cover image We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

Becky Cooper. Grand Central, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4683-7

In this mesmerizing debut, former New Yorker staffer Cooper recounts her pursuit of justice for Jane Britton, a 23-year-old Harvard anthropology grad student who was murdered in her Cambridge, Mass., apartment in 1969. After Britton didn’t show up for an exam, her boyfriend and Britton’s neighbors found her bludgeoned body face-down on her bed. The red powder on the corpse suggested that her killer had conducted an ancient burial ritual and was someone with “an intimate knowledge of anthropology.” The crime made headlines nationally, but despite multiple suspects, including a Harvard archaeology professor rumored to have had an affair with Britton, no one was charged. Cooper, who learned of the mystery in 2009 when she was a junior at Harvard, became obsessed with it and pursued leads pointing to a link between Britton’s killing and a similar murder of a woman in Harvard Square committed a month later. Her dogged effort to access police files was the impetus for DNA testing that yielded proof of the killer’s identity in 2018. Cooper does a superior job of alternating her present-day investigation with flashbacks depicting Britton’s life and the initial police inquiries. In addition to presenting a tense narrative, she delves into the phenomenon and morality of true crime fandom. This twist-filled whodunit is a nonfiction page-turner. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Nov.)