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A cautionary tale, poorly told
on April 10, 2010
I read a lot of true crimes, partly because I'm interested in how these crimes come to pass and how they could possibly be prevented in the future. I have also worked in some criminal justice related positions and gaining a greater understanding of everybody on both sides involved in a crime is helpful. Therefore, a well-written true-crime book is both interesting and helpful to me. Unfortunately, this book is not that.
Like many people who follow true crime, I was already aware of the details of the Petit murders from national news media such as "People" magazine. I was suspicious of this book having been released before the killers even went to trial which normally does not bode well for the quality of the book. I bought a used copy (as I often do) so that if it turned out to be not very good, I would not be out much money. Good call on my part and I'm going to be kind of wary of the next true crime book that St. Martin's decides to go rushing out.
The actual crime takes up only a few pages of this book, which is OK since if you read the newspaper or magazines you already know all that. Most of this book is the Joshua Komisarjevsky story. As a child, he was adopted into a wealthy and prominent Russian family, but by his early teens appears to have been becoming your standard behavioral problem/ sexual deviant/ arsonist/ budding psycho. The book suggests that maybe this was caused by his not getting the proper psychiatric treatment by parents who believed prayer and sending your kid off to church camp was the answer (side note: teenage Joshua has relations with so many ministers' daughters and other church camp girls that I'd be afraid to send my kid to one of those places knowing they might meet such a person) or by alleged sexual abuse as a child by a foster brother. While these might well be contributing factors, along with possibly genetic factors, to creating the psychopath that Joshua obviously grew up to be, it's simply not that compelling of a story. As someone else observed, we don't get to know the Petits beyond what's already been published and we also don't get that much info about Joshua's partner-in-crime, Steven Hayes.
I did wonder why Joshua and Hayes, fresh out of prison, would be allowed to be hanging around together after their release from the halfway house. Seemed like a bad idea to me as obviously these two committed more horror together than one would have been able to pull off alone. I also thought it was odd that prior to this crime, wealthy Cheshire folks are portrayed as leaving their doors unlocked and seemingly unafraid of home invasions when they not only have a penitentiary very close by, but also I'm sure that Joshua was not the only "rich kid gone way wrong" in their midst. But the book doesn't really explore these topics, and given that the book looks like a rush job I'm not sure how believable its portrait ofthe community is.
My suggestion is to skip reading this and wait until somebody actually does a more thoughtful book about this subject, if that day ever comes (hopefully after the trial or other resolution). Also, if anyone is concerned that this book would make people sympathize with Joshua Komisarjevsky, that seems unlikely. Much is made out of his fatherly feelings for his baby daughter, but by the time I was 1/3 through I was just glad the guy was out of the picture as he's not someone who should be near any young girls and the poor little kid he fathered is likely to have a better chance at life without him around.