Bringing Adam Home
by Les Standiford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bringing Adam Home / 978-0-061-98390-0
I always find it very difficult to criticize "true crime" books - on the one hand, I think it's very important that the full story be told, and I am glad that this book can bring some closure to the parents who have suffered so much in the wake of losing their little boy. In terms of *content* in this book - the following of the case from the very beginning to its final conclusion, the uncovering of the mistakes and mishandling that allowed the case to drag on for so long, and the unwavering strength and bravery of John and Reve Walsh - I would gladly give this book five stars without question. But, frustratingly, this is a good story told badly, and I found the lackluster prose and certain stylistic choices in the writing to be distracting and distancing to the reader.
From the first chapter alone, I could not help but feel that a stronger editor's hand was needed here. The author is very fond of extremely long sentences that sometimes cover almost an entire page. These sentences are convoluted and twist and turn through a series of comma breaks - I often had to backtrack and re-read sentences for clarity. There's a lot of editorializing about the "good old days" when abductions like this (supposedly) didn't happen, and it's a bit frustrating for a serious student of history who realizes that the truth just isn't that simple. The author also seems a little too keen on making this an "epic" story and ties everything obsessively back into "butterfly chaos theory", even ending one chapter with the sentence, "Flap, flap, flap," to indicate that the butterfly's wings are flapping. It's not very subtle, and I feel like I'm being beat about the head, when I just want the facts and not a fictionalized epic tale of heroism and extraordinary coincidences.
Furthermore - and this is probably my biggest pet peeve in "true crime" writing - the author will often deliberately withhold information from the reader in order to heighten tension. A glaring example near the end would be the convoluted setup of some very crucial photographic evidence that co-author Matthews unearthed: several pages are devoted to just how crucial these photos are, and the parents' extreme reaction at seeing them, and how they're the closest thing the case has to a smoking gun... etc. The reader, however, doesn't get to know what's in the photos until 10+ pages later, in a blink-and-you-miss-it bullet point, well after the subject of the photos has been dropped. It's apparent that this delay of information to the reader is intended to drag out the suspense, and it's incredibly annoying to me as a reader because when the subject of the photos is left off, I have no idea when or if we're ever coming back to it until the author finally decides to inject the information for what he feels is the maximum effect and the result feels like a cheap carnival show rather than a serious and scholarly investigation.
I'm nonplussed at the setup of the material presented. This book is about 230 pages long, and the first 30-40 deal with the facts of the abduction: how it happened and who did it. The last 40 pages or so deal with the final gathering of evidence and the decision to finally settle on the most likely candidate for the murder. If you're doing the math, that leaves 150 pages in between, and those 150 pages are completely devoted to showing just how badly the people in charge of the case apparently mishandled the investigation. As much as I firmly believe that incompetence and apathy should be highlighted and excoriated, this choice of outline means that the *mishandling* of the case gets significantly more weight in this book than the *actual* case itself - and the result is that it's a difficult slog for the reader to get through to the end. We're not really holding on to find out the facts for ourselves, because we already know from the initial introductory chapters, so it just ends up being an unsatisfying slog through incompetence, stonewalling, and in-fighting - and it's sometimes unclear how neutral the authorial perspective is.
Lastly, and this is going to be perhaps a subjective complaint, but I'm sometimes uncomfortable with the tone taken in the writing. The author spends an anomalous amount of time trying to pin down the sexual orientation of the murderer and whether he was gay or straight and whether or not he enjoyed cross-dressing - none of which I felt was pertinent to the overall investigation. Furthermore, there is a rather unconnected story about co-author Matthews falling afoul of an unrelated sexual harassment investigation, and I found it extremely disconcerting to hear the author insist that it was merely "trivial stuff on both sides" and that the whole thing was very silly and easily dismissed. While I can sympathize that Matthews should not have been sidelined for accidentally interfering with the investigation (he discovered and removed an IA camera from the ceiling, not realizing that it was *supposed* to be there), at the same time, the harassment of the other officer sounded genuine and I didn't really need or want the author editorializing about how the whole thing should never have been investigated in the first place.
I don't know whether or not to recommend this book. If you have a very strong interest in the mishandling of the Adam Walsh case, then this book certainly has a lot to say about it, if you can get past the editorializing and heavy handed prose. On the other hand, if you'd just like to know the facts of the case as they stand, I highly recommend reading the first and last 40 pages only, and skipping most of the middle. I'm pleased that this book exists to tell the truth about the Walsh case, I just wish it was better written and more heavily edited to maintain reader interest and to make the author's own voice and opinions a little less blatant.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll