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An American Killing Hardcover – September 14, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (September 14, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057027
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,778,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As a novice writer, Ann Rule worked beside serial killer Ted Bundy for months before his identity as a mass murderer was unmasked. Rule broke into the literary big time with The Stranger Beside Me, exposing the hidden side of the man she thought she knew. But Rule did more than whet a national appetite for true crime stories with her ground-breaking book. She also gave Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, the author of four critically acclaimed novels, a model for Denise Burke, the heroine of this unusually well-written story of sex, crime, and politics.

Burke is equally at ease in Washington, D.C., where her husband is Bill Clinton's adviser on domestic affairs and she and Hillary trade wardrobe tips on what to wear to Parent's Day at Sitwell Friends School (hint: You can't go wrong with a suit), and in New Caxton, Rhode Island, where Eddie Baines was tried and found guilty for a gruesome triple slaying he may not have committed. It's not the kind of crime Burke usually writes about--for one thing, it doesn't have a hero, and every good true crime book needs one. But Owen Hall, Burke's lover and New Claxton's congressman, has a personal interest in seeing the truth come out about the murders, so she starts investigating. The truth turns out to be much more horrifying than either Burke or the congressman expected, and it keeps readers turning the pages to see the effect it has on the town, its founding family and other inhabitants, and Burke's own life. What sets An American Killing apart from other books in the genre is Smith's talent for characterization--not only the major figures in the novel, but the minor ones, too, especially Poppy, the head of the FBI crime lab and Burke's best friend; Nick Burke, Burke's husband; Rosie Owzciak, the town librarian; and New Caxton itself, a dying town whose fortunes are tied to those of Owen Hall and his brother Charles. This is a smart, sexy, completely engrossing novel that should win its author the wide commercial acceptance that her previous novels, too, deserve. --Jane Adams

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Smith's four literary novels, which include The Book of Phoebe and Masters of Illusion, may be surprised by her segue into the suspense genre, but the good news is that she succeeds admirably in this lively and absorbing novel. Her heroine, Denise Burke, a bestselling writer of true crime books, is mentally seduced by charismatic Congressman Owen Hall at a Literary Guild bash (one of many references to publishing manners and mores) into writing about a triple murder in Owen's home town of New Caxton, R.I., for which Eddie Baines, a black former local sports star, was convicted in a travesty trial. As Denise begins to investigate the murder of the Montevallo family, physical seduction and a rapturous love affair with Owen quickly follow. Denise, who is enduring a lackluster marriage to Nick Burke, a top man in the Clinton administration, soon is rocketing back and forth between D.C. and New Caxton, where she uncovers a pattern of chicanery and deception that involves the entire community. When Owen does a sudden about-face and pleads with her to abandon the book, Denise refuses and finds herself in peril. Among the novel's attractions are Smith's nimble use of Washington gossip and her grasp of forensic details. Notable also is her astute portrayal of an economically depressed town where racism and ethnic bias among Poles, Italians and blacks did not surface until jobs became scarce (members of New Caxton's patrician population, to which Hall's family belongs, are referred to by the others as "Americans"). Fueled by "pathologically cynical" narrator Denise's sarcastic quips, the plot zips along at a brisk pace and stumbles only toward the end, when Smith unveils a credibility-stretching surfeit of villains and motives in untangling the web of crimes and suspects. Meanwhile, Smith's witty, intelligent take on the links between high-level politics and sophisticated crime has the ring of truth and the zest of a real page-turner. Agent, Aaron Priest Agency; 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; BOMC selection; audio to Brilliance; author tour; foreign rights sold in Germany, U.K. and the Netherlands.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut and have lived in Connecticut all my life except for the two years I served as a Peace Corps volunteer on Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano rising nearly 13,400 feet above the equatorial sea. I have a most lovely family and a labradoodle named Salty.

My grandparents on my father's side immigrated from the north of Italy, and on my mother's, Quebec. My fondest childhood memories are of sweltering summers blue-crabbing with my French-speaking grandfather from 5 A.M. until 5 p.m., my grandfather wearing a worn three-piece suit and cap, and me, my underpants. When I told my Italian grandfather that I would be going to Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer he told me there were very good grapes in Africa.

My brother was autistic, a savant, who would not allow singing, laughing, sneezing, electronic sound (including television, radio and anything that produced music), and the flushing of the toilet except when he was asleep and he never seemed to be asleep. He had a library of over two thousand books all on WWII. As his adjutant, I attained a vast pool of knowledge on such things as identifying fighter bombers from their silhouettes and why we dropped the atomic bomb: "To win the war," Tyler told me. Then: "It didn't work so we dropped another one. Victory at last." Once he tried to kill my cat by dropping his latest acquisition, Jane's All the World Aircraft on its head. I rescued the cat in the nick of time as Tyler shouted, "Prepare to drop depth charges, men!" As an autistic person, his senses were fine-tuned to a state none of the rest of us could possibly understand: bright colors (especially red), odors (especially perfume) and noise (particularly a cat meowing), sent him into paroxysms of agony.

The relationship with my brother was one of three influences on my writing; the second, my father's bedtime stories consisting of poetry and prose. Right after the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary," he would recite: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!" The third influence was the shelf of classic children's literature my mother kept stocked with such gems as The Swiss Family Robinson, Bambi, Tom the Water-Boy, Silver Pennies, King Arthur and the Round Table, The Child's Odyssey. Somehow, The Bedside Esquire (1936) found its way to the shelf and before I was eight years old, I'd read the extraordinary short fiction within including Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Paul Gallico's "Keeping Cool in Conneaut," Salinger's "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," Ben Hecht's "Snowfall in Childhood," and my favorite, "Latins Make Lousy Lovers," by Anonymous. In the collection was an excerpt from the novel, Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato which so bowled me over that I decided then and there that I would be a writer, too, just like all the writers who wrote fiction for Esquire Magazine in 1936.

Instead of studying at college, I read and wrote. I graduated with a 2.01 grade point average not knowing I'd fulfilled my academic requirements until graduation week when my dean called and asked why I hadn't picked up my cap and gown. When I told him my grade point had fallen under 2.0 he told me it was a good thing I hadn't majored in math or it certainly would have. Together we recalculated and I finally believed him when he told me it wasn't 1.89 as I'd thought. To this day, I can't remember my multiplication tables six through twelve, and even though my fourth grade teacher wrote in my report card, Mary-Ann will not be able to function in life if she does not learn her six through twelve tables, I have. Also, I have come to learn that there is a dysfunction called something like dyscalcula, the math equivalent of dyslexia, which I obviously have since if you say to me, "What's 6 times 7?" my palms will start to sweat, my knees get wobbly and I start having a heart attack. This recent revelation of my learning disability has allowed me to stop fantasizing about studying math all over again starting with Algebra I, which I managed to pass with a D though I failed Algebra II, since I'm discalulic.

After Peace Corps service, I taught, worked as a librarian and got my first freelance writing job with Reader's Digest. The Digest editor assigned me sports and games for How to Do Just about Anything, a book which sold 50 million copies world-wide. Reader's Digest made a vast fortune on that book alone, while me and the other writers earned $25 to $75 dollars per article. I learned economy of language writing such pieces as "How to Play Tennis" in fifty words. My first writing collaboration with my son began with this book: I described how to play "Hangman" and the Digest used his piece of paper with a name I couldn't get--yacht-- and so I was hung. This made me feel guilty since the games I played his older sister didn't make the Digest cut, so unfair since she taught her brother how to read when he was three.

I have published nine novels: The Book of Phoebe; Lament for a Silver-Eyed Woman; The Port of Missing Men; Masters of Illusion: A Novel of the Great Hartford Circus Fire, An American Killing, and the Poppy Rice Mysteries (Love Her Madly, She's Not There, She Smiled Sweetly). My memoir, Girls of Tender Age, is a favorite of book clubs. (The paperback edition has a great book club guide.)

Dirty Water: A Red Sox Mystery was my second collaboration with my son, and centers on the 2007 World Champions.

My books have been reprinted in seven foreign languages.

Four of my books (including my newest--see below) are in e-Book editions: Girls of Tender Age, Love Her Madly, She's Not There and the soon-to-be- published, The Honoured Guest: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words. Keep posted to learn when the rest will be available as e-Books, too.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Great Hartford Circus Fire. I am pleased to note that Masters of Illusion has been optioned for a film by Amazon Productions. I think the world is ready for a good circus movie.

I have also had short fiction and essays in included in several collections.

I have taught fiction writing at Fairfield University and has participated in writing seminars throughout the country. In March 2001, I was guest teacher-writer at the University of Ireland and on the Aran Islands; and writer-in-residence at Suomi College in Michigan.

Now I teach memoir writing at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

In 2010, I was awarded the Diana Bennett Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I spent the academic year writing the first draft of a story of the commencement of the American Civil War, when I wasn't at MGM Grand being disappeared by David Copperfield.

I finished the book and it's about to be published in an e-Book edition on August 13th--The Honoured Guest: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words. If you would like to read this book on paper, please send me a check for $10 to 1 Mansfield Grove Road, #305, East Haven, CT 06512, and I will send you a CD and you can print the book yourself.

Happy Reading.
"It's not what you read, or how you read, but that you read."--me

Customer Reviews

The characters, especially the protagonist, were well-developed and believable.
Amazon Customer
Sure to garner new fans and plaudits for the author, An American Killing also gifts readers with one top-notch, skillfully conceived mystery.
Gail Cooke
I found the characters unlikable and unsympathetic, and the novel's pace hindered by far too much name-dropping and gossip.
Michael Cornett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 1, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Gossipy and gripping, glamourous and gritty aren't contradictions in An American Killing but add zest to the mix in this intriguing multi-tiered thriller by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith.
After four critically praised literary endeavors, including Masters Of Illusion (1994) and The Port Of Missing Men (1989), Ms. Smith has gracefully repaired to the thriller field. Her first effort in this genre is delivered with all the aplomb and style of an established master. Sure to garner new fans and plaudits for the author, An American Killing also gifts readers with one top-notch, skillfully conceived mystery.
By choosing today's power-driven Washington, D.C. as her setting, the author establishes an immediacy that makes this chilling tale even more disturbing. Conversations with contemporary literati and weekends shared with Bill and Hillary satisfy a yen for insider scoops, while intelligent, probative comments regarding racism, politics, and marriage enrich the novel's narrative. Ms. Smith shows a special knack for revealing the intimate longings and protective responses of a bruised human heart.
Smart and sardonic, Denise Burke is a true crime writer who has regularly snared bestseller list slots with her O. J. Simpson tell-all and revelations about murderous moms (think Susan Smith). Married to remote, rather oblivious Nick, a Clinton policy adviser, and mother of two almost unrealistically reliable and independent adolescents, she is privy to Washington's in-circle as well as Literary Guild soirees.
Upon meeting attractive, charismatic Congressman Owen Hall, Denise is, in this order: impressed, involved, in bed with him.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Take notes on the conversations in this book - they're so zingy that you'll want to use Mary-Ann Tirone Smith's lines the next time you're at a cocktail party and the verbal dissections start. The people are smart in An American Killing, but it's the plot that keeps you riveted to your seat. It's breathless. I read it in one night. I can't wait until her next one comes out.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 1998
Format: Hardcover
"An American Killing" is for those who look for well-written beach books. Even though I don't read much fiction, I kept reading this crime novel to the end. Mary-Ann Tirone Smith has written a well-designed, well-researched story that broaches a few issues beyond the who-dunnit genre, namely crime theory, motherhood, politics, postmodernist philosophy, an insider's look at publishing, and--most intriguing--a study of the marriage of a woman who behaves with a man's independence. The heroine, a bestselling author who specializes in novelizing true murders, has as much bluster and vigor as any male detective. She's trained her teenaged children to do without her, and her husband, too. She leaves without permission, contacts them only when convenient, and offers them no guilt, no explanations, no lengthy telephone communications. Smith's best writing--of writing that is excellent throughout--details her forays alone to the family's Rhode Island beach cottage, and the dog, Buddy, that keeps her company. She also describes a dying industrial town and its unfortunate residents, a prison interview, an author's personal day in New York City, and the writer's life in Washington, DC, as though she's been there. She has a strange habit of not providing physical descriptions of the men in this story. And the sex is, well, perhaps an editor's suggestion; she skates over it like an embarrassment. But I like the relationships she describes. You see yourself in these scenes; she hits you in places you'll recognize. It's unusual for a private investigator to fall in love with the chief murder suspect, but this works. The effectiveness of Tirone Smith's story rests on unexpectedness. I quibble with the ending, which has the strong smell of change by an editor.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By don kennedy on January 18, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
It's been a while since I read this book, but I have no trouble remembering how hard it was to put down. It was a unique read, well conceived characters, swift moving plot, a refreshing brevity of language, ( dare I say for a female author?), and lots of surprises. What more can you ask for, you say? Well, I only ask for more, more, more! Unfortunately, this is the only book that this author has written of this genre. I'll keep looking and hoping though. More, please!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carol Peterson Hennekens on September 28, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The most unique aspect of "An American Killing" lies in the writing. Taking a solid but somewhat common plot, Smith adds a layer of observation and interpretation to make for a rich and thoughtfully paced suspense read. For example, Smith spends what seems, at first, to be an inordinate amount of time describing the declining mill town of New Caxton, Rhode Island. However, as the book progresses, many of the clues to the triple murder lie precisely in what is normal and what was abnormal in the minute details of everyday life in New Caxton.
Denise Burke, the narrator/true crime novelist, is very different from Nancy Prichard's new protagonist, Marie Lightfoot. Denise is an interesting and rich personality - not just because she shoots the bull with Hilary Clinton. The book is full of her inner thoughts which are processed in a most female style. Male readers need to be prepared for some very "Venus" type thinking.
The book missing a fifth star for a couple of reasons. First, the book starts with the murder of the Congressman, then spends 90% of the book in a relatively linear narrative of events preceeding the murder, and then has a brief post murder wrap-up. Since the real mystery isn't the murder of the Congressman but rather the triple murder, why confuse the issue. Also, while I enjoyed the asides about the Clintons, I think the marketers do the potential readers a disservice. Bill and Hilary have nothing to do with the core of the story.
Bottom-line: A nicely written mystery that takes time to think and observe. The pacing may be too slow for some readers.
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