cover image Killings


Calvin Trillin. Random House, $26 (318p) ISBN 978-0-3995-9140-2

Violent deaths illuminate complex lives and desperate circumstances in this expanded reissue of the classic collection of the author’s true-crime reporting for the New Yorker. Journalist Trillin (Jackson, 1964) prowls America’s small towns and county courthouses and finds homicide sagas that are both emblematic and enigmatic: a noirish sex-and-hired-murder scandal erupts in a wholesome Kansas church; two Mexican-American clans fight a bloody generations-long feud; a cocktail waitress is the catalyst for an Iowa farm family’s self-destruction; a bankrupt farmer squares off against a SWAT team while blaming Mossad for his problems; a little girl is brutalized to death by her stepfather; a Michigan man makes a statement about his failed life by opening fire on a group of teenagers; an Iowa man ends up dead for no clear reason beside booze, cussedness, and a handy shotgun. The killers’ motives for bloodshed are many—lust, revenge, honor, madness, self-defense, property disputes, constitutional rights, insurance money—and Trillin also fills in the social backdrop that nudges individuals towards violence, examining poverty, collapsing farm economies, the clash of conservatives and the counterculture, and the rise of drug gangs. Trillin’s relaxed reportage is sympathetic to everyone yet tinged with subtle irony; with telling detail and shrewd insights, he masterfully evokes the places and personalities that hatched these grim episodes. (Apr.)