An American Killing

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Denise Burke, a successful author of true crime novels, once worked as a journalist beside a young man who turned out to be an accomplished and brutal serial killer. She has every reason to believe that her experiences and her success enable her to selectively choose her subjects. When handsome and very eligible Congressman Owen Hall of Rhode Island encourages her to look into a murder that took place two years before in his hometown of New Caxton, Denise accedes even though the case does not fit her preferred formula.

Denise travels to New Caxton to review newspaper coverage of the case, and discovers a disturbing scenario. The town does not meet the congressman’s description of a sleepy New England town, whose residents take great pride in their heritage as Americans and their isolation from social ills that plague the rest of the nation. Instead, Denise finds an economically depressed, socially paranoid community where nearly everyone knows the facts but no one tells the truth. Her investigation reveals cover-ups with racial undertones and astonishing breaches of the strictest sexual taboos. Inevitably, Denise finds herself the target of murder attempts at the hands of someone determined to prevent her from uncovering the truth. The case takes on a final, darker hue when Congressman Hall himself is murdered.

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith skillfully creates an absorbing study of distinctly American contemporary characters, all the while implicitly suggesting that Americans more closely examine their own assumptions about deeply ingrained American mythology in AN AMERICAN KILLING.