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A Stranger in the Family: A True Story of Murder, Madness, and Unconditional Love Hardcover – June 1, 1995

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525939733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525939733
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,649,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The setting is the progressive South United States of the 80s, where education and hard work offer hope for the good life--until mental illness brings tragedy. This is an unusual true-crime book because it's neither a whodunit, nor a manhunt, nor an account of a trial. Instead, it's a character study of a sadistic sexual predator who is all too human in his desperate need for love, and of his family members who need, just as desperately, to believe that their love for him will make them whole again. Authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith are adept at teasing out the many-layered subtleties of the criminal mind. Here they create a thought-provoking portrait by alternating passages from the well-educated killer's own diary, with the unfolding narrative of how the revelations of his crimes are affecting his family. It includes a surprising twist, and a powerful scene of confrontation near the end. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

It would be hard to imagine a more atypical serial rapist and murderer than Richard Daniel ("Danny") Starrett?a handsome, outgoing, considerate, married father of a three-year-old daughter and member of what seemed an ideal American family. We learn early on that he has confessed to five rapes and one murder in Georgia and South Carolina and is now serving 10 consecutive life sentences. Interspersed throughout this account by Naifeh and Smith (Jackson Pollock) is an interior monologue by the rapist presented as "autobiographical sketches," as he tries to come to terms with his crimes. Another important part of this story is the rapist's mother, Gerry, whose frantic efforts were instrumental in saving her son from the electric chair. Gerry gave the authors access to the family as well as to the journals Danny wrote after he was imprisoned. We learn of her gradual acceptance of certain disturbing facts in her own life and how her son's loss of liberty paradoxically freed her from her emotionally inaccessible husband, Richard, and her idealized image of her family. A powerful and perceptive study. True Crime, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh are graduates of Harvard Law School.

Mr. Naifeh, who has written for art periodicals and has lectured at numerous museums including the National Gallery of Art, studied art history at Princeton and did his graduate work at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University.

Together they have written many books on art and other subjects, including four New York Times bestsellers. Their biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga won the Pulitzer Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It also inspired the Academy Award-winning 2000 film Pollock starring Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden as well as John Updike's novel Seek My Face.

Naifeh and Smith have been profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, USA Today, and People, and have appeared on 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Charlie Rose, and the Today show.

Customer Reviews

This book is very one-sided.
Yes, it sounds horrible -- but I think I'm not alone in saying that I feel a lot more sympathy for the girls who were assaulted by Starrett.
Paul Cerra
Damn those pesky victims, if only they would keep quiet our boy Danny wouldn't be in all this trouble!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Paul Cerra on January 21, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a well written book that is strikingly one-sided. Before discussing the book, here is some brief background on the topic. Richard Daniel Starrett -- Danny to his friends -- was arrested in early 1989 and accused of a series of kidnappings and sexual assaults. While in jail, he also admitted murdering one of his victims, a 15-year-old girl named Chrissy Blake. The evidence against Starrett was overwhelming: he was caught when a seventeen year-old victim escaped after being kidnapped and imprisoned in Starrett's home. Starrett fled the scene in his car and remained free for more than a week, but in his home police found (among other things) a video camera mounted on a tripod that had captured his most recent sexual assault on tape. He was eventually arrested in Texas and returned to Georgia. Starrett pled "guilty but mentally ill", which at the time was a relatively new kind of plea allowed in South Carolina, and he was sentenced to multiple life sentences in jail.
Authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith draw on Starrett's own diary, which he began in prison, and the words of his parents and siblings to construct a picture of a man who seemed an unlikely rapist and murderer. A successful man who worked as an engineer in a nuclear power plant, Starrett had no criminal record and appeared to have loving relationships with his wife, daughter, and family. His family couldn't have been more shocked at his arrest. So while it initially appears very revealing to see Starrett discuss his crimes and himself in his own words, the reader quickly begins to feel that his efforts are very self-serving. Also, if the authors made attempts to corroborate his stories, they present no evidence of it in the book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The authors of this book must have had a very easy time writing because they have done nothing to verify the accounts of the Starret family in the book. This book presents the Starrets and Danny as the way they want to be presented. Except for the mental health professionals & the lawyers who knew Danny only after his arrest, the authors did not interview anyone outside the immediate family -- no neighbors, friends, extended family, customers of the mother's busines, childhood friends of Danny Starret -- to ask how they percieved the family. The family said they didn't realize what Danny had become, but perhaps old schoolteacher's etc. might not be as surprised. I am surprised that this book was recommended by the true crime editor. I did not think it let me into the mind of a killer at all and gave me no empathy towards his mother. It would have been much better if there were others who could substaniate the family's claim, or rebut it and allow the reader to see the how people see what they want to see.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was very disappointed that the authors didn't write about the victims of Danny Starrett's crimes. It was 400 pages of Danny and his Mother, Gerry's feelings and thoughts. Which were very self-serving. At one point, when asked in a television interview what she would like to say to Danny's victims, his Mother said in essence, feel sorry for Danny. This book was a forum for an overbearing, selfish mother to tell us what a wonderful, sweet child her son was. He murdered, kidnapped, raped 12 year old children! What about them?
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Cathy on June 4, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
That's right the victim Jeannie was my cousin. We went to the beach together several times when we were kids. Now I am 32 and finally found out the previously unspeakable (in my family) details through this book. We are the same age born one month apart. I was 15 at the time the murder happened.

We were very close friends, so it was interesting reading about her. Even if it was from the killer's viewpoint. It brought back a lot of memories. For example, she liked peach wine coolers, pringles chips, her favorites, just as the killer said. You could tell she was trying to please the killer with the lies she told him, typical for victims with the Hearst-like syndrome she developed after the trauma of being abducted from her home.

The last reviewer was mistaken when he said Chrissy was murdered, and the book never says she was. Also the reviewer before that didn't read the book well either, Starrett clearly admitted he killed Jeannie. She did not kill herself. There were two bullets in her chest, so how could she have killed herself anyway?

Anyhow, I knew her very well and she was a spunky young woman. Wild and crazy and a lot of fun. Had a lot of potential. Didn't have fear of anything, and like many teenagers believed she was invincible. She was brave and mentally strong. Once she got to know him, she never dreamed he would actually kill her.

The book didn't say how much she hated the name Jean and only used it in the "runaway" note to give clues for someone to find her. She also spelled letters in her name backwards which she normally never would have done. I knew her writing, as she wrote a lot. After her disapearance, the FBI called and interviewed all her friends, including me, looking for her.
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