Fiona's True Crime Book Reviews: UVW by author
A Violent Act
When we read about violence, we hunger
for explanations that will reassure us that violence
is understandable, perhaps preventable. Yet this
elegantly written book--about a madman who kills
his probation officer then goes on a rampage of
carjackings, robberies, and more murders across southern
Indiana--offers only facts. As Christopher Lehmann-Haupt,
in the New York Times, writes, "Surprisingly,
one of the most powerful effects of A Violent Act
is to make you feel how callous to violence we've been
made ... By telling an apparently simple story yet not
presuming to understand what made it happen, Mr.
Wilkinson has restored the mystery and terror of
violence to their true and properly overwhelming scales."
This is true crime as an accomplished nonfiction writer
(portions of the book were first published in The
New Yorker) tells it: in a soft tone of voice, with
silences in which the pain and horror can be keenly felt.
The horrifying sex murders committed in southern Ontario by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka caught the attention of the media and public of Canada like few, if any, cases in that country's history. Readers of either of the two previous books about the case (Deadly Innocence and Lethal Marriage) may be skeptical that another one is necessary, but Invisible Darkness benefits from the author's prodigious research and his unique perspective on Karla's culpability. Stephen Williams had to jump numerous legal hurdles unique to Canada's "Crown disclosure" protocols, but eventually was able to get access to over 70 hours of videotaped police interviews with Karla, interviews with Paul by his defense attorney, and even psychiatrist's notes. And Williams is a good writer: he uses vivid vignettes to tell the story, and refrains from unnecessarily graphic details about the crimes. As the Winnipeg Free Press writes, "If any readers still believe [Homolka] was a victim of post-traumatic stress, abused into submission by Bernardo, this will put that idea to rest."
Robert Chambers was a handsome spoiled brat
whose doting mother was a private-duty nurse in
high society (her patients included a Kennedy and
a Hearst). Jennifer Levin lived with her parents
in an artsy loft in SoHo, and ran with a "wild" crowd
who spent late nights out at the trendy clubs. One
summer night in '86, Robert strangled Jennifer.
Linda Wolfe spends about 100 pages on "character
development," which this reviewer appreciated, but
some readers may find slow going. As the New York
Times puts it, "Stay with this book. . . . Once [Wolfe]
digs into her story, the narrative picks up, the fresh air of
firsthand observation and reporting blows her prose clean
of overwriting and awkward supposition, and the sad tale of
Jennifer and Robert begins to take on the quality of parable."
Most of all, it's a chilling parable about drugs in the '80s.
Wasted was a finalist for the 1990 Edgar Award in
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