A former New Yorker staffer delves into the unsolved 1969 murder of Harvard University graduate student Jane Britton, who at the time was the daughter of Radcliffe's vice president. Cooper first heard of Jane's story when she was a Harvard undergraduate, where swirling rumors set her on a decade-long investigation into the murder and Harvard's culture of sexism and elitism.
We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper is a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime, rather more a memoir than a conventional work of reportage, so structured that the revelation of the murderer is not the conclusion or even the most important feature of the book ... We Keep the Dead Close resembles a Möbius strip in which the more information the author accumulates, the less certain she is of its worth ... Throughout We Keep the Dead Close there is a dramatically sustained tension between the subject ('unsolved murder, Jane Britton') and its (secret) meaning in the life of the young female investigative reporter ... Like a skilled mystery novelist, Cooper presents her cast of suspects in so beguiling a way ... We Keep the Dead Close shares an impassioned advocacy for victims of injustice at Harvard with William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals ... While much that Cooper uncovers in her private pursuit of the case is fascinating in itself, not least her interviews with Lamberg-Karlovsky and other 'persons of interest' for whom the case of Jane Britton was never allowed to go cold, it is the revelation of the murderer that is most unexpected ... It’s fitting that Cooper’s beautifully composed elegy for Jane Britton ends with Britton’s own words.
This is not your typical true crime book, and that’s very much a good thing ... a stunning achievement—a whodunit page turner with an unexpected ending that is both shocking and, sadly, a little disappointing ... This was one of the best books of 2020. Author Becky Cooper’s quest to learn the truth about Jane Britton’s 50-year-old unsolved murder is a fascinating journey that ultimately leads to any number of truths about murder, relationships, justice, misogyny and powerful institutions.
... exhaustive and extraordinary ... The most noteworthy element of Cooper’s book might be its reportorial ambition. Over 400 pages, she doggedly tracks down primary sources and digs for decades-old documents. It is a testament to her skills as a writer that she is able to connect the threads of the cold case to larger cultural issues ... Cooper has made a welcome entry into the annals of true crime ... [Cooper] carefully investigates every lead, reports every fact and contextualizes for the reader the culture that gave rise to the original story. If it is possible to write responsibly about the past, then surely [Cooper's] done it.