By Malin Persson Giolito, translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. (The Other Press, 498 pages, $25.95.)
The Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy chose “Quicksand” by Malin Persson Giolito as the best Swedish crime novel of the year. Giolito’s peers have recognized a compelling story that seems to be more of a courtroom thriller. The narrator is the accused, a disdainful intelligent teenager who is one of two survivors of a classroom massacre at a wealthy prep school in Stockholm.
Maja Norberg, 18, has been in jail for nine months awaiting trial, and the story turns on what she did or didn’t do on the day of the killings. In other words, is she a murderer? The narrative depends on flashbacks and trial testimony to walk us through what went into her boyfriend’s violent outburst and how Maja was drawn into the nightmare. It’s easy for readers to immerse themselves in Maja’s contracting worldview as she struggles to make sense of peer relationships and how she has ended up in jail and on trial. Her often wry observations give no quarter to mostly absent adults, and drugs and cultural conflicts figure prominently.
The book is translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, a Gustavus Adolphus graduate who lives in St. Paul, according to the book jacket, and would be a good read for anyone interested in criminal justice who needs a break from thrillers that are overly dependent on plot twists.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
By Kermit Alexander, with Alex Gerould and Jeff Snipes. (Atria Books, 352 pages, $16.)
As the state of California continues its long-running debate over whether to execute its 749 death row inmates, a vivid memoir recently released in paperback shows how a person can hold great empathy and still favor use of the death penalty.
“The Valley of the Shadow of Death” is not strictly a memoir. It bears three authors, but only one of them is the “I” in sentences such as this: “Now I felt on trial, an accomplice. I was damned, at once sickened by the vile killer, yet yoked to him. Forever I would carry the guilt that I played a role in the making of a monster.”
The “I” is former NFL player and UCLA football star Kermit Alexander, who writes with clarity and empathy about his family’s 32-year search for justice following the August 1984 murders of Alexander’s mother, sister and two young nephews. Assisting him in the book’s writing and research are San Francisco criminal justice professors Alex Gerould and Jeff Snipes.
In the excerpt above, Alexander describes his mental state after realizing that he’d met his family’s killer, Tiequon Cox, in the early 1970s. Cox had been a promising but troublesome player in a youth Pop Warner football league. Alexander recalls how he, too, had been a troubled teen, but had found direction and discipline through football. Cox lacked support in his life, and he eventually left athletics and joined a murderous Crips crew called the Rollin 60s.
In court Cox shows no emotion over breaking into the Alexander home one sunny morning and slaying four people, including two kids still in their beds. Alexender writes how Cox’s only emotion in court came when deputies restrained Cox’s mother, prompting him to threaten a bailiff.
“I will never understand how a young man so protective of his mother could so heartlessly murder mine,” Alexander writes.
Cox was 19 when he killed the Alexanders; today he is 51, making him one of the longer serving members of a death row that hasn’t seen an execution in more than a decade. Last November, California voters approved the latest referendum supporting the death penalty; the state Supreme Court immediately halted the measure as it considered a new legal challenge.
Alexander publicly supported the death-penalty referendum, but his book seems to leave the door open to complex feelings: “True forgiveness does not come easy. It must be earned, created. It comes from reflection, long spells of guilt and suffering, followed by atonement through acts. For 30 years my family has endured,” he writes. “We still await an apology.”