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A Death in Belmont Hardcover – April 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Imagine how strange and frightening it would be to see a picture of yourself, not quite a year old, with your mother and two men, one of whom is a confessed serial killer. This is what happened to Sebastian Junger, and only a small part of what he recounts in A Death in Belmont.

The quiet suburb of Belmont, Massacuusetts, is in the grip of fear. The Boston Strangler murders have taken place nearby, and now there is another shocking sex crime, right in Belmont. The victim is Bessie Goldberg, a middle-aged woman who had hired a cleaning man to help out around the house on that fall day in 1963. He is a black man named Roy Smith. He did the appointed chores, collected his money and left a receipt on the kitchen table. Neighbors will say that he looked furtive when he walked down the street, that he was in a hurry, that he stopped to buy cigarettes, that he looked over his shoulder. They didn't see a black man in Belmont very often, so, of course, they noticed him. So the story went, and on these slender threads, and his own checkered history, Roy Smith is convicted of the Belmont murder and sent to prison.

On the day of the murder, Albert DeSalvo, an Italian-American handyman, is also in Belmont, working as a carpenter in the Junger home, where the picture is taken. Two years after his work for the Jungers, he confesses in vivid detail to the crimes of which the Boston Strangler is accused, and sent to prison, where he is stabbed to death by an inmate. But he never confesses to the Bessie Goldberg murder. Could he have left the Junger home, committed the murder a few blocks away and calmly returned to finish his day's work? Could Roy Smith really have been the guilty party, even though his sentence was commuted after De Salvo confessed?

In the grand tradition of his bestselling The Perfect Storm, Junger tells a terrific story, lining up all the elements, asking all the pertinent questions, digging into the backgrounds of both men, retelling his mother's very strange encounter with Albert when she is home alone with Sebastian. He then asks the larger questions: Was Roy Smith convicted summarily because he was black? Was Albert De Salvo really the Boston Strangler?

Junger cannot answer all the questions, as no one can. Without DNA, there is no way to be certain of which of the two men might have committed the rape and murder of Bessie Goldberg, or if neither of them is guilty. While it is frustrating not to know for sure, the story is fascinating, reads like a tautly plotted mystery thriller, and Junger's close connection is downright creepy. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bessie Goldberg was strangled to death in her home in Belmont, a Boston suburb, in March of 1963—right in the middle of the Boston Strangler's killing spree. Her death has not usually been associated with the other Strangler killings because Roy Smith, a black man who was working in Goldberg's house that day, was convicted of her murder on strong circumstantial evidence. But another man was working in Belmont that day: Albert DeSalvo, who later confessed to being the Boston Strangler, was doing construction work in the home of Junger's parents (the author himself was a baby). Could DeSalvo have slipped away and killed Bessie Goldberg? Junger's taut narrative makes dizzying hairpin turns as he considers all the evidence for, and against, Smith or DeSalvo being Goldberg's killer; he also reviews the more familiar case for and against DeSalvo being the Strangler—for there are serious questions about his confession. As Junger showed in his bestselling The Perfect Storm, he's a hell of a storyteller, and here he intertwines underlying moral quandaries—was racism a factor in Smith's conviction? How to judge when the truth in this case is probably unknowable?—with the tales of two men: Smith, a ne'er-do-well from a racist South who rehabilitated himself before dying in prison; DeSalvo, a sexual predator raised by a violent father who was stabbed to death in prison. This perplexing story gains an extra degree of creepiness from Junger's personal connection to it. First serial to Vanity Fair;19-city author tour. (May 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393059809
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Junger is the internationally acclaimed author of The Perfect Storm, which spent over three years on the New York Times bestsellers list and was the basis for a major motion picture starring George Clooney. He is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers Fire and A Death in Belmont. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

Junger's time in the Korengal is also the subject of the documentary feature film Restrepo, which Junger directed with award-winning photographer Tim Hetherington. Restrepo, which won the 2010 Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance, will be released theatrically as a National Geographic Entertainment presentation of an Outpost Films Production in July, and will have its worldwide television premiere on the National Geographic Channel this fall.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By kevnm VINE VOICE on May 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Junger has, in the past, intertwined a number of narratives to add complexity and texture to his writing. This structure added to the drama of A Perfect Storm, as the reader moved from the Coast Guard rescue operations to the Weather Service, to the fishing fleet, etc.

Here, though, the multiple narrative threads diluted the work, and felt like padding. The book is the story of a black man caught up in the Boston Strangler investigation. Junger deftly presents evidence which suggests he was innocent. A small amount of additional interest arises from the recounting of the crimes associated with Albert DeSalvo, and even less from the fact that DeSalvo worked briefly at the author's parents' home.

The rest, racism in the South, the economics of Parchman farm prison, Kennedy's assassination, discussions of serial killers and the justice system (which appear to be written for sixth-graders) are strictly padding. They're completely pointless, and still any momentum the narrative might have achieved.

Junger writes well, and this inflated magazine article is not a complete disaster. Admirers of Junger's writing can only hope he finds a story better suited to his considerable talents.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Kristin on August 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
By all rights, this should have been a five page magazine article instead of a 300+ page book. Although the premise is mildly interesting, most of the book consists of obvious filler. The need for more and more filler means that Junger (and his editors) imposed no self-discipline in his sometimes excrutiating meanderings. For example, it is clear that whoever killed Bessie Goldberg committed murder. To add a couple pages to the book, however, Junger inserts a completely irrelevant description of the legal standards for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter that (by the way) are not even accurate. When you're trying to fill up pages, every random tangent becomes fair game. The telling detail is overshadowed by the extraneous detail, which leaves the reader with the impression that Junger is a sloppy thinker. It's too bad, because he's a generally fabulous writer -- he's not only an excellent stylist, but he usually can put together a tight, cohesive narrative. I'm sure he got a hefty advance on this one, but I can't imagine it is worth the hit to his reputation to turn what could have been a lively magazine article into a book length swamp.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on May 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of the dozens of books I have read and reviewed over the past few years, Sebastian Junger's "A Death in Belmont" is one of the hardest to judge. While it is well-written it is also suspect to an unobjective point of view by the author.

Ostensibly, this is a book about the "Boston strangler", his murder spree in the early 1960s and Junger's brush with Albert DeSalvo, the man who was later identified as the strangler and convicted for the crimes associated with his moniker. Yet DeSalvo becomes almost a supporting character as Junger delves more deeply into the person of Roy Smith, a black man from Mississippi who murdered Junger's Belmont neighbor, Bessie Goldberg in 1963.

Junger is at his best in giving full descriptions of the backgrounds of both DeSalvo and Smith and he's especially informative of how the legal system works (or did work) in Massachusetts. With a flair for unraveling a good story, Junger builds a parallel narrative of both men. He primes the reader with provocative questions, as well. However, as he continues, it is Smith who emerges as the real man of interest. In doing so, Junger steps over the bounds of objectivity and lends himself to side with Smith about the Goldberg murder. It's too bad because had he kept a fairer distance this would have been a first-rate offering.

I can't give a recommendation for this book but I also wouldn't suggest that it not be read. It's not a bad book at all, but it could have been so much better.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Friend of Leah Goldberg on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A Response to Lila

Smith's appeal is never discussed in the book. You are told in an oblique manner that the case in under appeal. Never is the reader told the results of the appeal when in 1966 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction

stating in its opinion " The jury could have found unusual opportunity, motive, possession after the crime of unexplained funds, incriminating action in leaving the house in disorder and the work unfinished, and subsequent conduct and false

statements showing consciousness of guilt. Evidence of consciousness of guilt, while not conclusive, may with other evidence be sufficient to prove guilt"

"This is not a case on which the guilt of the defendant is left to conjecture and surmise with no solid basis in fact."

Junger clearly states on page 254 that Smith was thought to be the Boston Strangler. Mike Giacoppo may have thought he was after the strangler, but Massachusetts State Police officials and FBI agents at the house on Scott Road the evening of March 11, 1963 told Leah Goldberg that Roy Smith was a parolee who was in prison during many of the murders and that this was a copy cat killing committed to cover up a robbery. The District Attorney's office at no time believed Smith was the Boston Strangler. If a newspaper reporter got carried away with a story, that has nothing to do with the police.

Leah Goldberg never told Sebastian Junger her impression of Smith's reaction to the verdict. She didn't see Smith's reaction because she wasn't there the day the verdict was

read.Actually Ms. Goldberg once told Junger that when she testified at trial she looked at Smith who seemed unemotional As for not quoting Ms Goldberg, Mr. Junger promised Ms.
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