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Books by the Blogger:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Baum, L. Frank: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Main | Downs, Tim: Plague Maker »

Junger, Sebastian: A Death in Belmont

  

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Norton © 2006, 266 pages [amazon]
4.5 stars 

On March 11, 1963 a 63-year-old woman, Bessie Goldberg, was found murdered in her home in Belmont, Massachusetts. She'd  been strangled and raped and apparently robbed, and it became clear to police within hours that her attacker was most likely Roy Smith, the man who'd  been sent out to clean the Goldberg house that day by the Massachusetts Division of Employment Security. There was no physical evidence linking Smith to the crime, but the circumstantial evidence against him was powerful, and in the end it proved sufficient for a conviction.

A look in DeSalvo's eyes as he asked her to come downstairs--something inexplicably threatening--prompted her to refuse to join him and to close and lock the basement door.Bessie Goldberg's murder fell toward the end of the spate of Boston Strangler killings that terrorized the Boston area  between mid-1962 and early 1964. The Strangler's victims were both old and young, black and white. They were strangled with stockings or belts--whatever lay at hand--sometimes raped and sometimes not, killed swiftly and apparently without much or any struggle. There were never signs of forced entry: the Strangler talked his way into his victims' homes.

The Goldberg murder had many of the earmarks of a Boston Strangler murder, so much so that the police initially thought that in catching Goldberg's killer, Roy Smith, they had caught the Strangler. This proved not to be the case, however, and in 1965 Albert DeSalvo, who had a history of sexual offenses, claimed to be the Strangler. DeSalvo confessed to killing thirteen women.  He did not confess to killing Bessie Goldberg.

In A Death in Belmont Sebastian Junger (the author of A Perfect Storm) tells the story of the Goldberg murder in the context of the Boston Strangler's crimes. Junger considers the possibility that Bessie Goldberg was in fact a fourteenth victim of the Strangler, that DeSalvo entered the Goldberg home unseen on March 11th some time between 3:05 in the afternoon, when Smith left the house, and 3:50, when Bessie's husband returned home to find her dead. Junger leads readers through the histories of both men, their crimes and incarcerations. His account touches also on a host of related  topics--racism in the American south (Roy Smith was a black man originally from Oxford, Mississippi), the legal issues surrounding the Smith case, conditions in a number of prisons during the period, the Kennedy assassination.

The story Junger tells is inherently interesting, and he is able to put a personal spin on it that makes the book at times downright chilling. Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, was one of three men who built a studio in the back yard of Junger's home when the author was a baby, starting in the fall of 1962. During the period in which he was employed at the Junger house, that is, laying the studio's foundation or painting trim or eating sandwiches alongside Junger's mother, DeSalvo also killed a number of women. And he was at the Junger house for part of March 11, 1963, the day that Bessie Goldberg was killed: the Goldbergs lived less than a mile and a half from the Junger home.

It's creepy enough to have had a serial killer working in your yard, stowing tools in your basement. Creepier yet is the story Junger's mother tells of the day DeSalvo showed up for work alone and tried to lure her into the cellar. A look in DeSalvo's eyes as he asked her to come downstairs--something inexplicably threatening--prompted her to refuse to join him and to close and lock the basement door.

Junger's account of the Goldberg murder and the DeSalvo slayings is well-researched and well-written, filled with wonderfully evocative descriptions of place. The author does a very good job of getting difficult information across in easily digested, uncomplicated prose. Junger also succeeds in raising some doubt about the guilt of Roy Smith, an agenda of the author's that has not set well with Bessie Goldberg's daughter. But he does so in a fair-minded way, giving due attention to the evidence implicating Smith and to Smith's responsibility, even if he should be innocent, for living the sort of life that would make him a plausible suspect in such a case. In the end Junger is left with no clear conclusion about Smith's guilt or innocence, and readers are free to consider the evidence themselves.

A handful of typos mar the book, which would have been improved also by the inclusion of a timeline detailing the various Strangler murders and the particulars of the Goldberg murder and trial. Otherwise highly recommended. An excellent read.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.