Independence Day weekend, 1960: a young cop is murdered, shocking his close-knit community in Stamford, Connecticut. The killer remains at large, his identity still unknown. But on a beach not far away, a young Army doctor, on vacation from his post at a research lab in a maximum-security prison, faces a chilling realization. He knows who the shooter is. In fact, the man—a prisoner out on parole—had called him only days before. By helping his former charge and trainee, the doctor, a believer in second chances, may have inadvertently helped set the murder into motion. And with that one phone call, may have sealed a policeman's fate. Belkin examines the coincidences and choices that led to one fateful night.
Belkin has turned the stories of three men — Tarlov, DeSalvo and the murder victim, Troy — into a somewhat knotty yet exhilarating, intimate study of fate, chance and the wildly meaningful intersections of disparate lives ... While a lot of true-crime books focus on a single event where worlds collide, changing the lives of all involved, Belkin approaches this murder as the culmination of many inflection points — smaller ones that happened long ago ... Belkin’s message comes through that clearly: We are blind to the future. Our attachments are left to chance. We are left to craft narratives to make sense of it all.
What might be backstory in a more generic true-crime treatment is the story in Genealogy of a Murder. Belkin expertly renders the humanity in all of these ancestral tales, using her narrative-nonfiction skills to convey adventure, loss, longing, joy, heartbreak, and emotional devastation ... Revelatory ... Belkin offers a narrative guide for navigating the future—or even the present—of criminal investigation ... I felt forever changed after reading this book, and know it will have ripple effects for those creating, and consuming, true crime.
Was it necessary for Belkin to take such a huge leap backward? Maybe not, but who cares as she expertly unravels the yarn — three yarns, really — inch by twisted inch, pulling the reader in as she reveals unexpected, fly-on-the-wall details. (Deep dives into records and talks with living relatives helped fill in gaps.) Then, just as expertly, she knits all that unraveled yarn back together, propelling the reader to that July night ... A truly great read.