Wednesday, September 4, 2013

DEVIL IN THE HOLE by Charles Salzberg

This is a clever book based on a terrible tragedy that really happened in New Jersey in 1971.  I remember, and you might too, when John List almost got away with murdering his wife, three teenage children, his mother-in-law, and even their dog.  He disappeared long before the bodies were discovered and the law didn't catch up with him for 18 years, until after the case was featured on "America's Most Wanted."

Salzberg has turned this awful crime into a novel set in Connecticut.  He tells the story through many characters, each with his own chapter or chapters.  This sounds confusing and a little ridiculous, but it is actually very effective.  First we hear from a neighbor across the street who gets suspicious when all the lights are on in the huge house 24 hours a day and he doesn't see anyone coming or going.  The family is strange and not friendly, but this finally gets to the neighbor and he calls the police.  They find the bodies, but the husband/father is gone, as is the car, and the bodies are so badly decomposed, it has obviously been a couple of weeks since they were killed.

We then get the perspective of one of the cops who entered the house, then the other.  The neighbor has his say again, then the chief of police, etc.  The story advances through chapters supposedly written in the first person by people who are somehow involved with the case or the missing murderer.  The characters seem real; almost as if you are listening to various types of people sitting with you telling their brush with a killer.

In retrospect, I think this way of telling the story is brilliant.  I can't imagine any other method that would work as well.  There are nearly two dozen characters and as we hear from them, we begin to form an idea of what was in the killer's mind when he did this unthinkable crime.  We can't be totally certain of that, nor can we know John List's reasoning when he actually killed his family, but this gives us some inkling of the workings of a murderer's rationale for his crime.

Highly recommended
Source:  author through Partners in Crime Book Tours


  1. I can't wait to read this book, especially after reading your review!! Superb! Thank you!

  2. Thanks so much for this terrific, insightful review.

  3. I'm a sucker for a book based on a true story - especially if it's a crime - and I'm not sure why. This sounds good to me!