RAMPAGE by William P. Wood


Email this review


The trial of a psychotic mass-murderer, centering on the controversial insanity plea--in a generally solid, often-absorbing novel that's marred by sentimental padding, an unsatisfying ending, and (throughout) the heavy anti-insanity-plea bias of the ex-D.A. author. In the opening chapters, we see--rather more vividly than absolutely necessary--the crimes being committed: young Charlie Reece shoots his California victims in their homes, execution-style, then commits grotesque acts of sodomy and mutilation, drinking his victims' blood to satisfy his paranoid delusions. After two rampages, he's identified and arrested. But young D.A. Tony Fraser--who's struggling with workaholism, a crumbling marriage, and memories of a child who died--won't have an easy time getting what he so intensely wants: the death penalty for Charlie Reece. First, there are some irregularities in the search for evidence at the Reece home: to prevent the possibility of Reece going free on a technicality, Fraser fudges the legalities, lies to the grand jury. Later, when the case goes to trial, a key piece of evidence has been lost (!)--so Fraser substitutes a lookalike substitute, sure that no one will notice. And, above all, there's Reece's ""built-in insanity plea"": only someone crazy could have committed such crimes--though Fraser truly believes that, according to the legal definition (""an ability to appreciate the nature and quality of one's actions""), Reece is sane, even wily and clever. (Some readers won't quite agree.) Lots of conflicting expert testimony ensues; Reece is ultimately found guilty, sane, and sentenced to death. But, because of those tamperings with the evidence, Fraser fears what will happen on appeal. . . and takes the law into his own hands. This last-chapter windup is unconvincing; it also destroys the novel's delicate balance of themes involving justice, revenge, and due process. And Fraser is never a fully-drawn enough hero to support his frequent personal broodings. Still, though variously flawed, and far from a definitive dramatization of the insanity plea's pros and cons, this is stark, gritty courtroom/backroom drama most of the way through--from arraignment to grand jury, from picking the judge and jury to final summations.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's