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