three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-DeathInBelmontIn the spring of 1963, New England was held rapt by the increasing body count of the Boston Strangler, one of the country’s most notorious serial killers. When the elderly Bessie Goldberg, a resident of the Boston suburb of Belmont, was brutally raped and murdered, Roy Smith, a black laborer, was sentenced to life in prison for the crime. Sebastian Junger believes that the real killer may have been none other than Albert DeSalvo, a carpenter in the Junger house during that time and the man eventually convicted for the Strangler’s 13 murders. Junger studies the evidence and records his own thoughts on the unnerving coincidence. How close, the author wonders, was his own mother to becoming the Strangler’s 14th victim?
Norton. 320 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0393059804.

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Sebastian Junger knows a good story when he comes across one. … What gives this book appeal above and beyond the usual true-crime caper is Junger’s stake in the story." Alan Gottlieb

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Junger has produced a terrific and provocative book that addresses such subjects as race, crime, our notions of justice, and the mysteries of criminal pathology without ever losing its narrative drive. It would be difficult, in fact, to find a recent American novel that says as much about so many of the important issues of our time, and says it so compellingly." Brad Zellar

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"[Junger’s premise], however plausible, would substitute speculation for fact, and Mr. Junger ultimately saves his journalistic credentials by admitting as much. … More than 40 years later, it simply is too late to prove anything of real usefulness about the Strangler." John Gamino

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Although he acknowledges that ‘often the truth simply isn’t knowable’—and that this story is ‘far messier’ than the perfect one he has grown up with—he still tries too hard to fit the messy facts into his payoff narrative. … A Death in Belmont must be read with the appropriate caution that should surround any work of nonfiction in which the author is seeking a literary or dramatic payoff." Alan M. Dershowitz

Wall Street Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers expecting Mr. Junger to have unearthed new evidence pointing to DeSalvo as Bessie Goldberg’s murderer will be disappointed; there isn’t any." Joshua Marquis

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2 of 5 Stars
"The publisher boldly compares A Death in Belmont to In Cold Blood, but it is too flatly written to approach Truman Capote’s masterpiece. Given the absence of a smoking gun, Junger goes for the epistemological water pistol, spraying readers with triteness disguised as wisdom." Andrea Simakis

Critical Summary

Junger follows up his best-selling A Perfect Storm (1997) and Fire (2001), a collection of magazine pieces, with a book positing that his own mother was fortunate to have escaped Albert DeSalvo with her life. Few critics contest Junger’s talent as a storyteller, his eye for engaging detail, and the irresistible hook. His latest effort makes the most of the connection between his family and DeSalvo, though it struggles to recreate the immediacy and shattering suspense that characterize his earlier work. The author’s search for truth, no matter how close to home, yields to the passing of time. Questions unanswered for four decades remain shrouded in history.