Casper, Wyoming: 1973. Eleven-year-old Amy Burridge rides with her 18-year-old sister, Becky, to the grocery store. When they finish their shopping, Becky's car gets a flat tire. Two men politely offer them a ride home. Yet they were anything but good Samaritans. The girls would suffer unspeakable crimes at the hands of these men before being thrown from a bridge into the North Platte River. One miraculously survived; the other did not. Years later author and journalist Ron Franscell - a childhood friend and next-door neighbor to the girls - can't forget his hometown's shocking story of abduction, rape, and murder. Exploring the nature of a small town's memory and the poison of survivor guilt, The Darkest Night races toward a shocking ending. The result is one of the most provocative true-crime stories of the decade, told by one of the nation's finest narrative journalists.
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In some ways, I wish I wouldn't have read this book, like I *kind of* wish I wouldn't have read In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, and other nightmare inducing true crime novels. While listening to TDN, I'd pass a mirror and see a face contorted in repulsion and agony looking back at me, wearing my headphones.
How author/journalist Franscell even delivers this story on a tolerable level is by hitting you with the facts at the beginning (like a sledge hammer to the head); while you are still slightly numbed and can take the atrociousness, he backs into the story. It's a little like a dentist numbing you up before he drills into your nerves. An adult, living in Texas, far removed from Casper, Franscell tells the story that has haunted him since the night he came home from H.S. football practice. His mother announced "Amy's dead." He had just waved to her that morning, pulling out of her drive-way next door. "What happened?" "A couple of guys picked them up from the store and took them out to some bridge and raped them and threw them off." The impact of the crime on the author still is evidenced by the passion with which he tells the story, poetically at times.
Two factors give this book a *readability* cushion, in my opinion, and that is no easy accomplishment when you are writing about any murders, especially children. Franscell was an adolescent living in Casper at the time of the murder; he went on to become a journalist. His familiarity with the town's social structures and geography are insightful. [Do you know the origin of the term "the wrong side of the tracks"?]
Secondly; the last portion of the book is a jaw-dropping look into the mind of a psychopath, at least this one. (I think in this case we can clearly pass on the DSM-5's politically correct Antisocial Personality Disorders [ASPD] and distinguish sociopathy from psychopathy without any confusion.) Franscell reads Kennedy's memoir (one of the murderers), which reads like a fantastical fairy tale where he is the omnipotent, yet always victimized, hero. The author refrains from giving his own perspective on the obvious, and allows research and facts to debunk the outrageous aggrandizements.
It is a sad ending, and a sad statement on the political/judicial system that handled this case. I still kind of wish I wouldn't have read this. There is some degree of gruesome fascination we have with human predators; society elevates some to almost celebrity status (Dexter, Hannibal, Aquarius). I think next I'll read author/PhD Scott Bonn's book "Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's Most Savage Murderers" and find out why. I'm as fascinated as a moth is of a lit candle (and my smoke detector).
At your own risk--well written, well told, graphic violence and sex, and not a happy moment in 320 pgs., but how else are you going to tell a violent story. I found value here in reminding myself that these kind of monsters are real and walk amongst us.