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American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps Paperback – June 28, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
The book brought back many memories of Peace Corps training and day-to-day volunteer life. (I also did "staging" at the Hotel Californian, and it was uncanny how the author captured the essence of the place and the overseas pre-departure activities.) The author does a good job of conveying those details, and he is quick to acknowledge the wealth of PCV/Tonga diaries, letters, and journals that were available to him. He also conducted numerous interviews with returned volunteers and others for what appears to be a very well-researched book.
I didn't mind that the author injected himself into the story at times.Read more ›
But what fascinates Weiss is the old story of justice denied. A smart but geeky volunteer murders a beautiful girl. Everyone knows he's the killer.
But ironically, as Weiss points out, Deb the victim was always a private person who hadn't made close friends. Dennis, her killer, had a circle of close friends who supported him through pre-trial confinement and trial, even bringing him food and gifts.
And ironically the Peace Corps wanted to save its reputation. In defiance of the Agency's own rules, bureaucrats descended from Washington and a top-flight lawyer was hired to defend Dennis. Dennis was ultimately released to the US with a promise of long-term confinement in a mental institution. However, through legal loopholes, Dennis was allowed to go free. He ended up working for another US government agency, the Social Security Administration, in computers.
As in many true crime stories, there's some ambivalence about assigning blame. True, Dennis is a murderer. But he was doing everything but wearing a sign saying, "Danger! Get this man out of here!" He didn't like Tonga and didn't fit. His colleague had tried to report concerns to the Peace Corps country director, only to be turned away.
And this Director was hardly blameless. A political appointee, Mary had been an executive secretary and modeling agency director. She lacked management skills and cultural awareness.Read more ›
The story is compelling and and as a former expat, I can speak to the oddness of living abroad. OTOH, it's never really clear that Dennis, the accused, is psychotic (one theatrical psychiatrist does not make a diagnosis). Few people who seek an overseas experience are driven to really problematic behavior, let alone murder--the problems in their lives usually precede such a move. Someone should have told him that "no" means "no", but that was only beginning to be recognized as a necessity in the 70s. The book is an object lesson of how bureaucracies, public or private, civilian or otherwise cover their backsides and how the process gets more dysfunctional when the regime is changing. The country director comes off as a ludicrous figure---totally out of her depth, and culturally incompetent. Her prim Republican manner makes her seem an unlikely candidate to support the accused murderer. But support him she does, going overboard and beyond rationality or even a close reading of the country director's handbook.
The asides didn't bother me as much as other reviewers. I wished we'd heard more about the dead girl's relationship with her mother and brother. The complexity of the relationship with the father, though, is interesting and would have benefited from better organization of the text. Instead, it comes at us in a helter skelter way. Oddly, the murderer is the character left the most to our imaginations. In an era when so much information is attainable, I would have expected to know more about his life after Tonga and, until the end, it's unclear whether he ever made it to Sibley Hospital.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book.
From a literary standpoint, 'American Taboo' is written with a fluid, atypical narrative that is often poignant and creative (though is sometimes an... Read more
Very nice book, exactly what I wanted, perfect transaction! Fast delivery.Published 19 months ago by email@example.com
The seller delivered timely & graciously - with a personal note - which I very much appreciated. The seller also described the item accurately which, in my experience, hasn't... Read morePublished 20 months ago by JOSE J GONZALEZ
Couldn't even finish it nor did I pass it on like I usually do. The author seemed obsessed with Deborah. And far too many extraneous details which bogged the storyline down. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Swissmiss
I'm outraged that Dennis Priven got away with murder and that Peace Corps helped him.Published 24 months ago by Isabelle Bush
Hats off to this expose'. I served in the Peace Corps as an older adult and still felt a strange wave of menace in the South Pacific island not far from Tonga. Read morePublished on July 25, 2014 by Sieni
I read this under a mosquito net as a PCV. Engaging, disturbing, and sad it tells a story that the Peace corps tried to sweep under the rug. Read morePublished on December 21, 2013 by Margaret Donohue
This has to be one of the most infuriating books I've ever read - not because of the book itself, but because of the story. Read morePublished on December 10, 2013 by Caitlin Martin
Fascinating look at a real life sociopath and the various ways folks reacted to him. Also captures some of the social atmosphere of the 1970s..... Read morePublished on August 18, 2013 by David Balding