BREAKING BLUE by Timothy Egan

BREAKING BLUE

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Powerhouse story of an iconoclastic sheriff who cracked through 54 years of police coverups and solved the oldest open murder case in the country. Beginning with a brilliant evocation of 1935 Spokane and Pend Oreille County, Egan (Seattle bureau chief of The New York Times; The Good Rain, 1990) sets the scene for the killing of Spokane town marshal George Conniff, who had surprised men stealing butter from the local creamery. In the fifth year of the Depression, Spokane was full of reluctant hobos--many of them farmers who had fled the dust bowls of the Midwest--living, hungry for food and work, in a Hooverville by the local rail yards. The Spokane police regularly extorted sex, food, and money from these ``vagrants'' and collected also from the bootleggers, saloons, whorehouses, Chinese lotteries, and opium dens in the ``Queen City of the Richest Empire in the Western Hemisphere.'' When a shortage doubled the price of butter, 6'3'' rock-fisted Detective Clyde Ralstin and his partner profitably robbed dairies until the night that Conniff was killed. Ralstin was fingered for the killing by fellow detective Charles Sonnabend, but Sonnabend was ordered by the brass to stop investigating, and Ralstin disappeared. Fifty-four years later, in 1989, 47-year-old Sheriff Anthony Bamonte--former logger, Vietnam vet, Spokane cop--was writing his master's thesis on the ten previous sheriffs of Pend Oreille County and discovered a 1955 deathbed statement by Sonnabend about the coverup. Bamonte began to probe the case and, amazingly, men and women in their 80s and 90s who had known Ralstin came forward. Egan's narration of Bamonte's methodical stalking, of the ring of paranoia tightening around Ralstin (living in a tiny Montana town and knowing of the hunt), and of murder refusing to stay buried after 54 years--all make for compulsive, white-knuckle reading. Egan rises into the Most Wanted group of true-crime writers with this smoothly told, exciting account.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-58819-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1992




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