domingo, 29 de abril de 2012

Introducing ‘By the Book’ By Pamela Paul

Introducing ‘By the Book’

By Pamela Paul  
     At his book signings and readings, David Sedaris, the author of many best-selling books, frequently promotes the work of other writers, telling audience members what he’s been reading recently and heartily recommends.
     We decided we wanted to know more. (Like what book he hates, for example, and what books really make him laugh.)

Illustration by Jillian TamakiDavid Sedaris

     Today the Book Review introduces a new feature, By the Book, and our first subjct, David Sedaris.  Each week the Book Review will profile a prominent or up-and-coming public figure through the books he or she reads. We’ll cover not only writers but also other noteworthy figures, whether artist, politician, journalist, business leader, musician or actor. Really, we want to know what books the people we’re interested in — and we think will fascinate our readers — are reading.
     We’ll ask the expected high-minded questions about favorite novels, greatest living authors and the books remembered most from childhood. We’ll ask writers about the way they write, and about how what they read influences that process. But we also ask the questions other people don’t: Do they read e-books or print? Collect books or throw them away? What books are they embarrassed to have never finished reading? What’s their guilty pleasure?
     And we plan to mix things up. Who wouldn’t want to have a former secretary of state pick the best book on diplomacy? Or a musician name his favorite rock ‘n’ roll novel? Or a writer who has written dozens of best sellers choose her favorite among them?
     As important as we believe book reviews are, we know that for many avid readers the most powerful recommendations come via word of mouth. We hope that in the coming weeks you’ll enjoy finding out what books some of the most exciting people working in literature, the arts and other areas of public life recommend to their friends.
     Or which books they wish they could read. In Sedaris’s case, what he’d really like to get hold of is “a concise, non-hysterical biography of Michael Jackson.” Aspiring authors, take note.

‘Reasonable Doubt’ (excerpt) By PETER MANSO

‘Reasonable Doubt’ (excerpt)
Peter Manso 
     The American murder trial as a metaphor for the nation as a whole has become, in recent years, almost a cliché. Our best writers have seized upon it as a vehicle of self-expression. Academics argue over its myths and realities. The producers of TV series capitalize on its imagery, earning the networks heady profits second only to those raked in by Oprah. At some point or another, almost every American, rich or poor, white or black, has confronted the American justice system and its complexities — with pride, skepticism, awe, revulsion, or a combination of all these.
     I began this project with the assumption that the Christa Worthington murder would be the basis for my “trial book” (every journalist wants to do a trial book), that it would take only eighteen months to complete, and that my involvement as the author would be no different from my involvement in the half-dozen other books I’ve written, even though I’d known Christa Worthington, my neighbor in the town of Truro on the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for more than a dozen years.
     Like so many assumptions, these proved false, largely because of what I found while digging into the crime, its investigation by the Massachusetts State Police, and the trial I’d planned to cover in the style of the late Dominick Dunne, notebook in hand, memorializing courtroom events in a so‑called objective manner. Instead, I wound up lending assistance to the defense team and soon found myself in a great deal of trouble — specifically (not to say surreally), hauled into court, where I was indicted on a series of felonies after voicing my belief, both in print and as a guest commentator on Court TV, that the Cape and Islands district attorney in charge of the case (and also the case against me) was an ambitious, racially insensitive politico who’d cut corners in the courtroom and during the three and a half years he’d supervised the police investigation. My run-in with the lawman, however, is a story for another time.
     I began the project in spring 2005, shortly after the arrest of Christopher McCowen, thirty-four, a black trashman with a borderline IQ. A layman, I lacked any close familiarity with the law or the courts. It did not take long to learn that the typical criminal trial is a deeply flawed process. Narrative and storytelling, not evidence, determine many a trial’s outcome. The art of jury selection — voir dire, as it is called — is also critical, more so than most people would imagine. Experienced practitioners know that jurors, ordinary Americans of ordinary intelligence, have a way, as Harper Lee put it, of “carrying their resentments right into the jury box.”
     The best trial lawyers also know that judges, the vast majority of whom are white, must be educated as much as possible, within the limits of protocol, when the defendant is black; the court should never be allowed to sidestep the issue of race, although most judges will try.

     None of this should come as a surprise. The principal figures in every jury trial are ego-driven mortals, each with his own agenda: DAs want to win in order to get reelected (and perhaps slake a native bloodlust); expert defense lawyers work out authority issues while running high-profile, publicity-generating cases; and, again, jurors are not self-sacrificing citizens driven by common sense most will vote in a way that reinforces who they are, what they believe in, what they value the most. The jury room is a stage, a pulpit, as the Oscar-nominated film 12 Angry Men illustrated more than fifty years ago.
     Even judges with tenured appointments are part of this food chain. Bound by precedent, they rule on evidentiary questions with the record ever in mind, and those who aspire to an appellate bench or to political office have every reason to interpret the facts of the case narrowly, to preserve the status quo. Even when their choices are blatant and obvious, judges are the most protected element in our court system, rarely questioned.
     There are, of course, dedicated lawyers and truly disinterested jurists, just as there are prosecutors who can see their way to dropping a case against a defendant wrongly charged. But recent history has forced such folks to work overtime. The Vietnam War, the Wall Street financial scandals originating in the early ’80s, the callow adventurism of the Bushes, Sr. and Jr., at home and abroad (made worse by the mainstream press’s failure to expose them), all have had a lasting effect. Lying, bending the rules, and a growing readiness to abandon constitutional safeguards have invaded the popular culture and courts alike, sanctioned by the events of September 11, 2001, and their progeny.

Christa Worthington 
     This is no small matter, obviously. The normally staid New York Times has pointed out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies have improperly obtained more than 8,500 telephone accounts from 2003 to 2006 without following legal procedures. Next to the financial sector, local representatives of the law-enforcement community have most taken this new value system to heart. “Testilying,” for example, has become common, police officers bending the truth while on the witness stand. Another form of police misconduct is the withholding of exculpatory evidence; the ACLU, the Innocence Project in New York City, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, and a rash of appellate court rulings across the country have shown that hundreds of criminal defendants have been set up by less-than-honest cops. Equally alarming, the local courts have been loath to blow the whistle during this time of orange alerts and nationwide anxiety. Better we overlook the bad apples than risk besmirching the much-needed good guys.
     Of course, there is another view. Conservatives such as Sean Hannity will argue that there is nothing new here, that what’s happening is just a Hobbist reassertion of the human condition, and, yes, we should all feel the more blessed for it. But before jumping into this little book of mine, I’d scarcely realized how bad, how dark, things had gotten on Cape Cod, my childhood summer home of art openings and clam bakes, until I had read through the Massachusetts State Police file, case number 02-102-0900-0007, Comm. v. McCowen; consisting of forensics, criminalistics, and surveillance reports, DNA screenings, polygraph results, police interviews, and internal memos. The file was a journalistic gold mine, as were the minutes of the grand-jury proceedings since what both showed was a miasma of lawenforcement shortcuts running through the case like mold on a particularly smelly blue cheese. The local legal community had become so ingrown, so incestuous, that the courts looked upon the cops as family, and given the pressure on police to find Christa’s killer, it seemed nobody and nothing was safe, least of all the Constitution.
It took no genius to see this ot ferret it out since much of what the DA and the cops did was right out in the open. The official file showed, for example, that my own phone records had been grabbed without a subpoena or court order the day after Christa’s body was found; my wife, who is not a professional journalist protected as I am by the First Amendment, had her records pried out of Verizon and during the investigation the records of at least forty-five others were obtained via demand letters to a compliant Verizon, as well. My DNA was snatched, along with the DNA of a half-dozen other locals, swabbed from discarded cigarette butts and cast-off water bottles. We were not suspects but, rather, “persons of interest,” meaning that police felt no compunction about violating our privacy even as they couldn’t determine that any one of us was materially relevant to their probe, either.
     If pressed, these investigators would probably defend their actions on the grounds of thoroughness. But that argument is limited. Time and again, while conducting my interviews, I heard locals speak of being confronted by plainclothes detectives banging on their doors, unannounced, at 9:30 p.m., which on off-season Cape Cod is the equivalent of midnight. One suspect, Christa’s onetime boyfriend Tim Arnold, was grilled for several hours while confined at a Cape-area psychiatric facility, in open defiance of his lawyer’s insistence that interviews be cleared in advance. Arnold was sedated at the time but that made no difference to detectives, who, apparently failed to consider that the Effexor and amnesia-inducing lorazepam Arnold was taking might render their truth-gathering efforts less than reliable, at best.
     Then, too, on the third anniversary of Christa Worthington’s death, the frustrated investigators, after going to the FBI for pointers, conducted a DNA sweep of our sleepy little town of Truro wherein they intimidated reluctant donors by threatening to record licenseplate numbers on a “special list.” The ACLU and the Boston Globe called the sweep something just short of a fascist outrage; the story made USA Today and the New York Times, but what the public never learned was that the majority of the 150-odd swabs collected were never even turned in for analysis. Rather, the samples languished in DA Michael O’Keefe’s office until Christopher McCowen was arrested in April 2005, four months after the sweep, more than a year after McCowen’s DNA was collected. It, too, had sat on the shelf in O’Keefe’s corner office while Truro trembled.
     In addition, the director of the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) crime lab was discharged after more than twenty-five DNA samples were misfiled, while five of the thirteen fingerprints lifted from the Truro murder scene turned out to belong to local police and EMTs. Inexplicably, key evidence, including fibers and vaginal combings, were never tested.
     But disorganization, incompetence, and a corrupted crime scene were business as usual. An MSP report dated December 10, 2002, “Blood Sample of Anthony R. Smith for Comparison in Worthington,” documented the nadir of police misconduct. Here, lead detective Christopher Mason reported that he’d requisitioned two vials of Smith’s blood from the coroner’s office and delivered it to the crime lab for analysis, without, it appears, a court order or family permission. Anthony Smith was the son of a stubborn defense witness who would insist to the end that he’d seen a truck or van speeding out of Christa’s driveway the day before her body was found; the driver was white, not black like Christopher McCowen. Mason was covering all bases, as he usually did, sine he is a very thorough man. But he ran roughshod over the Fourth Amendment in the process, displaying utter insensitivity to a parent’s grief. Smith, who lived with his father, the witness, had recently taken his own life.

Christopher McCowen
     The rationale for this official act of quasi-vampirism made it worse, however, for the cops were relying on an unverified telephone hotline tip that Smith “lived in the area of the murder and perhaps committed suicide after committing the murder,” according to Mason’s report of May 16, 2003.
     Nothing tied the young man to the murder. Nothing.
     But beyond the blindness of such efforts, the file also revealed a world of drug-dealer snitches protected by police, and a particularly self-invested DA. The new off-season Cape Cod was made up of single welfare mothers, wild-eyed alcoholic wife abusers, “wash-ashore” laborers living on food stamps while waiting for the tourist restaurants to reopen in May, and an ever-growing horde of teenagers dragged into court up and down the Cape, their OxyContin-fueled lifestyles combining with post-9/11 jitters to empower the cops like nothing anyone had ever seen before.
     It was after plowing through the official file that I began interviewing people on both sides of the law. Almost all interviews were face-to-face, not on the telephone, and often the drama that accompanied these encounters were as illuminating as the words, for once again I found myself on a Cape Cod I’d only heard about. The former director of the Cape NAACP, for example, insisted on coming to my house for our meeting, then excused himself when it was only midafternoon, apologizing that it wasn’t wise for a lone black man to drive the Truro-Orleans stretch of Route 6, the “gauntlet,” as he put it, after dark. Soon, a white drug dealer, a Truro-Wellfleet townie with deep local connections, told me that at night he always drove with his interior lights on. Why? So the “federales,” he explained, would know who was behind the wheel, not pull him over. Combined witht the NAACP man’s behavior, this was enough to remind me that the Cape is only an hour and a half’s drive from Charlestown, home of Boston’s infamous busing crisis, and that the situation wasn’t helped any by the fact that African-Americans make up only 1.6 percent of the Cape’s population, but a miniscule fraction of the 13.5 percent national average.
     My interviews continued right through the trial, which was a David-and-Goliath proposition from the start. The DA threw his full staff onto the case the way Rommel used his tanks to overrun France. Day after day, a dozen or more of his lawyers, researchers, interns, and secretaries filled the lawyers’ dock on the left side of the courtroom, just as the commonwealth had the resources of the State Police and state crime lab. Attorney Robert George, by contrast, was flying solo. George fought the good fight, but in the end, he lost. Most reporters covering the trial felt his client deserved a hung jury, at least; according to nearly 40 percent of those responding to a Cape Cod Times poll conducted after the verdict, the defendant’s color made the difference.
     It is an open question whether any defense lawyer — even Clarence Darrow or Perry Mason — could have won the case in that courtroom, with that judge, that jury.
     I openly sided with the defense — supplying research, feedback, and editorial contributions to briefs and motions — out of the belief that the trial’s racist subtext was substantive and real. As I told the Boston   Globe, it would take moral impotence to miss prosecutor Robert Welsh’s strategy: playing to jurors’ biases while simultaneously insisting that race had nothing to do with the proceedings. A black garbageman charged with the rape and murder of a white Vassar grad? And on traditionally conservative Cape Cod where even JFK had not gotten the local vote? Whom did Welsh think he was fooling?
     Republican governor Mitt Romney’s announcement of prosecutor Welsh’s appointment to a district court judgeship at the start of deliberations was another not so small outrage. Few people on Cape Cod, white or black, did not know that during the past century, local judgeships had been held by the prosecutor’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. Still another Welsh ran the court clerk’s office in the Cape’s outermost district court. The nepotism was offensive, but Romney’s timing was worse. Welsh, with his Plain Jane suits and humorless, rubbery face, was a Babbitt ready-made for skewering, a smug Tea Party Republican who thought he could get away with anything. I do not exaggerate. Halfway through trial, our prosecutor cum newly appointed judge had the audacity to claim he did not to have the probation file on one of his major witnesses. He did have that file; he had to. Yet he got away with his lie, as has been documented in the defense’s brief to the Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest tribunal.
     Given the importance of injecting some balance into all of this, I also made it a point to share all research with the court and the prosecution. This was de rigueur. One of George’s motions, charging the prosecution with withholding exculpatory evidence, announced my contributions in its opening pages in order to send the message that nothing underhanded was going on. Even so, a Harvard journalism professor queried by the    Boston Globe alleged that my “loss of objectivity” called into question anything I might write about the trial, which, then as now, I answer by taying that the prof didn’t recognize alternative reportorial strategies. Aside from the access it got me, my alignment with the defense became so widely known that even a year after the verdict I was sought out by one juror’s relative, a black woman in her seventies, who claimed that her nephew had been racist since the age of fifteen and lied during the jury-selection process meant to sift out bias. On this, I notified the court, and the woman was called as a witness at a postverdict hearing.
     The disparity between the prosecution and defense arsenals was a constant, and if my participation would help level the playing field, so be it. Black people too often get screwed in America, and on that issue I have never been, nor will I ever be, prepared to brook debate even when it’s coming from Harvard.
     Did all of this affect my ability to report the trial fairly? Unlikely. My involvement provided a unique vantage point, not to say access to materials that I would not otherwise have had. Robert George and I talked daily during the trial process and then throughout three years of postverdict motions and appeals.
     Did I talk to the other side? After speaking with Michael O’Keefe before trial, I then approached the DA, Welsh, and lead detectives on multiple occasions; I was rebuffed, orally and in writing, as were all other reporters I know of who requested one-on-ones with the prosecutor. This is the DA who storms out of press conferences, snapping, “You must be kidding” or “Grow up,” when he doesn’t like reporters’ questions.
Some will fault George’s defense as understaffed, sometimes underresearched, and underfunded, and perhaps worse yet for my involvement. I say that without Robert George’s energy and commitment, the sheer loudness of his pugnaciousness, Chris McCowen would have disappeared like so many other uneducated, marginally functioning defendants in courts across the country. McCowen would have been swept through the process with no one the wiser, another casualty of our lopsided justice system. Innocent or guilty, the vast majority of indigent defendants do suffer that fate. The corridors of local courthouses across the country are filled with attorneys looking for cases, ready to be court-appointed and step in at a moment’s notice. Their prep work is nil. They cop plea bargains. They neither test the system nor challenge prosecutors nor protect the rights of the individuals they claim to defend.
     McCowen’s trial was expected to take two weeks, not five. Day to day, George stuck, a high-priced criminal defense lawyer stepping into William Kunstler or Charlie Garry country. He didn’t have the politics (perhaps a plus), but he had something out of the ordinary, something genuine, even if he overly enjoyed being surrounded by reporters. Maybe he realized that this was the case of his career, that rare shot that lawyers, like athletes, get but once or twice in a lifetime. Or maybe it was nothing more than the sentiment he expressed after the verdict, while wrestling with whether he could afford to take on the appeal. “Now my kids won’t think I just represent bad guys,” he said. “Maybe they’ll understand that defense lawyers can do something that’s useful and important.”
     His work was useful. The system I’d observed over the previous months was too ready to do what it shouldn’t. George challenged that, stamped his foot. His resolve had as much to do with prosecutorial irregularities and bad calls from the bench as with McCowen’s innocence or guilt, as well it should. That’s what we have defense lawyers for.
     Readers will draw their own conclusions. My account of the trial relies on the official transcript of 3,878 pages. I’ve condensed that record, using ellipses and paraphrasing, ever mindful of remaining faithful to the content of all testimony, sidebar exchanges, and rulings from the bench. Readability was a major consideration, but I consciously erred on the side of inclusiveness and accuracy.
     Much of the information in this book is based on my interviews, many done “on background” for reasons already acknowledged. Granted, this is not the best arrangement. But such confidentiality was necessary to secure the subjects’ cooperation, in some instances because of the menacing air surrounding the case. In verifying key matters, especially criminal activities or persons and events impinging directly on the murder, I insisted on at least two, preferably three, sources, as well as confirming documents. Material gleaned from MSP interviews and incident reports was always checked.
     Some potential sources repeatedly refused to talk even after a year or two of my nagging, worried that the murderer was still “out there.” But many also feared local police in Truro, Wellfleet, and Eastham, who wield the power to inflict a drunk-driving bust or do a pot search at two a.m. So real was the fear factor that several sources even called me after interviews, wanting to retract their comments. Not once in my career have I had to fall back on anonymous sourcing as I have for this narrative.
On the other hand not all was so grim. A number of individuals stepped forward unsolicited, among them, a former assistant district attorney, now in private practice, who introduced himself on the checkout line at a local supermarket; his information proved invaluable to my understanding of the personalities and social world of the Cape’s court system and law-enforcement agencies. Another ex‑prosecutor explained District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s foibles — his heavy drinking, priapic tendencies, blind ambition, and racial insensitivity. Not so surprising was the help I received from McCowen’s girlfriend, Catherine Cisneros, and from his father and stepmother, who provided the defendant’s childhood medical records and other documents, in addition to explaining what life was like for a black child growing up in rural southwestern Oklahoma.
     Other sources were people whose trust stemmed from my book Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape, which does not shy away from discussing the ongoing class war between locals and wealthy summer visitors. Happily, a number of these individuals worked in local town offices and in district and superior courts; they guided me to records buried in dusty files and offered sub-rosa tips about local officials. One Truro selectman, for example, was quietly shouldering two OUI convictions; a third would land him in jail, my tipster pointed out, explaining “why the bastard keeps backing the police.”
     By the time I finished writing, the core documentation for this project filled sixteen three-ring binders and seven file boxes, not counting interview transcript and the trial record. Unlike the Massachusetts State Police and the FBI, I used a cassette recorder to memorialize my 200 or so interviews. I also filled nine of my beloved French Rhodia notepads inside the courtroom.
In the end, I still remained puzzled, and called several out-of-town friends, well-known lawyers and one of the most celebrated PIs in the country, a man who’d worked with the defense for the Oklahoma bomber and John Walker Lindh, the California youth who joined the Taliban. I did this for a reality check. Was I exaggerating about the cops, who were, after all, trying to nab a killer? Was the misconduct of the prosecution really as egregious as I was saying? The collective reply was, “It’s very bad. These guys were out of control. Had your man been tried in Boston, even Dayton, Ohio, it probably would have turned out differently.”
     None felt it necessary to belabor the fact of race, though all alluded to it. Again, readers will draw their own conclusions. New developments in the McCowen case will unfold within the year. The account that follows is based on the best information and documentation available now.

From "Reasonable Doubt" by Peter Manso. Excerpt courtesy of Atria Books, the publisher.

A Murder Trial to Cover, Axes to Grind Review by Dwight Garner

A Murder Trial to Cover, Axes to Grind
Review by Dwight Garner 

The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen
By Peter Manso
Illustrated. 435 pages. Atria Books. $25.99.

A few years ago the terrific Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam spotted, and put a name to, a burgeoning true-crime genre. He called it Cape Cod Exploitational. There should be a shelf reserved for these salt-speckled things at every good indie bookstore.
The vices of New England’s fading and eccentric WASP elite, on the Cape and elsewhere, are an all-American and multigrain form of intellectual snack food. In her book, “True Prep” (2010), the sequel to “The Official Preppy Handbook,” Lisa Birnbach zeroed in on our prurient interest. “The world is surprised and intrigued by the details” of the crimes and misdemeanors of the well-born, Ms. Birnbach wrote, “because we all look so cool, calm and proper.”
The 2002 murder of Christa Worthington was the new century’s first big patrician horror story. You remember this crime, because once you’ve heard its heartbreaking details they’re impossible to forget entirely.
Worthington, a 46-year-old Vassar graduate, fashion writer and single mother from an old Cape Cod family, was stabbed to death in a hallway off the kitchen of her cottage in Truro, Mass. Her body remained on the floor for more than 24 hours, while her curly-haired 2 ½-year-old daughter clung to her bloody and half-naked corpse. Nearby her cellphone glowed with the lone numeral 9, the first digit in 911.
Part of the fascination of this murder was the window it opened on the offbeat, moth-eaten Worthington family. Worthington’s father, Christopher Worthington, known as Toppy, had a relationship with a much-younger heroin addict he’d met through an escort service. Every rock that Boston’s tabloid press turned over had a weird bug or two beneath it. Christa Worthington’s daughter turned out to be the result of her affair with a roguish, married local fisherman.
The murder has already inspired one book, the novelist Maria Flook’s “Invisible Eden,” published in 2003. Ms. Flook’s account was intense and insightful — I enjoyed it — but fluky. How this poised writer ended up typing lines like “he captained her onto the pillowy pier of her Posturepedic” I’ll never know, though I bet the audio version would be fun to hear.
Now comes Peter Manso, a biographer of Norman Mailer and Marlon Brando, to take a mighty whack at the Worthington case. Mr. Manso is a long-time Truro resident and the author of a previous Cape Cod Exploitational titled “Ptown: Art, Sex and Money on the Outer Cape”(2003). He writes that he knew Worthington — he calls her “my neighbor” — for more than a dozen years.
Mr. Manso became a fixture at the 2006 murder trial, and an openly partisan one. He provided research and other assistance to aid the defense of the man he says was falsely accused and ultimately convicted of the crime: a 34-year-old black garbage collector, Christopher McCowen, who has an IQ of 76.
Mr. Manso fought for Mr. McCowen in print and as a guest commentator on Court TV too, earning him the ire of the local district attorney. Mr. Manso suggests this is why his phone records and samples of his DNA were seized without his knowledge, and why he was arrested for not having up-to-date permits on three guns he owned.
I looked forward to reading Mr. Manso’s “Reasonable Doubt: The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen.” His oral biography of Mailer was bristly and blood warm, like a freshly killed wild boar. And I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Manso’s author photographs — his mop of hair, his sneaky resemblance to Al Pacino or Richard Price, the way he scowls as if he’s just caught you snatching his morning newspaper from the front porch. He looks like he’s full of beans.
It’s unhappy work, then, to report that “Reasonable Doubt” is a disaster, at once lumpen and bonkers. At heart it’s a barely digested condensation of the official trial transcript, which ran to 3,878 pages. Reading Mr. Manso’s extended play-by-play, which seems to account for every lunch break and judicial sidebar, feels a bit like hiking the Appalachian trail, which as Bill Bryson reminded us in “A Walk in the Woods” is pretty awful because you’re always in the trees; there are few striking open vistas.
The problems with “Reasonable Doubt” start big and grow smaller, like a set of Russian nesting dolls. The book has no human texture. Christa Worthington never comes to life — the author does not even try to give us an account of her childhood, Vassar years or time as a journalist and world traveler — nor does any person here.
What little one does learn of Worthington is evocative and tantalizing. “Read this: The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” she wrote in her journal, “but the examined life will make you want to die.”
When it comes to the accused, Mr. Manso convinces you that he is probably right; it’s not improbable that Mr. McCowen, whom the defense argued had a sexual relationship with Worthington, was framed for her murder. Others had more motive to kill her, and Mr. Manso points to possible suspects. The prosecution, he writes, found “no fingerprints, no forensic evidence of any kind, no witness to tie the defendant to the crime.”
But as “Reasonable Doubt” becomes a meditation on racial attitudes on the Cape, it becomes an increasingly heavy-handed one. This book contains throwaway lines like: “Without rape, the state had no Mandingo, no King Kong, no dark-skinned beast to contrast with the fair-skinned victim.”
Everything is crude overkill. “The DA threw his full staff onto the case the way Rommel used his tanks to overrun North Africa,” the author writes. A judge speaking to jurors is described as being “at his Phineas T. Bluster best.” People here “hobnobbed” rather than socialized, and “penned” articles rather than wrote them. Law-enforcement misconduct is “like mold on a particularly smelly blue cheese.”
Mr. Manso’s sad attempts to settle scores with the district attorney are painful to witness. Mr. Manso wrote that the district attorney came to be perceived as a “wacko” and “the DA who couldn’t keep his zipper shut.” He notes that “with his small, lipless mouth and receding chin, he resembled nothing so much as a nibbling chipmunk.” He writes about the man’s “drugstore hair dye” and “strut reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s goose step.”
Let me out of here. Mr. McCowen, who continues to appeal his conviction, deserves a better champion. Few books will I not reread sooner.

Literature Can Turn Most Lethal By Janet Maslin

Literature Can Turn Most Lethal

By Janet Maslin  
 Will Lavender
By Will Lavender
353 pages. Simon & Schuster. $25.

The setting: a college classroom in Vermont. The year: 1994. The topic: Unraveling a Literary Mystery. The professor: the most brilliant man in captivity, and he actually is in captivity, confined to prison for the 1982 murders of two female students. If Dr. Richard Aldiss reminds you of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, you are as smart as the nine super-special students in this class.
The teaching method: Socratic/pedantic. Dr. Aldiss instructs by asking questions about the even more brilliant, reclusive, mysterious writer Paul Fallows, who published two books then disappeared. One of these books is so confounding that it is said to be “like ‘Finnegans Wake’ on steroids.” The other sounds like watered-down Edith Wharton. Still, it is said to possess the ability to blow minds.
All of the above comes from “Dominance” by Will Lavender, a former literature professor whose first book, “Obedience,” also had a bondage-inspired title. Mr. Lavender should be able to write his third, fourth and fifth puzzle-crazy potboilers on the visceral strength of the first two.
“Dominance” is quick and complicated, in a wishfully “Da Vinci Code” way. But it is also very narrow, à la Agatha Christie. So it cuts between the 1994 Jasper College class and a present-day reunion of the students, who are summoned back to campus when a copycat killer begins mimicking the murders for which Aldiss was convicted. These murders are distinctive. The killer covers victims with books and leaves a Rorschach butterfly pattern nearby.
“We’ve had ...something happen at Jasper,” Alex Shipley, who was one of Aldiss’s students, is told, after the second round of murder begins.“Oh God. Oh no. Not again, please,” Alex thinks, in italics. But she is being disingenuous. She loves this stuff. “Dominance” is for people who love this stuff too. It is for people who understand, à la “This Is Spinal Tap,” that there is a fine line between stupid and clever.
Enjoy the silly part. Stanley M. Fisk, the Jasper dean who specializes in goading Aldiss’s students, tells Alex: “He wants everyone who is watching — and the nine of you are not the only ones watching, you have to know that — to believe he is merely teaching a literature course. But it is so much more than that. So much more.” How much more? Enough so that students who read Paul Fallows are ineluctably drawn into a hush-hush labyrinthine game that “Dominance” calls “the Procedure.” The Procedure is said to be thrilling, exalting, illuminating, surprising, elitist and very, very important. If Ayn Rand taught at Jasper, she would probably approve.
And if the Procedure were Kool-Aid, not every “Dominance” reader would drink it. Whenever Mr. Lavender has to cough up samples of either Paul Fallows’s writing or Procedure-related behavior, he’s got a credibility problem. So the specifics about Fallows’s writing are scarce, and they are separated by lots of stalling. “But that is for another time,” says the dean, who in the latter-day portion of the book is in smeared mascara and an askew blond wig. “I wouldn’t want to spoil anything.”
Eventually the surreal twists and blunt instruments really come out. The screaming begins. And Mr. Lavender’s main influence becomes Stephen King. But for all the derivative, mashed-up ingredients and absurd grandiosity in “Dominance,” it does hold true to a big promise. Mr. Lavender begins by suggesting that this will be a story in which clues to later events are embedded in early ones, a puzzle with pieces that fit together somehow. That turns out to be true.
Part of Mr. Lavender’s sleight of hand involves flattering the reader’s keen intelligence while also spelling out the very, very obvious. Alex went on from Jasper to Harvard. She became famous for helping to exonerate Aldiss after the original class. And a detective on the scene of the present-day crimes tells her that he studied her work “back in police school.” He goes on: “The others — they laughed it off. An English major solving a murder? Some joke. But I was always fascinated by what you were able to do.”
Amazingly the same book depicts Alex sharing dinner with Aldiss and marveling at his genius as follows: “His hands moved. She watched his fingers dance from glass to knife to cloth and then back again. Glass, knife, cloth. His heart was racing, his mind whirling. She knew it.” Then there’s this, said by Aldiss: “There are two kinds of women. Those who have tattoos and those who don’t.”
Mr. Lavender has the good grace not to drag out this story. His book is tightly edited, with a lot of choppy leaps between 1994 and the present, and with a lot of white space (à la James Patterson) to accompany them. And he writes with real enthusiasm, if not with Fallowsian literary genius. Yes, this book’s obsession with riddles and game playing is what one of its characters calls “high nerd.” And the step-by-step revelations are howlers. But it is sincere and not just a feat of cookie cutting. While writing lines like “the Procedure is no more a game than a printing press is a machine,” Mr. Lavender seems somehow to have believed what he was saying. He had to.

For Children Who Want Pets and Parents Who Don’t


Written and illustrated by Paul Schmid
32 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $12.99. (Picture book; ages 3 to 7)

By Cathleen Daly
Illustrated by Stephen Michael King
32 pp. A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 7)

By Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Bob Shea
30 pp. Dial Books for Young Readers. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

Written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
40 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

Pet-averse parents (or people who simply believe feeding and caring for two-legged creatures is enough) dread the moment when their children make the transition from “Will he bite me?” to “Why can’t we get a dog?” Eventually, it seems, every child wants a dog, a cat or at the very least a fish. What to do?
Fortunately, children’s book authors helpfully provide backup for almost any excuse: Too big! Too hairy! Too loud! And the old, Who will empty the litter box?
Into the pantheon of “The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!” come four new entrants. “A Pet for Petunia,” by Paul Schmid, matches a charming girl named Petunia with a thoroughly inappropriate pet: a skunk. The protests of Petunia’s parents (“They stink”) are borne out as Petunia confronts the reality of her coveted woodland friend. Rightfully deterred from adopting an actual skunk, Petunia instead sticks to a stuffed skunk, which suffices until, of course, the last page, when Petunia decides she wants a porcupine (the star, conveniently, of Schmid’s next, yet unpublished picture-book tale).
Strikingly similar in terms of its petite format, precious prénom and largely purple palette is “Prudence Wants a Pet,” written by Cathleen Daly, author of a middle-grade novel, “Flirt Club.” Sweetly illustrated by Stephen Michael King (“Leaf”), “Prudence” deftly combines funny and cute, and has a resourceful heroine too.
She faces some fierce opposition. “Pets cost too much to keep,” Prudence’s dad says. They make noise, her mom complains. So Prudence instead adopts various substitutes, including a branch and a shoe. At last the parents cave, and Prudence gets a new pet cat. Whether this is a happy ending or a sad one depends on your point of view. Either way the book is clever and endearing.
If only matters could be as easily resolved as they are in “Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet,” written by Kelly DiPucchio (“Grace for President”) and illustrated “Jetsons” cartoon style by Bob Shea (“Dinosaur vs. Bedtime”). Gilbert, a domesticated goldfish, longs for company. But a dog is too barky, a mouse too unfriendly and a fly is a threat to his well-being. A surprise ending neatly solves the problem. Gilbert is rewarded with much-needed water-bound company, and Gilbert’s owners catch a break.
And you can add an eco-friendly flourish to the message! In “Melvin and the Boy,” the first book to be both written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo (who previously illustrated “What Happens on Wednesdays,” among others), a boy’s parents tell him he can’t get a dog, a monkey or a bird. But when the nameless boy (substitute your child’s name here) is captivated by a turtle in the park, he’s allowed to bring a pet home.
Alas, the turtle, which the boy names Melvin, seems unhappy in his new environs. This awakens an empathetic awareness in the child: “In the morning, I tell Mom and Dad that Melvin isn’t having much fun at our house,” he says, and then willingly releases Melvin back into the park, where he is probably better off, as endpapers describing the lives of turtles make clear.
Now, what to do with an unwanted pet pig?

Notice Pushing Boundaries, Mixed-Race Artists Gain By FELICIA R. LEE

Notice Pushing Boundaries, Mixed-Race Artists Gain


     For years Heidi W. Durrow heard the refrain: editors wouldn’t publish her novel because readers couldn’t relate to a protagonist who was part black and part Danish. But when that novel, “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” was finally published last year (after about four dozen rejections, said Ms. Durrow, who is, of course, black and Danish), the coming-of-age story landed on best-seller lists.
     Today Ms. Durrow finds herself in the elite precincts of The New Yorker and National Public Radio — which a few weeks ago began the Summer Blend Book Club, featuring works about multiracial people.
     And work by mixed-race artists is increasingly visible in museum exhibitions, in bookstores and online — raised to the spotlight by new census numbers that show a roughly 32 percent increase since 2000 in the number of Americans declaring multiracial identity, as well as by a biracial president, an explosion of blogs and Web sites about multiracialism, and the advent of critical mixed-race studies on college campuses.
     “The national images of racially mixed people have dramatically changed just within the last few years, from ‘mulattoes’ as psychically divided, racially impure outcasts to being hip new millennials who attractively embody the resolution of America’s race problem,” said Michele Elam, an associate professor of English at Stanford University.
     Both images, she said, are wrongheaded and reductive.
     Much of the work by mixed-race artists, though certainly not all of it, reveals the fault lines and pressure points that still exist in a rapidly changing America. It is on these rough edges that many multiracial people live, and where many artists find the themes that animate their work: the limits of tolerance, hidden or unacknowledged assumptions about identity, and issues of racial privilege and marginalization.
     “These images and narratives are not just entertaining,” said Ms. Elam, who is also the author of “The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics and Aesthetics in the New Millennium.” “They can influence, both consciously and unconsciously, how we think about race today in our nation.”
     In much the same way, half-breeds and “tragic mulatto” characters, created mostly by white artists, instructed past generations on the perils of transgressing racial boundaries.
     To be sure, the representation of mixed-race artists is uneven. For instance, multiracial writers and themes are not much in evidence on the big screen, even when multiracial actors are. (One high-profile biracial actress is Maya Rudolph in “Bridesmaids,” in which she plays a biracial bride marrying a white man, and race is never discussed.)
     Yet the current quest among many multiracial artists to find fuller cultural expression goes beyond the “mulatto millennium” described by the author Danzy Senna in her cheeky 1998 essay about the wave of mixed-race-themed anthologies and memoirs, the rise of “ethnically ambiguous” models in fashion and magazines, and multiracial stars like Mariah Carey. Now it’s about voice.
     “We are saying we are the American experience,” Ms. Durrow said in a recent interview. The census, she said, “doesn’t say enough about who you are, it doesn’t tell about the complications, it doesn’t tell a story.”
     To support and showcase artists telling their stories of the mixed experience, Ms. Durrow and Fanshen Cox, a biracial actor and Ms. Durrow’s best friend, created the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival in Los Angeles in 2008.
     Last month, at the fourth annual festival, a table was crowded with works by critically acclaimed authors: Ms. Senna’s “You Are Free” nestled near “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama, which nudged “Picking Bones From Ash” by Marie Mutsuki Mockett. There were also spots for “Pym” by Mat Johnson, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford, and Ms. Durrow’s “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” which deals with a girl who survives a family tragedy.
     Ms. Senna’s short-story collection, “You Are Free,” about women of various racial backgrounds, received good reviews when it came out this spring. So did “Pym,” Mr. Johnson’s satirical novel about a biracial professor of American literature who embarks on a misadventure to discover how the idea of whiteness is constructed.
     Showcased in museums is the work of Kip Fulbeck, an artist, writer and art professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mr. Fulbeck, who is Asian and white, has written disarmingly direct books, including “Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids” and “Part Asian/100% Hapa,” which pair photographs with short personal statements on identity that go beyond racial categories, showing what is not visible. (Hapa refers to a mixed heritage that includes Asian or Pacific Island ancestry.)
     The future promises more of the same. As part of its 125th-anniversary events, Vancouver, British Columbia, will host “Hapa-Palooza: A Vancouver Celebration of Mixed-Roots Arts and Ideas” from Sept. 6 to 10. Ms. Durrow and Ms. Cox will organize an event there.
     A few weeks later, at Mockingbird Books, a children’s bookstore in Seattle, Ms. Cox and Ms. Durrow will host a children’s book festival with readings and storytelling. The census shows that multiracial people are the fastest growing youth group in the country.
     “These stories are re-imagining families for people,” said Ms. Durrow, who grew up fluent in her mother’s Danish and eating her dishes but seeing few cultural reflections of mixed people.
     This year about 1,500 people attended Mixed Roots festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, compared with 1,000 last year and about 300 the first year, estimated Ms. Cox, who also has a white mother and a black father.
     Ms. Cox and Ms. Durrow, both Los Angeles residents, met in 1999 at an audition in New York. Ms. Cox, 41, has a recurring role as a social worker on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” while Ms. Durrow quit acting for her first love, writing.
     At the recent festival the women were jubilant, watching artists, scholars, their friends and family jam the hallways and spill outside, reveling in an atmosphere in which no one stared at a white woman toting a brown-skinned, blue-eyed child. The festival included art projects for children and films like “One Big Hapa Family,” about four generations of a Japanese-Canadian family.
     Victoria Mahoney’s feature film, “Yelling to the Sky,” about two biracial sisters growing up in a tough neighborhood, shows that racial identity is not always front and center in the work of mixed artists. “Yelling,” which had its Los Angeles premiere at the Mixed Roots festival after a premiere this year at the Berlin Film Festival, turns an eye on issues of class and family.
     The film stars Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) as Sweetness O’Hara and Gabourey Sidibe (of the film “Precious”) as a bad girl. Far from being a model family of multiracial chic, the father drinks, the mother has emotional problems, the older sister struggles with motherhood and Sweetness deals drugs.
     Race does matter: the camera lingers on Sweetness as she faces a school cafeteria with whites on one side, blacks on the other and slowly turns away.
     Ms. Mahoney, the producer, writer and director, said that choosing to depict a family that mirrors her black and Irish roots made the film harder to sell to distributors.
     Still, Ms. Senna (whose first book, “Caucasia,” in 1998 made her a phenomenon for its story about two biracial sisters who appear to be of different races) said she welcomed nuances that defied easy notions about identity.
     “I want more complexity around the topic of race, not less, in examining the idea that pure blackness or pure whiteness or pure anything exists,” said Ms. Senna, who identifies herself as both black and biracial.
     “You Are Free” explores issues like status anxiety and motherhood. Race is sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background and sometimes emerges in unexpected ways. At Mixed Roots this year Ms. Senna read a story from her collection about a marriage that appears interracial — she looks white and he looks black — but both are biracial.
     James McBride, author of the now-classic memoir “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother,” said he viewed the Mixed Roots festival as part of the larger work of exploding stereotypes. At the same time, he feared that parsing multiracial identity was quickly becoming a preoccupation of the well off.
     “Tiger Mom’s kids are going to do just fine,” Mr. McBride said. “I’m worried about the Korean woman married to the white guy who drives a beer truck and loses a job. No one is telling their story.”
     Ms. Durrow responded that if people go back far enough in their genealogy they will discover a mixed experience, which the festival defines broadly to include interracial couples, multiracial families and transracial adoption. “There is nothing exclusive about this club at all,” she said.