Author Guest Post
It’s kind of fitting that I’ve been asked to write something for Jersey Girl Book Reviews since the true crime I based Devil in the Hole on took place in New Jersey, over forty years ago.
At the time, I was just starting out as a freelance magazine journalist, fresh out of the mailroom at New York magazine. Being a freelancer, I had to come up with my own ideas for articles and, in hopes of obtaining steady work, perhaps even a non-fiction book.
One morning, I opened the New York Times and found, there on the front page, the story of a gruesome murder that took place in Westfield, N.J. A man named John List had murdered his entire family: wife, three teenage children, his mother and the family dog. What made this particular crime stand out, though, was that the murders, which took place in a large mansion-type house in an upper middle-class neighborhood, weren’t discovered until three weeks after they were committed. The reason for this time lag was that List had cleverly planned his crime so that he would have a head start on making his getaway. For instance, he called the school and said his kids would be on vacation. He stopped mail delivery. He even left all the lights on in the house so that people would think the family was home.
This is what fascinated me. I understood someone snapping and committing murder, but this was so well-planned, so well thought out, that it couldn’t have been committed in a moment of madness. There had to be, at least to the killer, a rational reason for the murders.
This, I thought, was a perfect magazine piece, and perhaps even the makings of a true crime book. But I ran up against an unexpected roadblock. I was told that as great a story as it was, until the John List was apprehended, there was no ending. No ending, no story.
And so I waited. And waited. Years passed. But he still wasn’t caught. Nevertheless, the story stayed with me, haunted me, even, as I toyed around with the idea of turning it into a novel. But before I did I had to figure out what could drive someone to commit such a heinous crime. Once I figured that out for my fictional murderer, I could start writing the book, which eventually turned out to be Devil in the Hole.
The footnote to all this is that some twenty or more years after the murders, America’s Most Wanted did a show on John List, appropriately aging his face to what he would look like at the time. Sure enough, someone recognized him and turned him in. He had created an entirely new life, married, had a job, as if nothing had ever happened. He was, of course, apprehended, tried and convicted. Last year, he died in prison.
It turned out his reason for murder was not what I had created for my fictional John List, named John Hartman, but in a way, that was even better. What he did released my imagination and resulted in what some are calling my best work.
About The Author
Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, Elle, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times, GQ and other periodicals. He is the author of over 20 non-fiction books and several novels, including Swann's Last Song, which was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, and the sequel, Swann Dives In. He also has taught been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, the Writer's Voice, and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.
Devil In The Hole by Charles Salzberg ~ Virtual Book Tour Page: Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours
Devil In The Hole - Book Reading
Devil In The Hole by Charles Salzberg
Publisher: Five Star
Publication Date: July 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover - 254 pages
Genre: Psychological Crime Fiction
BUY THE BOOK: Devil In The Hole
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 5-17-2013
This title publishes JULY 2013
“In this smartly constructed crime novel, Salzberg uses multiple viewpoints to portray an unlikely killer who methodically slaughters his family . . . an intriguing collage of impressions and personal perspectives for the reader to ponder.”
Devil in the Hole by Charles Salzberg.
Five Star, $25.95 (254p) ISBN 978-1-4328-2696-3
In this smartly constructed crime novel, Salzberg (Swann Dives In) uses multiple viewpoints to portray an unlikely killer who methodically slaughters his family. When James Kirkland, a neighbor, notices something odd going on at the Sedgewick, Conn., home of the Hartmans, he calls the police. Inside the Georgian-style mansion, police find the neatly executed bodies of Adele Hartman, her three teenage children, and her mother-in-law. John Hartman, Adele’s husband, is missing. Salzberg adroitly creates the voices of Hartman as he tries to establish a new life for himself; Charles Floyd, a senior police investigator who becomes obsessed with finding Hartman; and Kirkland, whose discovery changes his life. A slew of other characters who knew Hartman or who encounter him as he moves around provide snippets of information. The result is not a finished portrait but an intriguing collage of impressions and personal perspectives for the reader to ponder. Agent, Alex Glass, Trident Media Group. (July) Reviewed on 05/17/2013 | Details & Permalink (July)
My Book Review:
Crime thriller fans, boy do I have a riveting book for you!
In Devil In The Hole, author Charles Salzberg weaves a fascinating fictionalized tale based on the 1971 NJ true crime murder case of John List, who mass murdered his family in their posh family home, then fled the scene and eluded capture for eighteen years until he was highlighted on the TV show, America's Most Wanted.
Devil In The Hole is a fast paced page turner that follows the murder case of John Hartman, who cold-bloodedly planned and carried out the mass murder of his family in their affluent Sedgewick, Connecticut home, then disappears and eludes capture for three years. Author Charles Salzberg draws the reader into this riveting story with a convincing recounting of the murder, escape and hunt for the murderer told in an alternating first person narrative that includes John Hartman and well over a dozen other people whose lives have been impacted by his heinous crime. Each character's voice comes alive as they recount the frustrating hunt for the seemingly mild mannered murderer, who not only escaped the murder scene but also from the torment of his own troubled mind. Through a richly descriptive interweaving of accounts by the various characters, the reader delves into the complexity of the murderer, the crime and the impact that it had on the close knit Connecticut community, and those who became obsessed and doggedly searched for John Hartman.
Devil In The Hole is a haunting novel that will keep the reader in suspense as the dark portrait of a seemingly mild-mannered man's life descent into madness and murder unfolds, leaving a chilling rippling effect on people connected to this man and his heinous crime. As a born and bred Jersey girl, I remember the 1971 NJ mass murder case that John List committed on his unsuspecting family. I have also enjoyed the made for TV movie featured on Lifetime about the List case, so when I read the book description for Devil In The Hole, I knew I had to read this book, and I wasn't left disappointed. The author connects the murder and the ensuing manhunt with intriguing first person narratives that keeps the reader captivated and guessing what would happen next, it is a story that you won't be able to put down.
Devil In The Hole is one of the best psychological crime thrillers that I have read, it is a powerful story that is thought provoking and expertly told by an author who convincingly fictionalizes a true life crime into one hell of a riveting tale that is a must read!
RATING: 5 STARS *****
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