cover image Compulsion


Meyer Levin. Fig Tree (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-1-941493-02-1

The horrific murder in 1924 of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb inspired this acclaimed roman à clef, originally published in 1956. Levin, who was 18 at the time, covered the case for the Chicago Daily News. Thinly disguised as reporter Sid Silver, he narrates the tale of thrill killers Judd Steiner and Artie Straus. Steiner and Straus, acting as perverted Nietzschean supermen, abducted and murdered 13-year-old Paulie Kessler, the son of a pawnbroker. Thirty years later, Steiner is eligible for parole and Silver’s editor asks him to interview the prisoner, which frames the journalist’s recollection of the crime, its detection, and the trial. Levin (Citizens) makes the senseless brutality of the murderers palpable, as well as the suffering of the survivors, who include Steiner’s devastated father, unable to comprehend how his child could become a killer. The psychiatry feels dated, but otherwise this holds up as a landmark legal thriller. [em](Apr.) [/em]