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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Paradigm through which to view Cyclical violence
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...
Published on May 10, 2001 by David Jenison

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but a little too much poetic license taken
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...
Published on May 29, 2004


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but a little too much poetic license taken, May 29, 2004
By A Customer
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. Mandi's mother Debi knew Rosie Ortega associated with Marines she considered dangerous, yet she thought nothing of letting her daughter spend the night at Rosie's apartment and run around with her friends seemingly unchecked. Stillman takes a pitying view towards Debi and her feelings of self-blame, but in my eyes Debi doesn't blame herself enough. There are predatory men everywhere, not just in Twentynine Palms, but that's why children have parents - to set limits and protect children from harm as best they can. In my view, Debi's children didn't have much chance of escaping a violent, marginal life, being raised by a woman who associated with felons, trafficked drugs, and was barely capable of taking care of herself, much less three children. Regardless of how horrible Debi's husbands beat her, she is the one who's responsible for the poor choices she made in life, although Stillman seems to want to blame the Marine Corps and the desert itself for the bad choices made by women in Mandi's family - there's very little support for personal responsibility of any kind in the book, unless Stillman is talking about the murderer's lack of remorse. It's telling that one of Mandi's friends, who wished to go find Mandi the night before the murders, was prevented from doing so by her mother and escaped harm. I don't mean to blame the victims, because Valentine Underwood, as the murderer, is the one to blame for these horrendous crimes, but if both Mandi and Rosie had been a little more careful about who they associated with, they might still be alive today.
As for the unflattering portraits of Victorville and Twentynine Palms, all I can say is that it's not surprising to me town residents would get upset about how their towns are portrayed, because Stillman definitely doesn't pull any punches when it comes to portraying how desolate and depressing the towns can be. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows how entrenched and blind to reality the so called "city fathers" and town boosters can be when it comes to their town. I am sure the towns portrayed in the book have their good qualities, and there are times when Stillman gets very condescending about the desert and its residents, as only someone from the outside can do. But I've been in too many towns like Victorville and Twentynine Palms to totally discount her descriptions.
All in all, the book is worth a read, although the way the narrative jumps around is annoying - I think people read stories about crime partially for the suspense element, and in this case you find out Underwood's sentence before the murders even happen. The book definitely could have been edited more competently, with a little less leeway given to Stillman's at times self-indulgent narrative. But the story is compelling and will stay with you long after you put the book down.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Did I go to sleep & wake in a Mojave travel magazine?, May 19, 2003
By 
Nosferatu (Albuquerque, NM United States) - See all my reviews
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. The author is still being picturesque, although not as much. She is beginning to weave an interesting story.
Part two, "Land of Plenty," begins with Debi McMaster arriving at Twentynine Palms with her kids and dog. She is thirty-one and has just run away from the Hell's Angels. She is looking for a "new start." Then, the author takes a hard left turn and digresses for several pages about Twentynine Palms; the history, legend, lore, and people. The author comes back to Debi McMaster for one and a half pages; then, going off on another tangent about the town of Victorville. She eventually remembers that she has a murder/trial story to tell and leaps right back into her story at a different point.
But it is short-lived. After a few pages, she jumps back to Debi McMasters' adventures just after graduation. At this point, I am wondering if she has a basic storyline to follow.
Eventually, the action in Twentynine Palms begins. The victims, killer, and key witness are introduced. The book settles down somewhat and begins to focus on the actual murder.
If you can live with all the jumping back and forth in the timeline and storylines, this is a good book. I found myself feeling the entire range of emotions in the second half. It delivers an important message about the problems that are common with isolated military towns. And it shows how simple gestures can make a big difference. However, getting through the first half was boring and often aggravating.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Paradigm through which to view Cyclical violence, May 10, 2001
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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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Purple prose, November 30, 2007
By 
Thomas of Hungerford (Newport Beach, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You love it or you hate it (I did not love it...), August 7, 2011
I see that this book garnered all kinds of feedback and people seemed to either love this or hate it. I started out very interested considering that some heavy hitters in the lit world appeared to feel this was an important work (Hunter S. Thompson, not Maxim, FYI) but anyway...I ended up feeling like I had just read an antiwar, antimilitary pamphlet written possibly by an aging hippy. I gave this two stars because I always enjoy reading creepy and gothic histories of families such as babies being born in ramshackle cabins and women who wear wigs living in seedy motels with pregnant pitbulls. However, that is where my enjoyment ended. I found myself having to reread passages and I think it is just because they were so overwritten in what has been described on here by others as "purple prose". I also grew weary of being expected to feel sorry for every woman in this book regardless of the horrible life decisions she had made from having kids with multiple men, substance abuse and dealing, and willing welfare lifestyles to mention a few. How is it that every gal in here was beaten senseless by every single man they married, dated, slept with, or danced with for 10 minutes at the local speakeasy? All this and I haven't even touched base (no pun) on that fact that the military, specifically the Marines, are defamed at every turn. I just found this to be complete conjecture based loosely on a very sad and grisly double murder that happened to be committed by a Marine who had all sorts of OTHER problems long before his military career began and I am not sure why the author chose to take this and turn it into some kind of sweeping portrait of all soldiers, men, the desert, poor women, poor people, race relations of blacks and Phillipinos, and odd references the Old Testament. I would not categorize this as any "Must read" for my fellow TC fans out there!!! Rubbish.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twentynine Palms Murder in the Mojave, September 1, 2002
Having just finished "Twentynine Palms", I was curious to see how others responded to the book. I am a resident of the High Desert for over 12 years, and have spent a great deal of time in Twentynine Palms as an archaeologist. This book tries to capture the almost surreal, shabby, experience of the town, and manages to do so as best as can be described(the experience does truly defy definition).
In reading the other reviews, I note that focus seems to be on the depiction of locals and the town itself. Therefore, I wanted to add my review for the purpose of commenting on the amount of dedication to detail the author demonstrates. It is evident that a great deal of research has been done, most of the characters are depicted in a realistic manner, all the while expressing the underlining of tragic hopelessness. I do agree that attention to the military aspect was not as accurate, however, having been a long time resident of the area, I am also aware of how protective the long arm of the military can be, and how hard it would no doubt be to obtain an accurate account. Hopefully this book will generate enough understanding of the inexcusable actions no doubt commonly covered up, and continue to express concern for the victims of violent crime, no matter what the circumstances leading to them, or the lifestyles of the victims themselves.
I strongly recommend this book, and if you are ever in the area, I also recommend "Raven's Books" (its in the book). It is the greatest source of our extensive library, and while we miss visiting with its owner who sadly passed away last year, is still our favorite hang out in town!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Palm, February 12, 2002
By A Customer
"Twentynine Palms" takes a hard look at the The Marine Corps' Underbelly. The enlisted men that roam the streets of Twentynine Palms Ca aren't the folks we want to be thinking about as we're reading "Corps Values" for a Managenent class. They aren't the Leather Necks we'd like to think are kicking terrorist butt and taking Taliban names in Afghanistan either.We'd probably like to think every one of the Marine Corps 180,000 or so enlisted men are replicas of the handsome Crew Chiefs who stand outside of George Bush's Helicopter.But Stillman depicts marines who are a uniform and a 'high-and-tight' haircut away from the kids we'd scurry to the other side of an urban street to avoid. And these, in fact, ARE the souls that are the true Core of the Corps. No, not every enlisted man is a wife beating rapist-- and sometimes this reader felt as if that what was what Stillman would have us believe--but the world of the enlisted man is a world that runs parrelell with the untouchable lower rung of the civilian world--the world we come in contact with while buying fries at a fastfood joint and give no further thought to afterwords. Stillman's book winesses these two worlds colliding-- as they have always done and probably always will do-- in small military towns across the United States where the 'townies' tend to be outcast and frustrated and drunk and the Enlisted men tend to be...well, outcast and frustrated and drunk.
The book focuses on the teenage victems of a brutal rape/murder and their families But one finishes it feeling deeply not only for the two girls and their families but for the whole faceless mass of humanity who do this country's dirtywork--who fight our wars-- while we're too harried and busy with our upper middle class lives to straighten out the flag we put out on September Eleventh that got twisted up on the pole on September Twelth.
After the horror of the above mentioned date and the all too easy patriotism most of us latched onto in its aftermath; a book like 'Twentynine Palms' will be a tough read but certainly worth the effort if only to get a real picture of the grunts who fight our wars--not to mention women who fall for these teenage warriors and in some cases are felled by their hands.
Sometimes Stillman gets a bit heavy handed and vauge with the whole metaphysics of the desert angle:
"But the desert can do that to you, in its emptiness make you connect with something other than plants that never seem to grow, make you grab onto your source and never let go, in spite of all the sunny days that can burn away all desire, even though that source was never really there when it counted." [huh? replace 'there when it counted' with 'a soul caught on fire' and you'd have a bad rhyming poem.]
And her familiararity with Marine jargon is laughable ("corpsman" are the navy's version of a medic yet she refers to marines a number of times as "Corpsmen"; She refers to bathrooms which Marines call "heads" as "latrines"--an army term; she calls marines "boots" as general name for all marines when it is used mainly to describe recruits in Boot Camp; She calls Drill instructors "drill seargants"--another army term; etc.) This may seem overly picky but The Marine Corps she sets out to describe lives and dies by it's peculiar jargon which is heavily based on Navy jargon. It is also fairly obvious that she allies herself with the Battered women against their Marine antagonists and this is understandable. But in stacking the deck in faver of the Townies she loses a bit of the tragic irony: that these two suppossedly different clans (Marines and townies) are similar to the point of being one and the same. What on the surfice seems to be a clash of sexes and social identities is infact a violent but none-the-less mystical union of the low.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Run-on paragraphs, December 16, 2012
This review is from: Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave (Paperback)
First of all, Twentynine Palms by Deanne Stillman is overly dramatic, almost gushing in its hyperbole. Perhaps it is intentionally written to be old-school, like the 1940s pulp detective fiction. If so, it missed the mark.

Here is an example of a sentence from this book that makes the reader's eyes glaze over:

"Sometimes Rosalie would cut out the pictures and store them in a special tin, along with other snapshots and clippings that whispered of the good life across the Pacific; to the dreamy girl in the Filipino outback, the pieces of fame and celebrity were stardust, and she knew that someday, she and her sister and brother would experience their own happy days."

The sentences are long and full of exaggerated drama. If that is not enough to make you cringe, here's the real reason why I gave this book one star: run-on paragraphs.

I cannot believe that Ms. Stillman has the writing credentials that she has. Her paragraphs are so run-on that some even last two or three pages. Imagine opening up a book and seeing entire pages as a single paragraph, blocks and blocks of black ink with no pause.

Ms. Stillman doesn't even begin conversations with indentations. No, she stuffs the dialogue into the same run-on paragraph, making this book impossible to read.

I would never recommend this book. There are so many excellent true-crime books out there that one does not have to waste time with a book so poorly written. Which, as I said, is surprising considering the author's excellent credentials. I wonder if she had ever considered an editor. Too late now.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and confrontational, May 16, 2001
By A Customer
... Stillman uses the events in her narrative as a sociological lens to explore broader issues of marginality, power, and "family values" in American -- particularly western American -- culture. And she succeeds in doing this, brilliantly at times.
I lived in 29 Palms and neighboring towns in the Morongo Basin for six years, from 1983 to 1989, and I can tell you that the author does NOT do terrible injustice to the social environment she describes. No, all Marines are not violent sexual predators, nor are all townies speed freaks and low-lifes. But I have never encountered the kind of human desolation that I did in 29 Palms, never lived among as many lost souls filled with suspicion, apathy, aggression, rage, and bigotry. To me, the only shocking thing about the murders described in Stillman's book is that they don't happen every day in 29 Palms.
Still, one gets the sense that Stillman isn't telling us the whole story. Debi's ultimate role in her daughter's demise comes across as whitewashed (to say the least) and the author's indictment of military culture is somewhat one dimensional, doing too far in some respects, not far enough in others. But she evokes so much in her descriptions of place (some of which are quite beautiful), revealing a genuine insight for life in the desert, that I found myself lost in my own memories of the Mojave, both good and bad.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 29 Native & Friend of the Victim, April 28, 2001
Being from Twentynine Palms originally (much of my family still lives there) & having been a friend of Mandi Scott in elementary school & junior high, I had to read this book. Mandi's family lived down the street from mine for over a year, & while the book makes her mother sound like a martyr (albeit a hard-living biker one), I remember things a bit differently. She was often inexplicably absent, her house populated with random shady characters & rumors of drug dealing, & the ever present pitbull. Mandi was neglected & desperate for affection. The author does a fairly successful job of absolving Debie McMasters of any responsibility for, if not her daughters tragic death, then the sadness & loneliness of her life. She uses this same journalistic bent to make the hometown that I recall as a warm, safe, friendly place, seem like a violent hellhole filled with miscreants, losers, & speed freaks. In the end, I feel that the book does a diservice to a town I know far better than Ms. Stillman, & a place that I love; as well as to a young girl whose murder was an isolated tragedy caused by the Marine Corps incompetance in looking after their own ranks. She does a fair job at portraying the ill ease with which the townies live side by side with the Corps, but this is a story only half told & slanted against a town which does not deserve such notoriety.
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Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave
Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave by Deanne Stillman (Paperback - June 15, 2008)
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