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A DEATH IN BELMONT

A meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote.

The author of 1997’s The Perfect Storm returns to his suburban-Boston childhood home to take a harrowing family encounter with the Boston Strangler and build it into a trenchant look at an era of great unrest.

In the fall of 1963, as Boston cowered under a brutal series of rapes and murders, elderly Bessie Goldberg was found raped and strangled in her Belmont living room, just a few blocks from the house where one-year-old Sebastian Junger lived with his parents. Eight Boston-area women had already been murdered, so when the police arrested a black handyman who’d been cleaning Mrs. Goldberg’s house that day, they were sure they’d finally found their serial killer. At the time, Junger’s mother, an artist, was in the process of having a studio added to their house. One of the men working on it was a quiet, somewhat odd painter named Albert DeSalvo, who left the job the day after the Goldberg killing. It was several years after the cleaning man, Roy Smith, had been convicted and sentenced to life that DeSalvo identified himself to authorities as the Boston Stranger. Junger methodically examines the sordid, misshapen lives of both Smith and DeSalvo in his haunting narrative (occasionally marred by lengthy legalistic detours). Smith, who’d run afoul of the law early and often since his youth in Mississippi, staunchly maintained his innocence. DeSalvo, who’d essentially confessed to killing 13 other women, stubbornly refused to admit murdering Goldberg. Junger comes to no firm conclusions as he follows the developments, but his gripping, highly readable drama of crime and punishment highlights the random chance that often separates victim from survivor. In at least one unnerving instance, Junger’s unsuspecting mother was alone in the house with the grinning, erratic DeSalvo, who in the midst of his murder spree found time to pose for a heartwarming portrait with baby Sebastian and his mom.

A meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-05980-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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UNDER THE BRIDGE

A tour-de-force of true crime reportage.

Godfrey reconstructs a horrific murder with a vividness found in the finest fiction, without ever sacrificing journalistic integrity.

The novel The Torn Skirt (2002) showed how well the author could capture the roiling inner life of a teenager. She brings that sensibility to bear in this account of the 1997 murder of a 14-year-old girl in British Columbia, a crime for which seven teenage girls and one boy were charged. While there’s no more over-tilled literary soil than that of the shocking murder in a small town, Godfrey manages to portray working-class View Royal in a fresh manner. The victim, Reena Virk, was a problematic kid. Rebelling against her Indian parents’ strict religiosity, she desperately mimicked the wannabe gangsta mannerisms of her female schoolmates, who repaid her idolization by ignoring her. The circumstances leading up to the murder seem completely trivial: a stolen address book, a crush on the wrong guy. But popular girls like Josephine and Kelly had created a vast, imaginary world (mostly stolen from mafia movies and hip-hop) in which they were wildly desired and feared. In this overheated milieu, reality was only a distant memory, and everything was allowed. The murder and cover-up are chilling. Godfrey parcels out details piecemeal in the words of the teens who took part or simply watched. None of them seemed to quite comprehend what was going on, why it happened or even—in a few cases—what the big deal was. The tone veers close to melodrama, but in this context it works, since the author is telling the story from the inside out, trying to approximate the relentlessly self-dramatizing world these kids inhabited. Given most readers’ preference for easily explained and neatly concluded crime narratives, Godfrey’s resolute refusal to impose false order on the chaos of a murder spawned by rumors and lies is commendable.

A tour-de-force of true crime reportage.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-1091-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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