cover image Cruel Doubt

Cruel Doubt

Joe McGinniss, Jr.. Simon & Schuster, $25 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-671-67947-7

Personable, cocky North Carolina college student Chris Pritchard, fond of marijuana, coke and LSD, and obsessed with the acting-out fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons, conspired in 1988 with two fellow D & D players to have his mother and wealthy stepfather murdered so that he could inherit $2 million. Bonnie Von Stein, his mother, suffered threefold--as a victim (she was stabbed while in bed next to her murdered husband), as a suspect and as a mother clinging to denial, protective toward the son who plotted her death. In a gripping, understated narrative, McGinniss ( Fatal Vision) lets the story tell itself. Readers learn from court testimony, interviews with Pritchard in prison and psychiatric reports that the young man felt sorely abandoned by his father, who deserted his family when the boy was three. Covering the same case as Jerry Bledsoe's forthcoming Blood Games (Dutton), McGinniss's crisply written account is a somewhat more forceful, but not entirely successful attempt to explain this distorted mother-son relationship. Literary Guild special selection; author tour. (Oct.)