Salt of the Earth: One Family's Journey through the Violent American Landscape by Jack Olsen
Salt of the Earth is the true story of a courageous woman who survived a hellish twentieth-century nightmare. Mob violence, injustice, kidnapping, murder, and suicide were the black holes in the awful astronomy of Elaine Gere's life. Somehow she had to summon the courage to endure: to honor her beloved dead and to rebuild the shattered lives of the sons who depended on her strength. Jack Olsen has been lauded for his psychological insights into the most violent criminals in such previous masterworks as Doc, The Misbegotten Son, and Predator, but he has never overlooked their victims. By viewing the world through the eyes of Elaine Gere and her devastated family, he finds the core values that enabled them not only to survive and flourish, but, in the end, to triumph.
Gilbert Taylor: In the annals of humanity, the Gere family is unexceptional and ordinary--unless one looks as closely at their lives as Olsen does. A boomer-age couple, Joe and Elaine Gere move between California and Idaho a dozen times on their roller coaster ride of solvency and bankruptcy and have three children. Much the steadier spouse, energetic Elaine always manages to land a clerical federal job wherever Joe moves the family. The wanderlust ensues from Joe's first career misfortune, as a cop disabled during a melee with a mob. His relatives thought that incident started his slide toward suicide, and his addictive (regrets of hitting her and promises to reform) abuse of Elaine demonstrates the complexity of Joe's insidious demons. But he holds on, Elaine remaining loyal, until another bolt from the blue--the kidnapping and murder of their 12-year-old daughter. Here Olsen is at his dispassionate, yet concerned, best, introducing the subplot of the suspect's life (a wife beater), the course of the investigation, and the ultimate denoument of the case. In this mass-media age, many women will identify with, and perhaps be inspirited by, Olsen's fine chronicle of the Gere family.
Another solid true-crime entry from Olsen, author of (among others) Doc (a 1990 Edgar award winner) and Charmer (1994).
Elaine and Joe Gere were tough farmers' children who fell on hard times. Joe was a successful cop until he was beaten so badly he lost half his sight, then led his family on a peripatetic journey from Fontana, Calif., to Idaho and Seattle. Their oldest child, Brenda, was a stalwart but always had a fear of the bogeyman. On September 19, 1985, she met him. Her killer was the absurdly muscular Michael Kay Green, a weight lifter with a steroid-influenced penchant for rape. The police were immediately suspicious of Green but, since they couldn't find Brenda's body, were unable to charge him. Green ran off and committed a string of petty thefts and assaults before being jailed on separate rape charges. The Gere family never recovered. Joe was consumed by guilt and rage--as an ex-cop, he felt he should have been able to protect Brenda--and drifted into alcoholism. He moved the family back to Idaho and two years later committed suicide in front of Elaine and one of their sons. The police eventually found Brenda's bones and Green was convicted. While Olsen's portrait of the steely Elaine is fascinating, the book is skimpy on forensic details, and the examination of the extremely bizarre Green is far too short. Green claims to have killed at least three girls, but that tantalizing lead is unexplored. And it's disappointing that the eerie similarities between the Gere and the Green families--the ability to excuse rampant addiction, infidelity, and violence--go unremarked.
A detailed study of the disintegration of a family, but lacking in some of the finer strokes that make a great crime story.
From the Publisher
"Pulls you along irresistibly." - The New York Times
"The powerful, absorbing true story of the terror and tragedy that stalks our violent land, and how an ordinary woman triumphed over all of it."--Joseph Wambaugh
"Jack Olsen's particular gift is his ability to illuminate the souls of his characters." -Jonathan Kellerman
"A literary achievement of the highest order...A beautiful book."-David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars