A true crime story from the 1930s inspired my new novel set in 2017.
Seven years in the making, my new novel, The Last Kid Left, just hit stores, and I'm really excited to share the news with TMN readers.
The book should be available at your local bookstore, or most places online—Powell's, Barnes & Noble, Amazon. (It's already been named a "Best Book of the Month" by Amazon, and one of iBooks' "Best Books of the Year So Far.") If you'd like to get a copy signed, or just say hi, I'll be doing a number of events, kicking off tomorrow night, 7:30, at Skylight Books in Los Angeles. (Here's the full schedule for June.)
The novel got an unusual start, at least for me. Nearly seven years ago, I heard a story from a small town historian, about how, back in the 1930s, his village was roiled by a pair of murders. It all started when a teenager showed up in New Jersey with a pair of bodies in the trunk of his car. After the cops arrested him, he was whisked back home, to northern New England, and put on trial. Things got even weirder, involving other people around town, plus the kid's underage girlfriend and her father, who happened to be the sheriff's deputy. The media turned a tiny town's story into an international sensation, full of lurid gossip, sex, and madness.
That story has been a daily preoccupation of mine ever since. As I explain in a new essay on Lit Hub:
Seven years ago, I interviewed the local historian of a small New England village. We met in a crumbling cottage, the town’s historical society. I was reporting a story for a magazine. After an hour, we parted ways. He escorted me out to my car and asked offhand, by the way, had I heard about the big scandal? What scandal? Oh, nothing, he said, it didn’t have anything to do with my story. Anyway, it all happened back in the 1930s. When the town made headlines with a pair of murders, young lovers. Reporters flew in from New York, Miami, San Francisco, even Germany. It was all very Peyton Place, he said, but darker, more Gothic. The story of the summer, if not the year.
To learn more, I tracked down an old copy of LIFE magazine. Inside was a story that just as easily could have been ripped from scandal-crime-obsessed 2017—S Town, Serial, American Crime Story, et al.
A month or two after I met the historian, I found the appropriate issue of LIFE on eBay. It arrived a week later, torn but intact. Large format, mostly black and white, full of ads for Lucky Strikes and Gordon’s gin. Cover price: ten cents. The news that month included a “great diplomatic victory” for Joseph Stalin over Japan, a review of the latest Fred and Ginger movie, society news from Saratoga. And in the middle was a two-page spread for a single story, 22 pictures, about a teenage girl, her father, and a boy of 19, who “wriggled last week in the web of a tragedy as grim as any in Greek drama.”
Here are some of the photos that illustrated the article:
The Lit Hub essay explains how it all comes together. In any event, I'd love it if you'd consider giving the book a try. And if the book tour passes by a store near you—I'll also be hitting Austin and Nashville in the fall, among other places—please say hi! I love to meet TMN readers most of all. Donuts will be served.