A Death in Belmont

I’m not sure how to describe this. It’s not a history of the Boston Strangler murders in the early 1960s. It’s not an account of a – very likely – miscarriage of justice. Nor is it a personal memoir by the author, who was living near the scene of one of those murders when it happened; he wasn’t even one year old.

Instead it’s all three, and if that sounds confusing and puts you off, don’t let it. This is as riveting a read as Sebastian Junger’s earlier The Perfect Storm, with every page written in the cool, methodical, no-word-wasted style of the very best American journalism. No literary flourishes. No pyrotechnic displays of vocabulary. Just a clean, straightforward determination to grab the reader’s attention and hold it.

And he does. What’s more, he does it with the three separate strands I mentioned at the beginning, weaving in and out of his mother’s encounter with the murderer; the arrest, trial and conviction of a man who very likely never killed anybody; and the murders themselves.

At no point is any of this confusing. The reader is never in any doubt about what’s happening. And the storytelling is so masterly that the only reason to stop is because it’s late at night and you’re too tired to continue; at least, that’s the way it was with me.

It’s only March, but as far as I’m concerned I’ve already read one of the best books of the year.

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