"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger possesses a chilling photo. It is of himself, barely a toddler, sitting on his young and happy mother's lap. Behind them stand two men, one, an unexceptional looking workman has a hammer jutting out of his pocket. The other, the central figure of the photo, stands with one enormous hand across his mid-riff. The second figure is Albert DeSalvo, convicted Boston Strangler. It is impossible to look at this photo and not feel the horror of not only what happened when 13 Boston area women were murdered, but what could have happened that would have changed the author's life forever.

Albert DeSalvo worked as a carpenter in the Junger home. Spent hours in their home alone with Sebastian and his mother. Seeing this photo, it is easy to see how the Boston Strangler case became an obsession with the author. Before the Strangler is apprehended an older woman is murdered in their neighborhood and a black drifter (Roy Smith) is tried and convicted of the crime.

So as an adult Junger explores this murder in his neighborhood, researches the man that was convicted and sent to jail for it, as well as the other crimes committed by DeSalvo. His conclusions? Inconclusive. It is possible that Roy Smith was sent to jail for a crime committed by DeSalvo. But Smith's life is so pointless it is hard to feel much empathy for him. He drops out of school in the 8th grade, and begins living a petty life of drinking, occaisonal jobs, and crime. He lived his life in a way that almost begged to be of interest to police.

Junger examines DeSalvo's life too, but not in enough new detail to make it interesting either. So by the time Junger publishes this book, DeSalvo is dead, Roy Smith is dead, most people associated with the Strangler case are dead. Some historic crimes and mis-application of laws are interesting. This is only mildly so and didn't warrant a new book on the matter.

I am someone interested in a compelling read, a cogent argument, a fresh insight, a thought provoking issue. I'm afraid none of these are to be found in this book. Open the fly-leaf, look at the photo, feel the horror it evokes, and move on.

No comments: