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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

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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Kindle | paperback (UK)

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


Kindle | paperback (US)
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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

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)

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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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Nelson, Maggie: The Red Parts

  Amazon  

4 stars

In 1969 twenty-three-year-old Jane Mixer was murdered--shot twice and horribly strangled--and dragged into a cemetery in Michigan, where her body was found the next morning. At the time her murder was believed to have been one of the "Michigan Murders," the work of a serial killer who had raped and murdered six other young woman around the same time. But in 2004 genetic evidence from the crime scene indicated that Jane's murder was not committed by the now incarcerated serial killer but by a different man, Gary Earl Leiterman, a retired nurse. Given the evidence, the chances that someone other than Leiterman committed the crime are about 171.7 trillion to one. The brutal murder has haunted the victim's family, including Jane's niece, Maggie Nelson, who was not yet born in 1969. Nelson wrote this account of the crime and the trial of Leiterman with some misgivings, feeling some shame over--if I understand her corrrectly--making something private public, over further exposing Jane's suffering to the world: it's the shame of someone gawking at an accident at the side of a highway, I suppose.

The Red Parts is not a straightforward account of the murder and the family's reaction to it. Rather, the book is primarily about how the murder affected the author's life, how Jane's violent death still stained lives in the second generation. It's a sad book, not just because of the murder but because of the other deaths and near deaths and wrenching difficulties that Nelson has experienced: her father's early death from natural causes, a boyfriend's near overdose, a murder she witnessed, her parents' divorce, her older sister's adolescent life on the dark side. Nelson has flirted with the dark side herself, engaging in self-destructive behavior, fantasizing a bit too much about suicide. Jane's murder may have cast a pall on the family, but one suspects that things would have been movie-of-the-week miserable for Nelson even without that back story.

The Red Parts is written in spare prose that goes down easy, so it's a very quick read, and the story is inherently interesting. But you may find yourself annoyed at Nelson's sometimes bloodless reaction to the prosecution of her aunt's murderer. Granted, one cannot know how one might feel in similar circumstances, but I'm pretty sure a thought such as this would never cross my mind:

"Over the course of the trial my mother [Jane's sister] and I had each wondered aloud to one another whether Leiterman should 'pay' for Jane's murder (assuming he committed it) by being the best father, grandfather, girls' softball coach, nurse, whatever that he can be--presuming, of course, that he is no longer a danger to anyone."

This sentiment seems to me of a piece with the author's "deep-seated opposition to capital punishment." (Capital punishment wasn't in fact in question in this case, since Michigan doesn't have the death penalty.) But while reasonable people may disagree about the efficacy of capital punishment, it is to my mind thoroughly unreasonable to imagine for even a moment that being a really good grandfather, etc., is sufficient payment for having twice shot a young woman and then strangled her with stockings until her neck was the diameter of a toilet paper tube.

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