Crime Writing

Review: The Euthanist

The Euthanist

Alex Dolan

In one of the most promising debuts since Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and Alice Blanchard’s Darkness Peering, The EuthanistThe Euthanist strikes like a suckerpunch and never lets up. Seriously, this book is freakin’ relentless.

On most days, Pamela Wonnacott is a kind-hearted firefighter and EMT with a troubled past, but as Kali, she provides a different kind of public service as an end-of-life caregiver. She is attending to Leland, a terminal patient who has requested assisted euthanasia, but in the first of many twists, Leland turns out to be an undercover agent.

The opening chapter of The Euthanist left me breathless, only to be one-upped by chapter two. The pacing is spry and the narration is delightfully disorienting in the manner unique to first-person POV. There is nobody Kali can trust, and even her allies turn on her when she unwittingly brings the FBI to their door.

Dolan manages all of this well, avoiding the usual traps of first-person narration (he keeps Kali disoriented, but not clueless) and managing his twists and reveals organically. Most impressively, he doesn’t manufacture a ridiculous romantic angle or give us a cavity with overwrought sentimentality.

On the whole, this is masterful storytelling that lets the characters, and not convention, dictate their actions. There is only one scene that feels over the top, in which Kali’s costume serves a theatrical purpose rather than a practical one. Beyond that, the characters and their motivations are authentic, and the tension in this novel is intoxicating.

As Kali says, “Fear isn’t pain, but it is the expectation of it.” Except with Kali, Chekhov’s gun is replaced with a syringe.

The Euthanist is particularly relevant as right-to-die issues have gone from hushed whispers to appropriate dinner conversation. Dolan doesn’t beat us over the head with social commentary, but allows the conversation to play out between Kali and Leland.

This is an exciting debut, and I look forward to more of Alex Dolan’s writing.

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Review: “No One Helped”

“No One Helped”: Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy

Marcia M. Gallo

From an early age, I longed for the big city life. Growing up in a sleepy township that didn’t even have sidewalks will do thatNo One Helped to a kid. To dissuade me from fleeing the Rust Belt for bright lights and tall buildings, my parents served up the tale of Kitty Genovese, the New York woman who, in 1964, was famously murdered on a Long Island street while everyone just stood back and watched her die.

It terrified me. In my mind, I envisioned a crowded street, broad daylight, pedestrians having to sidestep this dying stranger as she pleaded with them for help.

It wasn’t difficult to imagine. Though not the best time for New York City, the 1970s and early ’80s was a fruitful period for dystopian cinema set in the metropolis. My impression of the city was shaped entirely by Escape from New York and Fort Apache, the Bronx.

Though the story of a woman left to die on the sidewalk stayed with me, I never actually learned her name until college, when we studied the case in psychology class. Many psychology classes, actually. At the time, the prevailing narrative was still treated as gospel: 38 neighbors watched and did nothing as Winston Moseley assaulted Genovese, left, assaulted her a second time, left, and came back a third time to finish the job.

It’s hard to fathom how this could happen, and of course, it didn’t. At least, not the way it was reported in 1964, and certainly not the way it had been mythologized by the time it reached my ears as a cautionary tale. A more accurate telling was done by Kevin Cook in 2014’s Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America.

The focus of Marcia M. Gallo’s “No One Helped”: Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy is not so much on the murder as the social incubator in which the narrative of urban apathy was spawned and evolved — and how, by focusing on the witnesses rather than the victim or perpetrator, Genovese “had been flattened out, whitewashed, re-created as an ideal victim in service to the construction of a powerful parable of apathy.”

The biggest omission from Genovese’s story, writes Gallo, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is that she was a lesbian. Being young, pretty and white made her the perfect media martyr, so details of her romantic preference would have been inconvenient to the “ideal victim” narrative in 1964. As the story of her murder took on a life of its own, she became a nameless victim of urban decay — more of a plot device than a character in her own horror show.

“No One Helped” is on the shorter side, but Gallo deftly packs in a lot of information — and unpacks five decades of history. The chapters are like linked short stories, exploring in turn the history of Kew Gardens and the racial tensions of the time, the changing media landscape and the marketability of an erroneous New York Times article that fumbled the facts but resonated with “white flight” suburbanites.

As for Genovese, Gallo writes, the article “rhetorically reduced her to the chalk outline left on the sidewalk at a crime scene after a body has been removed.”

About those 38 witnesses? Only four were actually called to testify at the trial, and even fewer were aware that Genovese had been stabbed. The Times failed to mention the fact that Moseley’s initial assault was interrupted by a neighbor’s intervention, and his second assault took place in a darkened back hallway beyond the vantage point of any neighbors.

Gallo writes, “In all of the accounts that have followed in the story’s wake, what has rarely been noted is that there is only one actual eyewitness to Genovese’s death. That person is her killer, Winston Moseley.”

In reclaiming Genovese’s identity, Gallo reveals her personal connection to the case. She does so in a tasteful, informative manner, steering clear of navel gazing and drawing attention instead to the resonating significance of the story.

For all the horror of the Genovese murder, and its aftermath, it also gave birth to the 911 emergency response system and community policing efforts. It furthered the movement to reexamine our societal acceptance of intimate partner violence (some witnesses had dismissed the assault as a “lover’s quarrel”).

And it exposed racial bias in crime reporting. Just two weeks earlier, Moseley had assaulted another woman, murdered her and set her on fire. “Significantly, no photographs of Moseley’s earlier victim, Anna Mae Johnson, a young black woman, ever appeared. Within weeks she would fade from most popular versions of the story, as would her killer,” the author writes.

Most of all, for Gallo, the legacy of the Genovese murder still matters “because it raises the central question of how we engage with those around us, individually and collectively, when they need our help.”

Digging beyond the murder and the myth, Gallo has penned a remarkable portrait of Genovese and her enduring legacy a half-century later. Her murder inspired an entire branch of psychology, but perhaps her lasting impact on social science will be the study of media myth-making. No matter the fables and fallacies that have emerged, the impact of Genovese has endured.

I’ve been on the Long Island Railroad, and at the Kew Gardens stop, it’s impossible not to look down at the nondescript parking lot and the neighboring houses, all crammed together, and wonder how this could have happened.

After 50 years, we know it happened differently than we’ve believed, but the true story of the assault is still as brutal and horrifying, if different, than we imagined. Gallo succeeds in redirecting our attention from the “witnesses” to the victim, who became a footnote to the fable. “No One Helped” restores the individual who existed before the chalk outline.

Stephen King, Joyland

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first three-fourths of
Joyland
are amazing, some of King’s best recent work. The ending, however, is a bit too easy and familiar. King’s previous offering through Hard Case Crime, The Colorado Kid, subverted convention and was far more challenging to the reader.

Infused with heart and the nostalgic thrills of boardwalk carnivals, Joyland is worth the ticket price. The novel begins as a rail-rattling thrill ride, but, in the end, eases too gently into the station.

View all my reviews

Ensuing Chapters 9.8.12

Stop a moment. Breathe. Deeper now. Sure, it’s still north of 90 in Colorado, but as the days die quicker, a liminal chill fills the soul. For my money, you can keep summer and winter. But autumn…

The overdone cliché in book reviewing is the summer reading list. I’m not sure who started it, or who all these people are reading at the beach, but I’m certainly as guilty as the rest. But truly, the best time to indulge in the written word is autumn, with its cooler climes, longer nights and olfactory-fueled melancholia.

And aren’t books always better when paired with a hot mug of tea?

Some of my favorite September/October memories are of spending Friday nights among the stacks at the Boulder Book Store. As a youth, my friend and I would drive a half hour from our book-deprived hometown in Pennsylvania to Twice-Loved Books in Youngstown, Ohio. And some of the best autumn reading I’ve acquired at Denver’s Tattered Cover, or the Poudre Library District in Fort Collins.

As an avid reader of horror, I often find my favorite books marginalized on the shelves—except during the fall. For two months, the storefront displays boast the books that make my year-round reading list.

You will find plenty of horror previewed here at Ensuing Chapters, but there’s a wealth of diverse autumn gold coming your way in the following weeks.

Sept. 3

Last year, we lost one of the great journalists of our time, and one of my personal heroes, Christopher Hitchens. This champion of reason was known for his bold reporting on war and religion, and was equally brave in the face of cancer. Published on Sept. 4, Mortality will appeal to Hitch’s loyal readers, but is also of interest to anyone who’s lost someone to cancer (e.g. nearly everyone).

Few writers have captured the depth and beauty of the natural world like transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau. His new book—yes, new book—October, or Autumnal Tints, is a lecture he gave near the end of his life. He envisioned it one day being released in print with accompanying illustrations.

That day was Sept. 3.

His tribute to the greatest of all months, penned in the autumn of his own life, reframes the changing colors and dying leaves as symbols of maturity rather than decay. Reading Thoreau is always a treat. Reading his musings on autumn in autumn seems like paradise.

In the song “Little Too Clean,” Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner croons, “Don’t you know dirt will find you/ and dirt reminds you/ that dirt will always be there.” It’s the song that keeps looping in my head while reading the jacket of Moises Velasquez-Manoff’s new book, An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases.

Exploring one of the big issues of our time, science writer Velasquez-Manoff uncovers a shocking rise in food allergies and autoimmune disorders, such as Celiac and type-1 diabetes, and equally shocking treatments that rely on parasites rather than pharmaceuticals. One of the unexpected contributors to our sickness, he finds, is that sanitation and antibiotics have altered our inner ecologies to the point that we lack the organisms that keep us in check.

We have become a little too clean—or maybe even a lot too clean.

Sept. 10

What do we know about Lee Child’s compelling protagonist, Jack Reacher? He likes travel, he’s a sharpshooter with a wicked double-tap, and no matter where he roams, he always ends up in the same place: trouble.

Celebrating the 17th installment of the Jack Reacher series, plus related short stories (personal fave: “James Penney’s New Identity” from Thriller), Child has climbed from the crime writing underground to the top of the best-seller list. He is likely to summit once again with the release of A Wanted Man on Sept. 11.

I am an avid reader of Child’s books. I love the Jack Reacher franchise. But when the peripatetic maverick hits the big screen, I hate that it will be Tom Cruise (boo, hiss) portraying Reacher.

Who’s really writing this book blurb? I thought it was me, but one might want to reconsider after reading Michael S. Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Gazzaniga surveys the science, psychology and ethics at work in our thoughts and behaviors.

Who’s in Charge? is a work of great importance as breakthroughs in neuroscience have revealed greater complexities than ever imagined at work in the brain. And launched the next great frontier of philosophical inquiry.

Published last year, the paperback reprint hits shelves Sept. 11.

Legendary journalist Bob Woodward goes from Deep Throat to Deep Gridlock in The Price of Politics, his 17th book. In this detailed account, Woodward chronicles Washington’s attempts to rescue the economy these past few years.

Talk about the ideal primer to the madness of election season. For the more devout political readers (and I know a few of you), Woodward’s new book is political porn to get you in the mood as we steamroll toward November.

We’ll preview other September releases in the coming weeks. Please follow Ensuing Chapters to receive our weekly previews, reviews and interviews.