Darrell Mease, the Ozarks-born convicted murderer who got a death row intervention from Pope John Paul II in 1998 (the execution was to take place on the day the Pope visited St. Louis), is at the center of this true crime saga. Cuneo (American Exorcism) follows Mease from his religious upbringing in the backwoods of Missouri, through his tour in Vietnam and baptism into the crystal methamphetamines trade to his love affair with Mary Epps and brutal murder of a drug kingpin, his wife and disabled grandson. Cuneo looks closely at Mease's time in prison, where he rediscovers religion and, while professing "God is my lawyer," is miraculously delivered from lethal injection just as he predicted he would be. Cuneo's detailed descriptions of the virtues (loyalty, self-reliance, faith, family) and negatives (violence, chemical dependency, lawlessness) of the Ozarks' culture not only fleshes out Mease's personality but also vividly portrays this overlooked area of Americana. Cuneo's skillful writing allows him to convey the romantic notions of Mease's outlaw ways and travels on America's back roads, while never romanticizing the violence or the hand-to-mouth living. The book could use a little more analysis, however, on the impact Vietnam and crystal meth had on Mease's psyche and behavior. When all is said and done, one cannot help but appreciate Cuneo's in-depth, interwoven stories of Mease and the Ozarks. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In 1988, Darrell Mease was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of a fellow drug dealer and his wife and grandson. Here, Cuneo (Fordham Univ.; American Exorcism) traces Mease's story from his childhood in the Ozarks to Vietnam, where he began using drugs and returned suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, through his unsuccessful marriages and life as an "outlaw." The murders and trial are described in detail, as are Mease's sentencing and subsequent life on death row. When Mease's execution date coincided with a visit to Missouri by the Pope, the Pope successfully interceded with the governor to commute his sentence. Three aspects of this book, the only one addressing this case, are particularly interesting-the transformation of a young, religious man by the violence he experiences in Vietnam; the description of living the chaotic and fearful life of an outlaw; and the discussion of how a special plea such as the Pope's fits into the U.S. justice system. Recommended for public libraries.-Mary Jane Brustman, Univ. at Albany Libs., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An engrossing examination of an Ozarks triple murder and its strangely sympathetic perpetrator, who avoided execution via the pope's intervention. As in his American Exorcism (2001), Cuneo (Sociology/Fordham) methodically examines a tangled American subculture, rife with extremism and religious fervor. Here, he addresses the outlaw archetype that's endured within southwestern Missouri culture, at odds with the milieu presented to the state's Branson-bound tourists. Darrell Mease was the most charming boy in Reeds Spring, Missouri, and his idyllic childhood bred within him the region's strict Pentecostalism; yet Vietnam, failed marriages, and involvement in the Ozarks methamphetamine scene left him a fractured and paranoid man. Following disputes with feared local drug kingpin Lloyd Lawrence (whose ordinary lifestyle belied a brutal history, including the rape of his own daughters), Mease fled Missouri with stolen meth and with Mary Epps, whom he considered his true love; Lloyd then put out murder contracts upon both. Cuneo argues that an unspoken code of Ozarks vengeance, developed in response to historically corrupt law enforcement, influenced Mease's decision to return and settle accounts with Lloyd; in a shocking ambush, he shotgunned Lloyd, his wife, and handicapped grandson. After several months on the lam, Mease was captured and confessed in an attempt to protect Mary; following his 1989 conviction and death sentence, he experienced a jailhouse conversion, claiming that God would not allow his execution. Incredibly, the 1999 papal visit to St. Louis forced postponement of Mease's execution date; after noting this, the Vatican indeed prevailed upon then-governor Mel Carnahan tocommute Mease's sentence to life. (Yet, Cuneo concludes that Missouri's pro-execution politics have since continued unabated.) Despite a slightly dry prose style, Cuneo is skillful at nailing down the elusive stories of warts-and-all heartland America; he does a fine job of untangling this complex affair's ambiguities, in which idealized rural lifestyles collide tragically with the concentrated violence of both the drug war and state-sanctioned capital punishment. A strong regional true-crime tale with disturbing noirish undertones and undeniable spiritual flair.
"Vivid. Gripping. Undeniably potent. Almost Midnight barrels along like a hot rod on a twisty Ozarks road . . . a fast, furious read that leaves one plagued by disturbing toughts every time one manages to pause before turning another page."
The Kansas City Star
"Crisp, informative and evocative . . . Compelling, vibrant, rich with winning details about scuffling life."
The Washington Post
"Engrossing . . . disturbing noirish undertones and undeniable spiritual flair."
"Cuneo handles these saints and sinners with equal aplomb."
"A reichly detailed exploration . . . Cuneo's writing does not flinch."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Cuneo's detailed descriptions of the virtues (loyalty, self-reliance, faith, family) and negatives (violence, chemical dependency, lawlessness) of the Ozarks' culture not only fleshes out Mease's personality but also vividly portrays this overlooked area of Americana. Cuneo's skillful writing allows him to convey the romantic notions of Mease's outlaw ways and travels on America's back roads, while never romanticizing the violence or the hand-to-mouth living . . . one cannot help but appreciate Cuneo's in-depth, interwoven stories of Mease and the Ozarks."