True Crime With a Personal Twist

Thursday, June 21, 2012

As much as I love mysteries, I've never been a huge fan of true crime books.  I think it has something to do with not wanting to contribute to voyeuristic, tabloid culture.  After all, you can hardly turn on the television without seeing a 20/20, 48 Hours, etc...special dissecting in minute, excruciating detail every thrilling part of the crime.  But sometimes a book comes along that intrigues me enough to pick it up.  A Death in Belmont is one of those books.

A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger tells the story of The Boston Strangler, but using the context of a black man named Roy Smith, who was convicted of a murder in the suburb of Bemont, MA.  The murder fit the profile of the Strangler murders, but there was enough circumstantial evidence to convince police that TBGDI-"the black guy did it".  Later, when Albert DeSalvo confessed to the killings, he never confessed to the killing that Smith was convicted of.  What made gave it a personal twist was the fact that during the time of the killings, DeSalvo was working on a construction project for Junger's family, and may in fact have left the Junger home to commit the Belmont murder.  All pf the principle players died before the complete story was revealed, and experts differ on whether the Belmont murder was a miscarriage of justice against a black man by a racist justice system, or whether Smith did in fact commit the crime.

A Death in Belmont is well researched, and Junger doles out the facts and his own speculation in a well-paced account.  He goes back and forth recounting the movements of Smith, DeSalvo, the detectives, and his own family from chapter to chapter.  In the end he makes a pretty good case for his theory of the crime.  And, of course, what makes the whole things that much creepier is the idea that while he was an infant, his mother spent her days caring for him in the company of one of the most prolific serial killers of the 20th century.  Junger's writing is compelling, and even though he goes into pretty exhaustive detail I never felt bogged down by facts or overwhelmed by the amount of information.  If true crime is your thing, this book will probably suit you quite well.

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