Sunday, April 30, 2006

#36 - A Death In Belmont

I picked up Sebastian Junger's latest nonfiction work, A Death in Belmont, on that very afternoon where I wasted my hard-earned money on Plum "No Plot" Sykes. This is the book I should have been reading; this is a book that deserves to be bought.

Junger's story of how his family came into contact with the man who eventually claimed, and then denied, that he was the Boston Strangler, is fascinating. An older woman, Bessie Goldberg, was raped and then strangled in the affluent suburb of Belmont where Junger and his family lived. A black man, Roy Smith, who was cleaning the Goldberg's house that day, was charged and convicted of her murder. Years later, a manual labourer, Al DeSalvo, eventually comes under suspicion of actually committing the crime, meaning Smith was innocent.

Junger's book attempts to find absolute truth where none truly exists, who really killed Bessie Goldberg? Was Roy Smith innocent? Did Al DeSalvo kill her? It's murder mystery with no happy ending (all of those involved are now dead; any evidence has either been destroyed by time or the necessity of space), and without any clear indication of the truth being uncovered any time soon, all he can do is hypothesize about what might have taken place, from all sides of the story.

As much a conversation about race as it is about the truth, as much an investigation of how far the legal system in the States has changed since the early 1960s as it's about the idea of wrongful conviction, A Death in Belmont is my favourite kind of nonfiction, the kind that reads like fiction.

Although, I'm not convinced, like a lot of nonfiction, that it's not just an extended magazine article with a lot of extraneous details thrown in, on the whole, Junger has a great tone to his written voice and I even didn't mind how he used his personal ties to the story to pull everything together (Capote would be horrified! The use of the first person! Argh!)

Much more entertaining than Plum "Harlequin Can Kiss My Ass" Sykes.

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