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Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave Paperback – June 15, 2008


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Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave + Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History + Joshua Tree: Desolation Tango (Desert Places)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Angel City Press (June 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883318793
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883318796
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,740,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The image of a disconnected phone recurs throughout Stillman's tale of social and geographic isolation, military arrogance, sexual violence and death an apt symbol for the disconnections pervading the story. Unfortunately, the metaphor also extends to Stillman's narrative, which signals the plumbing of certain depths, but never makes the connections. The small California town of Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert, three hours east of Los Angeles, hosts the world's largest U.S. Marine Corps base. In 1991, it was the setting for the vicious murder of two local teenage girls by a troubled marine. Stillman's story primarily follows Debie McMaster, mother of one of the victims and no stranger to violence herself. Against the desert backdrop described with poetic and geologic detail Stillman examines military life and the surrounding subculture, focusing on jittery soldiers trolling for susceptible young women, themselves desperate for a way out. But exhaustive family histories and a fragmented structure undermine the story's inherent drama. Moreover, Stillman neither affords much insight into the killer's motivations, nor adequately explores the military atmosphere that allowed him to thrive. To her credit, she approaches the hand-to-mouth existence typical of Twentynine Palms with a certain aplomb, but too often the prose becomes crowded with the vernaculars of the subcultures it describes. Stillman, who first reported on this story for Los Angeles Magazine, also treads the fine journalistic line between fact and conjecture. She devotes considerable attention to the protagonists' inner workings and, though endnotes cite her sources, the reader is left wondering about her apparently extraordinary access to these people. (Apr.) Forecast: Despite its flaws, this has enthusiastic blurbs from Lucian Truscott and Ron Rosenbaum, and should find a ready audience in the Southwest, fed by author appearances in Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere in the region.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Housing the largest marine base in the world and centered on the converging point of several Western fault lines in Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms is an eastern California town in the middle of the Mojave Desert. In her first book, Stillman gives notorious recognition to the little-known town, which was the site of a double rape/murder in 1991. Stillman was assigned to cover this story by Los Angeles magazine. She not only gives a detailed account of the horrible crime (whose resulting legal case was not settled until the late 1990s) but also reveals the haunting truth about impoverished and disenchanted lives within America's overlooked towns. Stillman frequented the place during the drawn-out trial, interviewing key players and reporting the conditions and astonishing lifestyles of the town residents from first-hand observations. Stillman also adds events that were happening throughout the nation during the trial, referring to Desert Storm, O.J. Simpson, and the Rodney King beating. Her straightforward and intriguing writing style exposes a troubled town stricken by violence and lost values, highlighted by a grisly crime. Highly recommended for all public libraries.DVanessa White, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I came across this book just by chance and I am so glad I did.
D.Banerd
As far as the story, some is accurate some is not. this was in no way to be a story of why 29 is so bad, but what can happen to people if they get lost there.
Krisinda Yerkey
This is one of the best true crime books I have come across...as a 30 year fan of this particular genre I rarely have read anything written so well.
Laurie Reeves

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is an engrossing story and in many ways, a great portrait of an underportrayed and largely ignored segment of our American population - the people who work in our gas stations and bars, live in the run-down apartment complexes and cheap motels that dot the landscape, and all too often fall victim to violent crimes that are reported by local newspapers in lurid headlines, only to fade in the public's memory mere days afterward.
That being said, the book has some major flaws. My biggest problems with the book are:
- The author's prose gets a little too purply in places, and it almost seems like her imagination starts running away with her story. There's no way she could have known some of the things she talks about as fact, or even have heard those things from the friends of the deceased. In a fiction book based on actual events, that's fine; but this is presented as a nonfiction account, and it is not.
- The author makes some glaring errors, some of which have been pointed out in other reviews. One that comes to mind is when she talks about a local arcade as being a favorite hangout for Mandi and her friends, then later says the arcade didn't open until after Mandi was killed. An editor should have caught this, if not the author herself. In a work of nonfiction, when details like this are incorrect, you wonder what other details in the book are erroneous.
-Throughout the entire book, Stillman blames the Marine Corps for the deaths of Mandi Scott and Rosie Ortega, but in Mandi's case never places any of the blame where I believe it squarely lies - with Mandi's mother, who allowed her 15-year-old daughter to basically run wild.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nosferatu on May 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the supposed to be the story of a Gulf War veteran Marine viciously killing two girls in Twentynine Palms, California on 2 August 1991, the events leading up to the murders, and the trial that followed. It is also the story of the families involved and how they were affected.
This book is divided into four parts, an introduction, a prologue, an epilogue, and a section titled "Notes on the Writing of This Book." The introduction immediately pulled me into the story and made me want to keep reading. It began the book with a mother, Debi McMaster, flying to California to attend the court hearing for the Marine that killed her daughter. For some reason, she blames herself for the murder. A good plot/subplot revelation within the first two pages.
The prologue, "Prelude to a Kill," had the exact opposite effect on me. I wanted to put the book down and never pick it back up. I had to force myself to continue reading, hoping that once the author got all the "picturesque and poetic" descriptions out of the way, she would settle down to telling the story.
Part one, "In the Beginning," begins with a brief overview of the events in the first six years of the case. Between his arrest and the time he came to court, the defendant went through three lawyers. They filed every motion that could be drafted. They delayed at every opportunity. When the third lawyer came on board, he was given a year to prepare his case.
This section also tells the history of the murdered girl's family. It goes deep into her mother's life, followed by hers. Theirs is a story of abuse from alcoholic men and running away. It is also a story of rather loose women that left their children in the custody of the abusive fathers. They simply ran away from the violence and did what they had to do to survive.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Jenison on May 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I thought 29 Palms was brilliant. The book uses a brutual double homocide near a military base as a paradigm through which to view the cyclical nature of violence against lower income females. The book definitely gave me insight into the type of aggression that all females can face, and how some seem almost predestined for violence no matter where they go. From a sociological point of view, I thought the book brilliantly stiched together the military base, the desert, and females' historical background to create this situation that continued to bubble up to the explosive and horrific conclusion. My hope is that this book will serve as a catalyst for males to rethink their treatment of females and for females to be empower to break the cycles that constantly strive to drag them down.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Thomas of Hungerford on November 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
I'm about halfway through this book, and may not be able to stomach the rest. Ms. Stillman clearly thinks very highly of herself -- her smug sense of superiority over her literary targets virtually vomits off the page -- but her writing style ought to be taken out and shot. It's best described as "wannabe Barbara Kingsolver" -- taking of mise en scene to absurd lengths, plastering adjectives promiscuously across the page, and allowing sentences to run on and on without really saying anything. (You can get away with that only if you're William Faulkner.) The whole style strikes one as being excessively precious -- but that seems to fit the taste of a certain precious demographic. De gustibus non disputandem, I guess.

Stillman also has some very definite ideas of what high desert people must be like, and if the actual facts don't fit her preconceived narrative -- of course, the narrative prevails. If Stillman applied the same broad brush with which she paints desert rats to minorities in an inner-city neighborhood, she'd be packed off to sensitivity training camp in a kangaroo rat's hiccup.

One thing I found despicably dishonest: In order to suppress the inconvenient truth that the Twentynine Palms schools actually have significantly higher test scores than many schools in middle-class districts of urban Southern California -- with achievement levels being elevated across all ethnic groups present -- Stillman refers to San Bernardino County schools generally.
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