20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2004
I have long been an afficianado of true crime and have read many of the best -- and of course, some real groaners. This book, however, is one of the very best I have come across. I literally could not put it down. I give it my highest recommendation.
The editing is as good as the writing, by the way. No repetition, careless observations, hanging questions, annoying trivialities, psychobabble or irksome misuse of "which" and "that."
Although it's real page-turner, the authors, award-winning investgative journalists at the Boston Globe, do not sensationalize or otherwise cheapen this heartbreaking story of one of the most brutal murders in the recent history of the state of New Hampshire.
The victims, two decent and well-loved Dartmouth professors, come vividly to life. Great thought also is given to the cryptic psychopathologies of the two "nice" young men who destroyed dozens of lives in their pursuit of sensation. For this the authors draw on articulate experts in the field who answer many obvious questions, although there are others that must, by their very nature, remain unanswered.
They build their narrative slowly, piece by inevitable piece, so that when they arrive at their devastating conclusions, we cannot help but share them, despite the implications they carry about our own children and communities.
Thank you, gentlemen, for a stunning and thought-provoking work of journalism. It has remained with me for many months and still makes me shudder.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2004
This is the best true crime book I have ever read. It tells the compelling but horrifying story of the murder of Half and Suzanne Zantop, two Dartmouth College professors, by two teenagers from the rural town of Chelsea, Vermont. Contrary to a previous reviewer, I did not find the book too detailed. There is a lot of detail, but this is necessary for the authors to tell the story properly. The details about the killers, Jim Parker and Robert Tulloch, and their lives in Chelsea before the killing are necessary to the understanding of these two. Neither were the "loner / loser" type that one thinks of in connectionn with teenagers who kill. Both had good friends in Chelsae, took part in extra-curricular activities in school and were intelligent. Granted, Tulloch's parents are a little strange, but not so strange as to explain his behavior. It is exactly in all the detail the authors provide that we see the transformation of these two reasonably normal acting kids into killers. This is a great strength of the book. In the end it is clear that Tulloch was a psychopath who manipulated Parker, a "follower" into going along with his criminal activities. The authors use of detail allows the reader to watch as Tulloch gets more and more out of control. Nor do I think the authors show any sympathy for either killer. They simply describe the relationship between them as it was. And, as it was, Parker certainly comes off the more sympathetic of the two. Another strength of the book is that it is happily free of the psychobabble sometimes found in true crime books.
The authors are also able to paint a very poignant picture of the Zantops. These were kind, wonderful people. In their acknowledgments section, the authors say "Getting to know the Zantops postumously made us wish we had known them in life." I can't imagine anyone reading this book not feeling the same way.
Another reason I found the book so compelling is a personal one: Hanover, NH, the home of Dartmouth College, is my home town. I was born and raised there and my dad was a Dartmouth professor. So I know the town and the area very well. In fact, when I was in high school, I loved going over into Vermont and driving along the unpaved back roads just to see beauty of the forest. I never knew the Zantops but many of the names of other Dartmouth faculty and administrators are familiar. And on their way along East Wheelock Street in Hanover to the Zantop's house the day of the killing, Tulloch and Parker passed within 100 or so yards of my own home in Hanover.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2013
If this book had offered less, I would have liked it more.
I remember the crime and followed it in the news at the time it happened, so I came to this reading with a lot of curiosity about what the authors would add to the story beyond the press reports. The answer is "quite a bit" -- and for that they get an A+, but (as I said in the subject line of this review) only to a point. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but there really can be too much of a good thing. In this instance, too much research went into the writing of this book. As a result, the authors lost control of their material. They used no filter to separate what was necessary to the telling of the tale from what was distracting and pointless. As I plowed through the book, I found the pacing often dragged to a crawl due to peripheral information, needless detail, and boring meanderings that contributed little or nothing to the story.
By way of illustration, imagine someone describing Christ's Last Supper. Would you want to know what was on the menu, what ingredients were used to prepare the dishes, where the ingredients were obtained, what the attendees were wearing, what kind of fabrics were used to make the clothing, whether a loom was used (and -- if so -- by whom), as well as a precise description of each outfit as well as instructions for building the dining table and hints on where you can buy the tableware. That's the level of unneeded narration you'll find in Judgment Ridge. I suspect the authors felt compelled to use every bit of research they gathered regardless of whether it strengthened or weakened their book. A good editor could have saved them from themselves.
The structure was another weak part of the book. Chapters jump back and forth in time in an awkward manner. Again, the authors were in need of a good editor to guide them.
On the plus side, if the needless material had been edited out and the book's structure had been more linear, the core of the book would have been impressive for just the new ground it covers if nothing else. Also, the writing itself is very good.
I recommend this true crime book only to the most patient of readers who are willing to go through a lot of dross to get to the gold.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
The authors have done a thorough job of researching the circumstances which led to the murder of the Zantoff's. I read this book with the hope of arriving at some kind of understanding as to why this murder happened. It is impossible to fathom precisely the confluence of circumstances that led to this terrible crime, but Judgement Ridge provides the reader with some measure of insight into the reason why this aweful thing happened. Why did this murder occur? Several circumstances had to intersect: two boys with complementary personality disorders; two sets of laissez-faire parents; a neglectful school system; and a 'boys-will-be-boys' community attitude. This is a cautionary story, and it is not emotionally easy to read. But it is very well constructed and will help those of us who are still dumbfounded by the horror of this crime.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2003
It is a sad litany of events all too familiar in an America besotted by violence. A small, quiet community is racked by a brutal murder. When police undertake their investigation it ultimately results in the arrest of members of the community, often young and previously strangers to the criminal justice system. As news of the crime and arrest spread throughout the community, its members are shocked to hear that people who led an otherwise spotless life are now accused of vicious criminal conduct. Shaking their heads in wonderment, they ask how such violence could occur and what that conduct tells us about our society.
JUDGMENT RIDGE: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders, by Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff, is such a story. It is the recounting of the events surrounding the murder of Half and Susanne Zantop, well-known Dartmouth College professors. Two teenage boys, James Parker and Robert Tulloch, from nearby Chelsea, Vermont were ultimately arrested and convicted of the murders. The facts of the murder, investigation and apprehension are told in a precise and exhaustive narrative by two authors who have immersed themselves in the sordid details of this violent crime.
To read JUDGMENT RIDGE is to be reminded not only of the violence in our society, but also of the random nature of such acts. Six months before the Zantops were murdered, Andrew Patti heard a knock on the door of his summer home near Judgment Ridge. A teenage boy was at the door indicating that he needed help because of car trouble. Patti sensed something was wrong and would neither help the boy nor allow him in the house to use the phone. The teenage boy was Robert Tulloch. Patti's unkindness saved his life. James Parker was waiting to ambush, rob and murder Patti and his 11-year-old-son. Not until the arrests of Parker and Tulloch would Patti understand how close he, rather than the Zantops, had come to being the victim of a brutal homicide.
The teenage murderers had planned for several months to rob and kill in order to obtain funds to finance a trip to Australia. As Parker explained in his confession, legitimate ways of making money were boring and would take too much time. Crime was more exciting. After several unsuccessful attempts, on January 27, 2001, they gained entry to the Zantop residence by posing as students taking an environmental survey. Suddenly, the boys displayed hunting knives purchased via the Internet. They slit their victims' throats and escaped with $340 in cash. In their haste to leave, they left behind pieces of evidence that would ultimately lead to their arrest and conviction.
Most true crime books can be divided into three segments: the crime, the apprehension, and the trial. Unlike Law and Order episodes, authors are not limited to telling their tale in one hour less commercials. Lehr and Zuckoff however had a different dilemma to confront. They could not write about a trial because Tulloch and Parker never went to trial. The authors have more than enough material to tell a chilling and often disturbing story of a crime that leaves the sensible reader with more questions than answers. To some degree the authors, lacking the denouement of a trial, feel compelled to provide the reader with minute details of the crime and the criminals. In this respect, one more edit of the material might have been useful.
This is a sobering and chilling account of a heinous murder and its investigation. The authors, unable to interview Tulloch and Parker, do their best to bring some sense to this tragic act. They have made a worthy effort. Sadly, as in most cases of this nature, they attempt a task that is impossible to achieve.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2003
Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff have written an outstanding book that explores not only the who and how, but most importantly the why behind the murders of two college professors. The pacing and detail are excellent and the authors did extensive research, including interviewing many of the towns people, teachers and friends of the two teenage boys who committed these crimes.
In the end you'll understand the motivation behind the murder, but no one will ever be able to explain how two such wonderful people could be the "random" victims of such a horrible crime.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2004
I couldn't put this book down. This is an incredibly well-researched book about the Dartmouth murders which delves equally into the lives and minds of the murderers, the victims, and the town that sprung them. What's also fascinating is that through the confession of one of the murderers, we have an exact description of what took place before, during, and after the heinous crime. The book comes up short only in a lack of explanation for one of the murderer's willing participation in it. Many people are under the spell of someone, but would they follow them to participate in a brutal murder? That being said, the book is a must read!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2003
Hope this is the first of many collaborations for Zuckoff and Lehr in the true crime genre. Judgment Ridge is so insightful and thorough without being gruesome and salacious. Living in Southern New Hampshire, I will never forget the horrific murders of Half and Susanna Zantop. The book paid touching tribute to the lives of the Zantops and painted such a vivid picture of the lives of their murderers. I appreciated Lehr and Zuckoff for the sensitivity towards the Zantops family and friends and the respect shown the families of Parker and Tulloch. The authors did not point fingers but presented thorough research. Even though the outcome was known the details of the book made for a read that was incredible!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2008
The authors did an amazing job of elucidating what life is like for a teenager growing up in Central Vermont at the end of the millenium; the challenges, emotional and physical, economical and psychological.
The main criticism of this book is the detail. From one who has lived there, who has struggled daily with the question of why our boys court violence (and they do), why they fall into the trap of inflation, fueled by contempt and arrogance, is all there in the book. I applaud these authors. They have hit the nail on the head over and over, not a loud clumsy clap, but a residual tap, making the case over and over, why our kids are falling into these traps.
As a parent of boys their age in a community just a few miles down the road, I saw this phenomenon coming down the halls of our high schools, I saw the desperate sense of displacement that so many of these kids experience, especially the young men, and the tragic disillusion and inflation that can so quickly carry them to the ill-fated, to destructive acts to self and other. Roberts arrogance is not unique or unusual. His sense of superiority is not uncommon. My husband and I struggled with what to do about it in our own household, in our own community; we found it too much of a coincidence that this pathology was running rampant a few miles down the road in Chelsea.
I found long sought for answers in this book. I read it word for word, page by page. The bottom line is consequence. Consequence. Consequence. I saw the mistake of no consequence made in our community, over and over. We see it today in the young men who work for us on our home in Vermont, in our absence, shoveling snow or mowing our lawn. They screw up, they milk the job, they pretend they didn't and their parents run to protect them. This error in judgement has proven fatal, not just for these two, there are many others who are serving time, many young men whose parents didn't understand what was right under their nose, are now paying the price for their arrogance. Too many liberal parents today make the mistake of believing their 17 year old sons are pure as the new driven snow, and we are no exception, we made the mistake too. The problem is that it persists, six years after these murders, after these authors have come on to tell the story through interview after interview, we are still seeing the same mistake being made, parents are still afraid to admit that their sons are capable of lying, that they need to be a little less gullible. Instead, we find parents raging and pressuring community members, schools, etc., to overlook obtuse behavior.
The authors description of the radically different parenting approach of the "old Vermonters" should not go without applause. The hard love approach works and is a preventive. They don't come out and say it, but it's inferred and rightly so. The one time the son of an "old Vermont family" made the mistake of scribbling on one of my daughters paintings at a student art show, the parents insisted he compensate her for the damage. It was a small scribble in comparison to the punishment the parents insisted on, the boy had to sell his video game to pay my daughter $150.00. They drove him to our home, the whole family came, gave her the money and made him formally apologize. A parenting style moving fast toward extinction.
This book should be on the best seller list and every parent should read it. As one reviewer put it, the parents are not responsible directly, but one thing I do know, parents today no longer have an excuse.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2004
Most books of this sort describe the crime first, then go on to tell what lead up to it. This one is refreshingly different -- it leaves the details of what actually happened during the murders until close to the end. This choice of chronology made the murders more vivid and riveting, in my opinion, because the characters and setting are already known and easy to picture. Some images from this story, especially from the murder scene, are still with me several weeks later.
The authors analyze one of the defendants extensively, concluding that he is a psychopath, while providing only sparse commentary on the psychology of the other killer. The second boy is presumed to have been a more simple personality, drawn in by the charisma of the psychopath. But I am not sure there is enough evidence available -- not in the book, anyway -- to make this conclusion completely convincing.
The authors are at their best when simply describing events and recounting the history behind this crime. The narrative is strong enough to stand on its own and could do without the simplistic psychological evaluation. It is a powerful story, striking in its sadness.