True stories of sudden death in the classic collection by a master of American journalism.
Reporters love murders, Calvin Trillin writes in the introduction to Killings.In a pinch, what the lawyers call wrongful death will do, particularly if it's sudden.Killings, first published in 1984 and expanded for this edition, shows Trillin to be such a reporter, drawn time after time to tales of sudden death. But Trillin is attracted less by violence or police procedure than by the way the fabric of people's lives is suddenly exposed when someone comes to an untimely end. As Trillin says, Killings is more about how Americans live than about how some of them die.
These stories, which originally appeared in The New Yorker between 1969 and 2010, are vivid portraits of lives cut short. An upstanding farmer in Iowa finds himself drastically changed by a woman he meets in a cocktail lounge. An eccentric old man in Eastern Kentucky is enraged by the presence of a documentary filmmaker. Two women move to a bucolic Virginia county to find peace, only to end up at war over a shared road. Mexican American families in California hand down a feud from generation to generation. A high-living criminal-defense lawyer in Miami acquires any number of enemies capable of killing him.
Calvin (Bud) Marshall Trillin is an American journalist, humorist, and novelist. He is best known for his humorous writings about food and eating, but he has also written much serious journalism, comic verse, and several books of fiction.
Trillin attended public schools in Kansas City and went on to Yale University, where he served as chairman of the Yale Daily News and became a member of Scroll and Key before graduating in 1957; he later served as a trustee of the university. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a reporter for Time magazine before joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1963. His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book, An Education in Georgia. He wrote the magazine's "U.S. Journal" series from 1967 to 1982, covering local events both serious and quirky throughout the United States.
One night years ago, as a crime reporter in Stockton, CA, I was asked to cover the killing of a man whose real name escapes me at the moment.
I went to the hospital to speak to the family. His son grew enraged that I wanted to talk at such a delicate moment. But I calmed him and said I wanted to write about how his father lived, who he was in life, and less about he died. His relatives helped convince him and we began to talk.
Turns out his father worked in a factory by day, but on nights and weekends he was known as Tijuana Elvis. He had a Spanglish Elvis impersonation show he did at weddings and birthdays and backyard parties. Identified as Tijuana Elvis, everybody knew him. A colleague had gone to a party where TJE had performed once.
He was drinking in cognito at a cantina and was gunned down by a guy who, for reasons not altogether clear even then, was miffed that TJE was talking to a woman.
I wrote the story of Tijuana Elvis, grateful the whole time to Calvin Trillin.
His book Killings is one of the best examples of American reportage and storytelling, of American crime reporting, and of magazine writing - all in one thin volume.
I read it as I was moving to Stockton, and have reread it three or four times.
The story "Todo Se Paga" on the Casa Blanca neighborhood of Riverside, CA, is profound.
The book's point is that the stories of people who die violent deaths are more important, deeper, and more worth telling when they narrate how the deceased lived than the gore of how he perished.
I spent four years covering a couple hundred homicides in Stockton with that as my guiding philosophy - and loved the stories that turned up because of it.
I'm indebted to Calvin Trillin for showing me the way.
Reading his stuff on food and his poems is like watching Michael Jordan play baseball: You're certain there's something else he could be doing at a level higher than anyone else.
As a long time reader of the New Yorker, it’s always a treat to read collections of articles and essays by members of their writing staff. And Calvin Trillin is one of my favorites from that staff. Trillin is well known for writing about food, but I prefer the articles that showcase his reporting skills. “Killings,” which was originally published in 1984, has been reissued and expanded and is a valuable assemblage of his reporting about individual murders. He takes a unique vantage point in these narratives - there is no search for the killer and there is minimal description of violence. Instead, Trillin is interested in writing about America. Focusing on a killing in a community allows him to do precisely that - write about a specific locale and the people who inhabit it. As he says in the book’s introduction, “These stories are meant to be more about how Americans live than about how some of them die … Their appeal was that they were about specific humans, and I chose to tell them, of course , because they sounded interesting.” The articles collected here range across America and examine a wide variety of motives for murder and how the social mores of a community can affect what they see as justice.
John McPhee (another favorite New Yorker writer) describes in his memorable article “Structure” how difficult and perplexing it can be to decide at what point to begin an article. But like McPhee, Trillin knows exactly where to begin and end each story and doesn’t adhere to a strictly linear manner of describing the events. Telling the story in any other sequence than he does would rob it of some of it’s power and poignancy.
While there is enough detail in each story to satisfy true crime devotees, what really makes this collection stand out is Trillin’s reporting and writing style, the insight and empathy he brings to each story, and the remarkable manner in which brings individual people and places to life.
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.
There are many things to be impressed with in Trillin's writing—the sly voice, the seamless reportage, the narrative momentum—but it's the economy of these stories that really wows. In the space of 10 pages or so, Trillin sketches tales that are gripping, detailed, and ambiguous, yet makes each feel fully realized and whole. Joan Didion can pull off this trick. Jorge Luis Borges was its all-time master. Trillin would later amp up his voice in his wonderful comic food writing, but here he's at his peak, writing miniatures that are at once spare and vigorous.
Calvin Trillin is a tremendous writer. I've read his "Tummy Trilogy" twice and hope to again before I die. His political writings, no matter how dated, still enlighten and outrage. After a small binge of true-crime sagas, including VULGAR FAVORS (the killing of fashion designer Gianni Versace), MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (a killing blamed on Savannah's most prominent "bachelor socialite") and IN COLD BLOOD (in many respects, the daddy of them all), I ran across mention of this Killings, not a "long-form" true crime saga but a series of sixteen moderate-length essays that ran in the NEW YORKER magazine in the late 1960s and 1970s. In my opinion Trillin is always good, but this is not his best.
As a whole, these essays portray an America that is in danger of becoming seriously addicted to violence. Perhaps the most ironic is the story of a "clean-cut" Pennsylvania youth who hangs out with drug dealers and "hippies" (at this time, anyone vaguely counter-cultural in appearance was still tagged "hippie"), who dealt in drugs to indict the miscreants, then cleaned up his appearance, testified, and moved on to perpetuate the "hippie" entrapment act again. Perhaps the most inexplicable is the bound-for-success Navajo youth who was radicalized, took a shot at the local liquor-store-owning mayor, and was slain by police. A dysfunctional family in a small Tennessee mill town shows the human cost of taking the local welfare agency from a reunite-the-family-at-all-costs approach to something resembling a family-systems approach, with empaneled experts and physicians giving advice.
Strangely, the most disappointing of the essays in my opinion had to do with a Savannah heir to a distinguished family who disappeared and was not found for weeks -- chief among the delay the fact that his family would not accept that "a Mercer" could possibly be involved in anything shady. Trilling gets off some vintage cheek about the ca. 1980 alternative newspaper serving that city, the kind that is designed "to sell stereo equipment to twenty-nine-year-olds," that ran up against the power of the established daily. Perhaps it was unfair of me to expect Trillin to dissect the Coastal Georgia pecking order as exhaustively as John Berendt did in his Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I finished this article a little mystified at the fact that the local aristocracy was mystified by its modern inability to completely shelter its own.
In fact, perhaps my greatest take-with from these essays was my feeling that some of them, in the hands of a different kind of writer (the late Ann Rule, say), might have been better treated at book length rather than the close confines of a NEW YORKER article. This would lead to a greater sense of background, a larger cast of supporting characters, and perhaps as a result, a clearer delineation of motive. As for Trillin, I found his approach in Killings at all times top-notch, but rarely superlative in the way of the books I mentioned at the top of this review. He is factual, eloquent even, but other than the occasional smirk along the lines of twenty-nine-year-olds and stereo sets, he has not quite mastered the technique of being utterly factual but with a squint, in the manner of, say, Joan Didion. If you're a Trillin fan and have not yet encountered Killings, it's an enjoyable read, but don't expect the utmost.
I got an ARC for Kindle from Netgalley and Random House True Crime for this book Killings which has been updated with new stories added for this 2017 edition by the author Calvin Trillin.
This is an interesting collection of true stories of deaths of people by all sorts of sudden means. They are all quite different and unusual and tend to keep your interest from one to the next. You never quite know what to expect as you are reading, you just know something is going to happen. Succinct writing, wry and entertaining. Life abruptly cut short. This is some of the best of why I enjoy non-fiction, because at times its just stranger than fiction could ever hope to be. At least for me, anyway.
I discovered Calvin Trillin as a teenager and have never stopped reading him. I love his sly, dry wit that bursts through everything he writes. A lot of his books are about food and/or he and his family's travels to get a decent meal. Many of his books are a collection of his columns which range from politics to human interest stories and everything under the sun. This book is a collection of columns he did over the years about murder and murderers that interested him for one reason or another. It's quite random and most of the stories are a bit off from the usual reasons people murder. It's like a collection of Americana across the country of small towns and the people who live in them. I enjoyed this like I have every book I've read by Mr. Trillin and if you are a fan of true crime, you should put this on your list.
Contents "A Stranger with a Camera" (Jeremiah, Kentucky, April 1969) Hugh O'Connor, killed by Hobart Ison "I've Always Been Clean" (West Chester, Pennsylvania, June 1970) Jonathan Henry, killed by John Mervin "Jim, Tex, and the One-Armed Man" (Center Junction, Iowa, February 1971) Tex Yarborough, killed by Jim Berry "Sergei Kourdakov" (Southern California, May 1973) Sergei Kourdakov, killed by self? "You Always Turn Your Head" (Gallup, New Mexico, May 1973) Larry Casuse, killed by self? cops? "Harvey St. Jean Had It Made" (Miami Beach, Florida, March 1975) Harvey St. Jean, killed by unknown (N.b., St. Jean was Candy Mossler's defense attorney.) "Partners" (New England, October 1975) John Oi & William Sheehan, killed by Armand Therrien "Melisha Morganna Gibson" (Cleveland, Tennessee, January 1977 [80 miles away, I was 2 years old]) Melisha Morganna Gibson (age 4), killed by her stepfather, Ronnie Maddux: "There was nothing at all unusual about taking an abused child back to the family that had abused her" (100). "Family Problems" (Manchester, New Hampshire, July 1978) John Betley and Doris Piasecny, killed by her husband Hank Piasecny in 1963; Hank Piasecny killed in turn, 15 years later, by his and Doris' daughter, Susah Piasecny Hughes "Todo Se Paga" (Riverside, California, February 1979) several people killed in a feud between the Lozano and Ahumada families "It's Just Too Late" (Knoxville, Tennessee, March 1979 [25 miles away, I was 4 years old]) FaNee Cooper (pronounced Faw-NEE) killed in a car accident?--did she cause it herself? was it reckless driving? did her stepfather, pursuing the car in which FaNee was riding, cause the accident by giving chase? Sad, infuriating, fascinating. "Called at Rushton" (Central Pennsylvania, November 1979) Marilyn McCusker, killed in an industrial accident at a coal mine--cruelly on topic in 2017 "Resettling the Yangs" (Fairfield, Iowa, March 1980) So Yang, 8 year old Hmong boy, killed by his father Theng Pao Yang in a botched murder-suicide "Among Friends" (Savannah, Georgia, February 1981) George Mercer IV, killed by (most likely) Michael Harper in a botched kidnapping-for-extortion (which may have been a botched fraudulent kidnapping-for-extortion, with Mercer on board for all of the plan right up to the murder) "The Mystery of Walter Bopp" (Tucson, Arizona, May 1981) Walter Bopp killed by unknown, with an array of startling possible motives "A Father-Son Operation" (Grundy County, Iowa, September 1982) Esther Meester Hartman, killed by her husband of more than 30 years, Lawrence Hartman
This one is tricky. I don't know whether to give it four stars because I found it somewhat unsatisfying . . . or to give it five stars because I found it somewhat unsatisfying, and that's the point.
This is a collection of essays written for The New Yorker, in which Trillin is writing slice-of-life Americana pieces, except that they're all about homicides. And he's very precise in his title. All of them are killings, but not all of them are murders
Like The 1st 48, which I have a semi-guilty love for, Trillin's pieces are at least half about the way that, in real life, homicides often aren't mysteries and don't have plots. If they are mysteries, they often go completely unsolved, or the police know who did it but don't have enough evidence for a conviction, or everyone knows who did it but has no evidence at all. Bits of the coming homicide can be seen in the victim's life--but not all of it. Trillin is looking for patterns, but he's not looking for conventional patterns. He's looking for the patterns that form around the homicide, not the pattern of the homicide itself. He talks to everyone who will talk to him, and he is clearly striving to be unjudgmental without the false lacquer of "objectivity." He's interested in subjectivity, in how people understand the great disasters they are part of, in what stories they tell themselves and why. In his afterword, he notes that the patterns he finds may or may not be patterns that hold up over time, and cites several cases in which the pattern Trillin wrote about was destroyed weeks or months later when new information surfaced. As far as he's concerned, that's part of the pattern, too.
These are short pieces, plangent, beautifully written. If they're frustrating, and they are, it's because that's the nature of reality, which is not obliged to be plausible or satisfying.
This collection contains true crime stories written by Calvin Trillin that originally appeared in The New Yorker from 1969 to 2010. The first edition of this book was originally published in 1984 and this edition has added a few more stories.
What I found unique about this true crime collection, is the focus on the communities where the crime took place and not just on the crime itself. With an average length of 20 pages or so for each story, the writer really was able to capture the social climate of the area and how it may or may not have contributed to the crime and/or the verdict.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone that is looking to read true crime stories with more of a focus on people and communities and not so much the blood and gore.
I received a free copy of this book and that is my honest review.
"Killings" is a compilation of true-crime accounts that Trillin wrote for "The New Yorker," primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, about murders in the country’s heartland. Murder is an inherently interesting subject, and Trillin admirably fleshes out the lives of otherwise-unremarkable people caught up in horrific circumstances, but perhaps because we are by now accustomed to books and movies that spare no gruesome detail, "Killings’s" less-sensationalistic stories can feel sedate, at times almost quaint. As you read them they hold your interest, but you might not recall any of them six months later. -- grouchyeditor.com
Still one of the best books you can read not just about crime but about America and about writing. Trillin's reissue includes several pieces from the 80s, one from the 21st century, and a profile Trillin wrote of Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan. What struck me looking at this book after a long time was how Trillin moves quickly from scene setting, invoking a place, how a life fits into that place, so well that occasionally you forget somebody's about to die violently.
Extremely interesting! This is one I could see myself re-reading in the future. Random stories of murder, accidents, and so on over the last couple hundred years. I loved that the writer took stories most people wouldn't have heard of, solely because people have just forgotten about them over the years, and sadly such events are quite common.
Calvin Trillin is a fine writer. In Killings,he writes about various murders around the United States that peaked his curiosity or captured his attention. If you enjoy, true crime or reading front page murder stories in your home town newspaper, you will enjoy this book.
A fascinating collection of reportage on what might be investigative journalism's ultimate subject - human conflict that resulted in death, along with what caused it, and its aftermath. Beyond the obvious appeal of the subject matter, what makes Trillin's work itself unique is he doesn't write to record effective (or, for that matter, ineffective) law enforcement procedure or to build suspense around a mystery as it unfolds in chronological order. In fact, many of his stories result in acquittal or its situational equivalent, the outcome often referenced before it is explained fully, and several killings are hard to categorize as murder in the traditional sense. Far more of interest to Trillin is the culture of the places in which these killings took place, and in his thorough research of local histories and exhaustive interviewing of available sources, Trillin's work can only be compared to the absolute best of his genre in terms of always believably capturing the spirit of the setting. A recurring theme implied is the very subjective and flexible nature of the law as enforced by a jury of one's peers, with some victims' lives apparently being worth less than others, some defendants' lives worth too much to local society to squander with a finding of Guilty, and an invisible balancing act going on in the minds of their twelve peers who'd rather be elsewhere anyway. The only story in the collection that seemed like an odd one out was the final chapter, a colorful biography of woman who's been a longtime crime reporter with legendary lede-writing abilities in Dade County, Florida, in which the trade of crime writing is discussed more than anything else, but it's rewarding and inspiring enough to warrant its inclusion despite being slightly off-topic in the direction of meta. With or without it, Trillin succeeds at making crime writing seem utterly fascinating, as if behind every muted few column inches of horror in the newspaper lies a whole wealth of unique human experience, a culture that more or less drove its participants to their fate, and legal outcomes that are anything but certain, that we'd all know about and likely be able to empathize with, if someone would only track down the principal actors and ask the right questions.
I understood this was a classic and predated the expansion of true crime as a genre. There is some variety and I enjoyed Trillin's journalistic style, but it's a LOT of Peyton Place/The Last Picture Show stuff and the last or second to last piece "At the Train Bridge" is more indicative and closest in time to much of what we see today - basically a lone, white male terrorist who decided to murder others due to his own misery and inability to manage is own life. I appreciate that the updated forward addresses this issue of what is chronicled being both common place to the point of being easy to categorize to also being very particular to the individuals involved. Still, I didn't expect to be brought into a killing of that nature based on how the other stories were (yes, he did cover some killings committed by non-whites, but that was not his focus or what the New Yorker audiences were reading his work for - surprise, meaning no surprise on that one). And of course, all the other types of "small" occurrences that lead up to anyone being capable of murder are still with us today since humans are all there. Like many others fascinated by everyday murders that people commit, I just want to know what the motivating forces were and what drives people to do something they know is irreparable. This book provides plenty of that and when Trillin delves into plausible speculation because multiple motivating forces are presented or purposely obscured/hidden or just unclear, his tack on it is practical and honest. A good read.
Despite the long time it took me to read, I did enjoy this. I'm a sucker for Calvin Trillin's work, and these stories of murders across the U.S. are no exception. You will not read a lot of gory detail, nor will you follow the twists and turns of a procedural type. Instead, you will find some sorrowful stories, definitely killings that could have been avoided, and find the pain in prosaic American murders that don't leap to the front page of a newspaper.
I love Trillin's almost laconic style of writing: he hits you with the essentials so hard that you realize how many other writers of your acquaintance dazzle you with adjectives that cannot contain the punch of the factual. This is a book that I felt was best read by dipping into it at different occasions, rather that reading the whole thing in a sitting or two. If you read a story every couple of days, you will find yourself mentally returning to a piece of that story that captured your attention, some small detail that will stick in your mind as a poignant reminder of a life ended too soon.
Killings is a collection of true crime articles originally published in the New Yorker stretching from 1969 to 2010. Each article tells a story of a sudden death, however, it's not the death that Trillin focuses on, but more the behavior and response of those in the community affected by the death. Killings is equally entertaining and thought-provoking. Some stories end with a conviction or better laws for future prevention, but many end with the bad guy getting away or escaping his due punishment and you're left unsatisfied. But reality often is unsatisfying; bad guys get away, murders go unsolved, innocent victims are slandered... And every once in a while things go right and we're left with some hope.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I can recall seeing Trillin on TV from time to time, countenance of a dour humorist, a sense that he's trying not to burst out laughing at life's absurdities. Though it's hard to find humor, even the wry variety, in these 22 murder and killer stories, reprinted from the New Yorker magazine, most have an ironic twist. Many what ifs. Numerous extenuating circumstances. Various intrigues. My favorite story is his final one, an in-depth character sketch written in the first person. It's about Edna Buchanan, a prolific crime reporter for the Miami Herald. When an ex-con named Gary Johnson was shot dead by a security guard at Church's Fried Chicken (he'd raised a ruckus when told that the store had run out of fried chicken), her story began: Gary Johnson died hungry.
Read the newly revised edition. It was okay...most of the cases were ones I'd never heard of, even the three cases he included that were from my home state of Iowa. Trillin's focus was primarily on the locations of the crimes and how the citizens viewed the various murders. Quite a lot of it was on the dry side and I think some of it could've been condensed down for better clarity/flow. Still, it was an interesting read. I had this one going at the same time as "The Roanoke Girls" and between the two, the Roanoke girls held my fascination just a bit better, despite the fact that I'm a true crime buff and normally love reading about stuff like that.
Typical Trillin, which is a very, very good thing. Not your typical true crime book, though. Trillin is less interested in the salacious, gruesome aspects of the crimes than he is in the lives of the killers, victims, families, and communities affected by the crimes. I'm a little surprised that there's no follow-up reports on any of the crimes, since so many years have passed since initial publication, but with a little internet sleuthing you can turn up more fascinating information, particularly in the cases of Walter Bopp, Lorna Anderson, Susan Piasecny, and Lawrence Hartman.
The writing here is great, obviously, as Calvin Trillin is just immensely talented. It's a three star book for me because of how much the pieces varied in their sensationalism and appeal. There were some that I thought hit it out of the park - the one about the right-of-way dispute, the Native American who takes the mayor hostage - but others really failed to capture my interest and I found myself slogging through them. But the title delivers; every single story there is a sad and senseless death.
This was a fun read about a lot of odd cases -- murders, disappearances, accidents, wrongful deaths. I like the way the author made a point of choosing cases that evoke a certain group of people in a certain place and time; he gives you a sense of who they are and why the events happened the way they did. None of these cases are the big, famous ones you can easily find material on elsewhere. Well worth a look.
Maybe it's pretentious to like The New Yorker and stories from The New Yorker....and maybe I don't really care.
This is a fantastic collection of true crime stories collected from the 1970's to current times. Calvin Trillin goes beyond the details and gets to the heart. From mining towns to unhappy immigrants to rebelling teens, these stories cover the loss that is felt.
Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for this review.
Nonfiction short-story format about murder in the United States. First published over 30 years ago, most took place in the 1970s and early 1980s; for this new edition a few later ones were added. Even for Calvin Trillin, it’s not easy to cover that much information comprehensively, and as with most short stories some are more interesting than others. I especially liked the last story of a different type about Edna Buchanan, a journalist with the Miami Herald.
Americana by means of murder in small towns. After a few chapters I thought I couldn't go any further, so depressing were the portraits of these towns—after all, they produced the deaths in question. The nature of the storytelling also contributed to the oppressing atmosphere...These are stories about the lives of people who had already died, and the reporting is inherently separated from their lives by an impossible distance. Now I know, I would not enjoy being an obituary section reader.
Atypical book for Calvin Trillin, this is a collection of stories Trillin wrote for The New Yorker as part of a more general series. While all the stories are about murders, the book really is more about the lives these people led. Really excellent.
Such a great read! I am glad that I won this book from the goodreads giveaway. Unlike all the other books I've read that focuses on the crime and murders, this book focuses more on the community and aftermath of the killings in the towns it took place.
A collection of New Yorker articles documenting true crimes in small communities in the 70s and 80s. I would have enjoyed a bit more depth on each one but it was an interesting exercise to read it all together.