Told through the eyes of Raymond, a young boy, and Freda, his mother, this is the story of Howard Unruh, who on a sunny day in September 1949 committed a mass shooting in his neighborhood and killed thirteen people.
Funnily enough I had recently listened to the Last Podcast on the Left series on this crime (which, you will know if you also listen, puts me rather far behind in the archives). The podcast focused more on Unruh – his early life, his military career, what led him to the place where he would kill thirteen people, as well as the shooting itself. In a way this book picks up where that left off, focusing on the aftermath of the case through two characters trying individually to make sense of how someone they’d been close to could do such a thing.
The author does a good job recreating the setting and what kind of people lived there. I knew that there was conflict between Unruh and the neighbors, but Green brought this into focus, hinging the book around the question of who stole Unruh’s gate, which was allegedly what set him off. But the book acknowledges the inability to find satisfactory reasons for such acts, and goes into how the residents of the block were impacted, directly or indirectly, by the murders.
I am a little confused about the genre of this book. On NetGalley, it is filed under Mystery & Thrillers, Nonfiction, and True Crime – all of which felt accurate to me. The facts and people are real, but how Raymond and Freda felt about Unruh’s crimes – which makes up the majority of the story – has been speculated upon, Raymond I believe with the help of his family. This did leave me with some lingering confusion about how the various people who lived in the neighborhood were recreated, if the author knew their personalities from family and news reports or if she speculated about them – in short, how much was hard fact and how much fictionalized.
Overall, an interesting work of narrative nonfiction that will likely appeal to even though who are not true-crime lovers.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.