Friday, January 6, 2017

Murder Down the Street: CriMemoir by Susan McBride

I met Susan McBride a few years back through fellow St. Louisan Scott Phillips and was left with two impressions: I bet she's always the nicest person in the room, and I bet she thinks about murder a lot.

Well so does Jessica Fletcher ammirite?

Susan's been publishing mysteries for a while, but her latest, Walk Into Silence, goes a shade darker than her cozy past. This guest post gives me a little peek behind the curtain and confirms and explains a lot about why she's spent more than a little time thinking about violent crime.

Murder Down the Street
by Susan McBride

I was in sixth grade when I first learned about murder.
         
Not that I hadn’t read plenty of mysteries, being that I was a big fan of Nancy Drew, as well as Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen.
         
But this was real-life.
         
It was the night before Halloween in 1975 when someone bludgeoned Martha Moxley to death with a golf club. The event itself was shocking enough, even more so because it happened in exclusive Belle Haven, a posh neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Our house was just up the street.
         
I can’t recall ever having heard of anything horrible happening in our ‘hood, which had little guard posts at the entrance (sometimes tended, sometimes not). I walked to piano lessons, to friends’ houses, and through the woods that bordered part of our lot, often unaccompanied, never with a second-thought. My sister and I were forever running loose, riding our bikes down to Long Island Sound and bringing back beach creatures that wound up dying and stinking in makeshift terrariums.
         
My mom would stand out on the porch of the turreted Victorian fixer-upper and holler for us if we weren’t home by dinner. There was no such thing as a smart phone, just the kind of phones with stretchy coiled cords that barely reached across a room. There was no social media, no chat rooms where creeps could lurk, looking for innocent victims.
         
It was a nice, safe bubble in which to grow up, for awhile anyway.

We were hardly blue bloods, but we sometimes rubbed elbows at local shindigs, like a big to-do thrown by a Reynolds tobacco heiress. Mort Walker, Beetle Bailey’s creator lived nearby and the house next-door had once belonged to the founder of the defunct Stix, Baer & Fuller department stores (then became residence to the CEO of a major corporation whose daughter was a good friend). I visited Victor Borga’s house and sat at one of his pianos while he was away on tour, as another friend’s parents managed his property.

It was a good time to be a kid.
       
Then someone murdered the pretty, blond teenager who lived down the street. I’d never met Martha Moxley: she was in high school, and I was still in sixth grade. If I had seen her around, I couldn’t recall.
         
But I knew plenty of girls like her in Greenwich, not much older than I, and I wondered how such a thing could happen in a place that had always felt so safe. I remember my parents reassuring us that we weren’t in any danger. I heard the name Skakel bandied about, though it would be years before I understood that the Skakels were Kennedy cousins. There were plenty of whispers back then, namely that a Skakel was the killer and had been sent out of the country, that a transient might have done it.
         
My parents didn’t buy that the murder was random. In fact, they were so certain that no madman prowled Belle Haven that they let my 12-year-old sister and I take my younger brother and his friend out trick or treating by ourselves the next night, Halloween.
         
There was noticeable police presence, even FBI agents at various checkpoints, who were very nice and humored us by using flashlights to look inside the pillow cases we carried, bulging with candy. Our little quartet tramped through the cold across acres of lawn to ring doorbells on every house we could reach. We were even invited inside a few foyers on occasion, so we could admire the morbid d├ęcor of life-sized skeletons and pots of witches’ brew steaming with dry-ice. At one point, we had so much candy that we had to go back home to empty our pillow cases.
         
I wasn’t thinking about murder back then. I was thinking about how lucky we were to go out on a night when so many eyes were watching out for us and when so many skittish neighbors needed to be reassured that life went on after tragedy.
         
And all the while we trick or treated, a family down the street grieved, having lost a precious child, doubtless wondering if anyone would ever be brought to justice in a place where privilege and money and a family name built a wall so high a killer would hide behind it for decades.

Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Walk Into Silence (Thomas & Mercer), the debut of a new series featuring Texas police detective Jo Larsen that Publishers Weekly called “Gripping.” Walk was #1 on the paid Kindle bestsellers list in the US and UK and reached #3 in Australia. For more on Susan and her books, visit her web site - SusanMcBride.com.

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