A Death in Belmont

A Death in Belmont

3.2 28
by Sebastian Junger
     
 

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"In 1963, with the city of Boston already terrified by a series of savage crimes known as the Boston Stranglings, a murder occurred in the quiet suburb of 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… See more details below

Overview

"In 1963, with the city of Boston already terrified by a series of savage crimes known as the Boston Stranglings, a murder occurred in the quiet suburb of 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 arrested, tried, and 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 who had often spent time there alone with Sebastian and his mother, confessed in lurid detail to being the Boston Strangler." This is the point of entry to Junger's book: a narrowly averted tragedy for Junger's family opens out into an electrifying exploration of race and justice in America. By turns exciting and subtle, the narrative chronicles three lives that collide - and are ultimately destroyed - in the vortex of one of the first and most controversial serial murder cases in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Gary Krist
… Junger has another tricky narrative to pull off. Without knowing who actually committed the crime, he can reliably infer only the broadest outlines of what happened in Belmont on the afternoon of March 11, 1963. 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.
— The Washington Post
Alan M. Dershowitz
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. Read in this manner, it is a worthy sequel to The Perfect Storm.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In 1963, Boston was plagued by a serial killer known as the Boston Strangler. In the neighboring town of Belmont, there was the murder of a woman that fit the profile of the Strangler, but a young black man named Roy Smith was convicted of the crime, and the stranglings continued. Handyman Albert DeSalvo later confessed to being the Strangler, but he never claimed credit for the murder in Belmont. Junger's captivating and intricately researched audiobook explores whether the killing was done by Smith, DeSalvo or someone else. Junger has a personal as well as journalistic interest in this case: DeSalvo worked at his boyhood home for several months, and the Belmont murder was not far from his neighborhood. Conway reads with an intense, serious passion and a deep, resonant tone, ideally suited to the somber subject. He shifts his voice into a perfect Boston accent when relating DeSalvo's own words and employs a number of other subtle inflections for other characters. A fascinating insight into the terror inspired by serial killers, this compelling look at the Boston Strangler case asks as many questions as it answers. Simultaneous release with the Norton hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 13). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1963, Junger (The Perfect Storm) was a child living with his mother and father in the Boston suburb of Belmont, MA. His mother was an artist and hired a local handyman to construct a studio inside her home. During that time, the Jungers' neighbor Bessie Goldberg was found strangled in her home. Her murder fit the pattern of a number of crimes that were taking place in the Boston area, committed by a person dubbed the "Boston Strangler." The last person seen leaving the house and the area was Roy Smith, an African American down on his luck, with a criminal record, who was hired to help clean the Goldberg home. He was arrested, charged, and convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. A few years later, Albert DeSalvo confessed to being the Boston Strangler but not to murdering Goldberg, even though he was in Belmont at the time. Smith died shortly after having his sentence commuted, and DeSalvo was killed in prison, so there is no one who can confirm or deny who killed Goldberg. Listeners will enjoy trying to figure out the identity of the murderer while hearing from those who knew DeSalvo, Smith, and Goldberg, people who give each of these three major characters a face and a personality. Well read by Kevin Conway, this is a wonderful book that should be added to all collections. Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of 1997's The Perfect Storm returns to his suburban-Boston childhood home to take a harrowing family encounter with the Boston Strangler and build it into a trenchant look at an era of great unrest. In the fall of 1963, as Boston cowered under a brutal series of rapes and murders, elderly Bessie Goldberg was found raped and strangled in her Belmont living room, just a few blocks from the house where one-year-old Sebastian Junger lived with his parents. Eight Boston-area women had already been murdered, so when the police arrested a black handyman who'd been cleaning Mrs. Goldberg's house that day, they were sure they'd finally found their serial killer. At the time, Junger's mother, an artist, was in the process of having a studio added to their house. One of the men working on it was a quiet, somewhat odd painter named Albert DeSalvo, who left the job the day after the Goldberg killing. It was several years after the cleaning man, Roy Smith, had been convicted and sentenced to life that DeSalvo identified himself to authorities as the Boston Stranger. Junger methodically examines the sordid, misshapen lives of both Smith and DeSalvo in his haunting narrative (occasionally marred by lengthy legalistic detours). Smith, who'd run afoul of the law early and often since his youth in Mississippi, staunchly maintained his innocence. DeSalvo, who'd essentially confessed to killing 13 other women, stubbornly refused to admit murdering Goldberg. Junger comes to no firm conclusions as he follows the developments, but his gripping, highly readable drama of crime and punishment highlights the random chance that often separates victim from survivor. In at least one unnerving instance,Junger's unsuspecting mother was alone in the house with the grinning, erratic DeSalvo, who in the midst of his murder spree found time to pose for a heartwarming portrait with baby Sebastian and his mom. A meticulously researched evocation of a time of terror, wrapped around a chilling, personal footnote.First serial to Vanity Fair
Boston Globe
The perfect story. . . . It's difficult to communicate, to those who have only read about it, the atmosphere of fear that gripped Boston during the rampage of the Boston Strangler. From 1962 to 1964, 13 women were strangled in their homes, possibly by the same killer. There was never a sign of forced entry. A horrifying crime from that time forms the background of Sebastian Junger's new book, A Death in Belmont.— David Mehegan
New York Post
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
Time
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
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Junger returns to the time and place of his earliest memories, and pieces together a remarkable and disturbing tale about crime and justice in America. You get the sense that this story has been incubating for a long time, and Junger's painstakingly researched and carefully reported book, with its clear, straightforward prose, has the dramatic power of a great novel. . . . 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
Boston Herald
With the same attention to detail he displayed in his previous bestseller The Perfect Storm, Junger looks at criminal prosecution in the decades before CSI would prompt juries to demand scientific evidence before sending a suspected killer to jail. And he raises questions about race in Boston in the 1960s. . . . Junger's book is a riveting read.— Michele McPhee
New York Times Book Review
Riveting. . . . a worthy sequel to The Perfect Storm.— Alan M. Dershowitz
David Mehegan - Boston Globe
“The perfect story. . . . It's difficult to communicate, to those who have only read about it, the atmosphere of fear that gripped Boston during the rampage of the Boston Strangler. From 1962 to 1964, 13 women were strangled in their homes, possibly by the same killer. There was never a sign of forced entry. A horrifying crime from that time forms the background of Sebastian Junger's new book, A Death in Belmont.”
William Georgiades - New York Post
“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.”
Lev Grossman - Time
“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.”
Brad Zellar - Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Junger returns to the time and place of his earliest memories, and pieces together a remarkable and disturbing tale about crime and justice in America. You get the sense that this story has been incubating for a long time, and Junger's painstakingly researched and carefully reported book, with its clear, straightforward prose, has the dramatic power of a great novel. . . . 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.”
Michele McPhee - Boston Herald
“With the same attention to detail he displayed in his previous bestseller The Perfect Storm, Junger looks at criminal prosecution in the decades before CSI would prompt juries to demand scientific evidence before sending a suspected killer to jail. And he raises questions about race in Boston in the 1960s. . . . Junger's book is a riveting read.”
Alan M. Dershowitz - New York Times Book Review
“Riveting. . . . a worthy sequel to The Perfect Storm.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616811648
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/03/2007
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
213,833
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Death in Belmont


By Sebastian Junger

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Sebastian Junger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061126667

Chapter One

One morning in the fall of 1962, when I was not yet one year old, my mother, Ellen, looked out the window and saw two men in our front yard. One was in his thirties and the other was at least twice that, and they were both dressed in work clothes and seemed very interested in the place where we lived. My mother picked me up and walked outside to see what they wanted.

They turned out to be carpenters who had stopped to look at our house because one of them -- the older man -- had built it. He said his name was Floyd Wiggins and that twenty years earlier he'd built our house in sections up in Maine and then brought them down by truck. He said he assembled it on-site in a single day. We lived in a placid little suburb of Boston called Belmont, and my parents had always thought that our house looked a little out of place. It had an offset salt-box roof and blue clapboard siding and stingy little sash windows that were good for conserving heat. Now it made sense: The house had been built by an old Maine carpenter who must have designed it after the farmhouses he saw all around him.

Wiggins now lived outside Boston and worked for the younger man, who introduced himself as Russ Blomerth. He had a painting job around the corner, Blomerthsaid, and that was why they were in the neighborhood. My mother said that the house was wonderful but too small and that she and my father were taking bids from contractors to build a studio addition out back. She was an artist, she explained, and the studio would allow her to paint and give drawing classes at home while keeping an eye on me. Would they be interested in the job? Blomerth said that he would be, so my mother put me in his arms and ran inside to get a copy of the architectural plans.

Blomerth's bid was the low one, as it turned out, and within a few weeks he, Wiggins, and a younger man named Al were in the backyard laying the foundation for my mother's studio. Some days all three men showed up, some days it was Blomerth and Wiggins, some days it was just Al. Around eight o'clock in the morning my mother would hear the bulkhead door slam, and then she'd hear footsteps in the basement as Al got his tools, and then a few minutes later she'd watch him cross the backyard to start work. Al never went into the main part of the house, but sometimes my mother would bring a sandwich out to the studio and keep him company while he ate lunch. Al talked a lot about his children and his German wife. Al had served with the American forces in postwar Germany and been the middleweight champion of the American army in Europe. Al was polite and deferential to my mother and worked hard without saying much. Al had dark hair and a powerful build and a prominent beak of a nose and was not, my mother says, an unhandsome man.

My mother was born in Canton, Ohio, the year of the stock market crash to a nightclub and amusement park owner named Carl Sinclair and his wife, Marjorie. Canton was a conservative little city that could be stifling to a woman who wanted more than a husband and children -- which, as it turned out, my mother did. She wanted to be an artist. At eighteen she moved to Boston, went to art school, and then rented a studio and started to paint. Her parents looked on with alarm. Young women of her generation did not pass up marriage for art, and that was exactly what my mother seemed to be doing. A few years went by and she hadn't married, and a decade went by and she still hadn't married, and by the time she met my father, Miguel, in the bar of the Ritz Hotel her parents had all but given up.

When my mother finally got married at age twenty-nine it was welcome news, but my father could not have been exactly what her parents had envisioned. The son of a Russian-born journalist who wrote in French, and a beautiful Austrian socialite, he had come to the United States during the war to escape the Nazis and study physics at Harvard. He spoke five languages, he could recite the names of most of the Roman emperors, and he had no idea how the game of baseball was played. He also had made it to age thirty-seven without getting married, which alarmed any number of my mother's female friends. Against their advice she eloped with him to San Francisco, and they were married by a judge at the city hall. A year later my mother got pregnant with me, and they bought a house in a pretty little suburb called Belmont.

The studio they built, when it was finally finished, had a high cement foundation set into a slight hill and end walls of fir planks with a steep-pitched shingle roof that came down almost to the ground. There was a Plexiglas skylight at the roof peak that poured light onto the tile floors, and there was a raised flagstone landing that my mother populated with large plants. The job was completed in the spring of 1963; by then Blomerth and Wiggins had moved on to other work, and Al was left by himself to finish up the last details and paint the trim. On one of those last days of the job, my mother dropped me off at my baby-sitter's and went into town to do some errands and then picked me up at the end of the day. We weren't home twenty minutes when the phone rang. It was the baby-sitter, an Irishwoman I knew as Ani, and she was in a panic. Lock up the house, Ani told my mother. The Boston Strangler just killed someone in Belmont.

Continues...


Excerpted from A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger Copyright © 2006 by Sebastian Junger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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