Burke’s colorful and creepy debut takes a Grisham-esque ride through both the legal system and the mind of a killer.
In July of 1984, heavyset boating enthusiast Leonard “The Quahog” Paradiso was convicted for the murder of a young Boston native named Marie Iannuzzi. A quarter-century later, veteran prosecutor Burke remains certain that Iannuzzi wasn’t Paradiso’s only victim. He believes The Quahog was responsible for seven or more killings and nearly as many rapes, including that of Joan Webster, whose 1981 disappearance from Boston’s Logan airport dominated the headlines. With the single-minded fury of a true believer in the legal system, Burke has done everything within his power to prove that Paradiso is a genuine serial killer. Add in some cops out of a Dennis Lehane story, some lawyers out of a Richard North Patterson novel and an oddball assortment of witnesses and jurors, and you’ve got a gripping story. Unlike many true-crime books that claim to read like a novel, this book actually does feel like fiction, primarily because it more or less adheres to a three-act structure and is loaded with vibrant, cinematic dialogue. Whether or not that dialogue is totally accurate is another issue—there’s undoubtedly plenty of dramatic license on Burke’s part—but from a readability standpoint, it works. Burke also does a solid job with characterizations. His portrayal of Paradiso is properly frightening, and most of the secondary players are well fleshed out. One minor quibble is Burke’s incessant use of casual grammar within the dialogue: Does everybody in Boston really say “shoulda,” “coulda” and “hafta” all the time?
While at times a bit breathless and overdramatic, this deserves mention alongside Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter (1974) and Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac (1986) as a stellar exploration of the soul of a mass murderer.