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A Death in Belmont (P.S.)by Sebastian Junger
An absorbing crime story about the Boston stranglings, Junger's exceptional narrative re-examines the killings of the early '60s, with a focus on one murder not associated with Albert DeSalvo, the convicted serial killer. A disturbing story on many levels, Junger's account reflects on race and justice in America, and equals the storytelling of his previous book, The Perfect Storm.
"The result is a book full of unanswered questions — a book that is at once less satisfying and yet even more intriguing and unsettling than The Perfect Storm....Junger adeptly pulls together the various elements of this complex narrative, setting accounts of the Goldberg murder trial and Roy Smith's history against the backdrop of the Strangler hysteria that gripped the public for the better part of two years." Gary Krist, The Washington Post Book World (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
Synopses & Reviews
In 1963, with the city of Boston already terrified by a series of savage crimes known as the Boston Stranglings, a murder occurred in Belmont, just a few blocks from the house of Sebastian Junger's family — a murder that seemed to fit exactly the pattern of the Strangler. Roy Smith, a black man who had cleaned the victim's house that day, was convicted, but the terror of the Strangler continued.
Two years later, Albert DeSalvo, a handyman who had been working at the Jungers' home on the day of the Belmont murder, and had often spent time there alone with Sebastian and his mother, confessed in lurid detail to being the Boston Strangler.
By turns exciting and subtle, A Death in Belmont chronicles three lives that collide — and are ultimately destroyed — in the vortex of one of the most controversial serial murder cases in America. The power of the story and the brilliance of Junger's reporting place this book on the short shelf of classics beside In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter.
"Bessie Goldberg was strangled to death in her home in Belmont, a Boston suburb, in March of 1963 — right in the middle of the Boston Strangler's killing spree. Her death has not usually been associated with the other Strangler killings because Roy Smith, a black man who was working in Goldberg's house that day, was convicted of her murder on strong circumstantial evidence. But another man was working in Belmont that day: Albert DeSalvo, who later confessed to being the Boston Strangler, was doing construction work in the home of Junger's parents (the author himself was a baby). Could DeSalvo have slipped away and killed Bessie Goldberg? Junger's taut narrative makes dizzying hairpin turns as he considers all the evidence for, and against, Smith or DeSalvo being Goldberg's killer; he also reviews the more familiar case for and against DeSalvo being the Strangler — for there are serious questions about his confession. As Junger showed in his bestselling The Perfect Storm, he's a hell of a storyteller, and here he intertwines underlying moral quandaries — was racism a factor in Smith's conviction? How to judge when the truth in this case is probably unknowable? — with the tales of two men: Smith, a ne'er-do-well from a racist South who rehabilitated himself before dying in prison; DeSalvo, a sexual predator raised by a violent father who was stabbed to death in prison. This perplexing story gains an extra degree of creepiness from Junger's personal connection to it." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An intriguing crime story that also contains painful truths about race and justice in America." Booklist
"[Junger's] ripping, highly readable drama of crime and punishment highlights the random chance that often separates victim from survivor....A meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote." Kirkus Reviews
"As usual, Junger has written a well-documented page-turner that leaves us wanting more....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[R]iveting....A Death in Belmont, though nonfiction, reads like a novel. Its narrative line is crisp....[A] worthy sequel to The Perfect Storm." Alan M. Dershowitz, The New York Times Book Review
"[A]s A Death in Belmont shows, [Junger is] a hell of a storyteller....In the end, you can't help feeling that A Death in Belmont might have made a better magazine article than a 266-page book. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly
"Sebastian Junger knows a good story when he comes across one. Fortunately for his readers, he also know how to flesh out such stories and then tell them in a beguiling and silky prose style." Denver Post
"The publisher boldly compares A Death in Belmont to In Cold Blood, but it is too flatly written to approach Truman Capote's masterpiece. Junger can quickly slide into the prosaic, though here his sentences serve his topic well enough." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A Death in Belmont investigates the puzzling, lurid drama of the Boston Strangler....In a book as good as this one, conjecture rings with the force of conviction." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
"Junger's failure to couch his material in a consistently compelling narrative is the problem. And for all their fleshing out, his tragic characters remain curiously flat as well." Chicago Sun-Times
"4 stars....Sebastian Junger's first brush with horror came early....Wondering if DeSalvo may have killed his neighbor, Junger exhumes the evidence in both cases. He recounts the crimes and trials and interviews witnesses, including his parents. As he goes deeper, the story becomes that much more awful, a commentary on racial assumptions and the illusion of suburban safety." William Georgiades, New York Post
"In DeSalvo's dark world, Junger's clear, beautifully reasonable writing is the literary equivalent of night-vision goggles....He's navigating a maze of shadows, and you can see all the more clearly what an enormously skillful prose artist he is." Lev Grossman, Time
In the spring of 1963, the quiet suburb of Belmont, Massachusetts, is rocked by a shocking murder that fits the pattern of the infamous Boston Strangler, still at large. Hoping for a break in the case, the police arrest Roy Smith, a black ex-con whom the victim hired to clean her house. Smith is hastily convicted of the murder, but the Strangler's terror continues. And through it all, one man escapes the scrutiny of the police: a carpenter working at the time at the Belmont home of young Sebastian Junger and his parents—a man named Albert
From the acclaimed author of A Perfect Storm comes a powerful chronicle of three lives that collide in the vortex of one of America's most controversial serial murder cases.
About the Author
Sebastian Junger is the author of Fire and the international bestseller The Perfect Storm. He has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.
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