The Reader Cries Uncle

wind-cries-mary-erika-grey-paperback-cover-artLike any other hazardous object, The Wind Cries Mary should have a warning label. Something along the lines of “reader is advised to wear neck brace to prevent injuries cause by abrupt changes of topic” or perhaps a more catchall “abandon all hope ye who enter.” This, gentle reader, is one rough ride.

The description provided on Amazon might lead the unsuspecting to believe this book is about the murder of Mary Mount. That’s just one of the many, many murders given the once over here. The narrative careens from Mary’s disappearance to the nearby disappearances of other girls, to the murders of three teenagers to half a dozen serial killers and on and on. It’s a grueling trip down Connecticut Murder Memory Lane.

But that drive-by style is preferable to the treatment given to the case of John Rice, Jr., who murdered most of his family in the throes of a psychotic break. Grey is convinced that Rice also killed Mary Mount. Why? Well, he lived in the same town. That’s pretty much the whole case. Rice was found guilty by reason of insanity of his family’s deaths and released a few years later. He moved to Massachusetts to raise llamas and here Grey tracked him down, and by all appearances, stalked him. Oddly enough, Rice didn’t open the door to the nice lady who lurked in his driveway or answer her emails. Grey proudly suggests that Rice moved halfway across the country just to get away from her.

The most disturbing thing about this book isn’t the murder of Mary Mount, it’s the casual way Grey implies that Rice killed everyone from Mary to Molly Bish. If anyone within a 50 mile radius of Rice dies, he did it. Why? Well, he was there and he did have that nasty case of acne when he was a teen. Rice’s crimes were horrific but more in line with a family annihilator killing than a serial killer. There’s not one shred of convincing evidence – physical, eyewitness or circumstantial – to establish Rice as a credible suspect in the Mount murder.

The writing is somewhere between a 5th grade book report and Nigerian 419 scam email. Sometimes everything looks fine, if plodding, other times something isn’t quite right as in “Greenwich, the first town one enters after leaving New York.” Sure, it’s the first town if you’re entering Connecticut or I-95 but there are other ways to get from New York to the Nutmeg State without going anywhere near Greenwich.Then there are lines that stop the action, such as it is, cold: “Joseph Mount died eventually.” Apropos of nothing, this line appears after a rundown of the professions chosen by Mary’s brothers. Unfortunately, the writing is memorably bad, which means I’ll be trying to dislodge this howler for years:  “an older man with criminal tendencies happened to walk in.”

This book wasn’t a total loss. I read it for free from Amazon Prime and I did learn that “Police salaries are paid by the tax dollars of their town or city.” Up until now I’d just assume it was bake sales and car washes that kept the cruisers rolling.

Amid the confusion and bad vibes

 This is the book equivalent of a survey course, covering crime, politics, music, movies, literature, sports and major events of the year 1969. It is relentlessly US-Centric - you won’t hear a peep about any other country unless it’s Vietnam.  At it’s best, this survey approach introduces the reader to lesser known topics, like the Native American occupation of Alcatraz or the rise of MC5. At it’s worst, 1969 rehashes topics by quoting from deathless sources like Wikipedia or Salon magazine.

That was part of the fascination for me. 1969 is a triumph of secondary research. Kirkpatrick read many a book and magazine article, fearlessly watched DVDs of documentaries and most challenging of all, watched a few movies and listened to a few albums. It’s a shame he didn’t actually talk to anyone who was there. It’s not like he was writing about 1669.

The once-over-lightly feel means nothing really gets its due but in fairness this is a way to whet your appetite, not satisfy it. Still, events like My Lai and Chappaquiddick are no less horrific with the passage of time. Fortunately events like the moon landing, Earth Day and the Jets winning the Super Bowl retain their magic. As a readable introduction to a single year of American history, one could do much worse.

Oddly enough, 1969 isn’t the only year that everything changed. Apparently everything changed in 1959 too.  Maybe 1979 was the year that didn’t change much of anything.