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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

"Dead Reckoning" by Caitlin Rother

True crime: in a plan masterminded by his wife Jennifer, ex-child actor Skylar Deleon and two accomplices board a boat, force the retired couple who own and sail it to give them power of attorney over all their assets, and then tie them to the anchor and dump them overboard.

This is a classic of American journalism. Obsessive about detailing every single character in the drama, we know the religious convictions of the detectives and the military background of the judge. I adore this sort of reportage. My favourite example is probably All the President's Men, the Bernstein and Woodward classic about Watergate, in which we learn what the reporters eat when they meet with the owner of the Washington Post. This captures a real flavour of my (probably inaccurate) perspective of what it is to be a citizen of the USA: churches and food and money and health and things and things and things.

And this does seem scary. Life in the beautiful state of California does seem to be a perpetual struggle. Honest people seem to work so hard (often at more than one job) for very little pay. Medical bills can easily tip them over the edge. Skylar and Jennifer wanted the good life so they rapidly ran up credit card bills and took out loans from banks and family members which they had no hope whatsoever of repaying. At the same time, it was easy to earn tens of thousands of dollars from drugs or by persuading the gullible to part with inheritances and savings as 'investments' (and then to kill them.

And violence is never very far away. When Skylar needs some muscle for his murderous plot he arranges it through a contact. He meets the muscle (a gang member bizarrely named John F Kennedy who is studying to become a pastor) in a car park and persuades him there and then to join in. The man gets $1300. The notary who illegally notarizes the power of attorneys gets more (she is a sad case of a woman who knows she is doing something dodgy but is tempted by the bucks well over her head).

When you think about it, this is a deeply disturbing portrait of a society in which a prosperous elite is perpetually threatened by a dysfunctional underclass.

Most of these criminals are weak and stupid. Alonso is a poorly paid prison guard who falls under the influence of Skylar. He then vacillates between working all hours for good money and working long hours for poor money. Finally he joins Skylar on the boat on the fateful day. Sickened by what has happened, he runs away to Mexico but then voluntarily returns to testify, for which he gets a reduced sentence of twenty years.

But you cannot believe that Skylar and Jennifer ever thought they would get away with the crime. They used their cell phones to talk to one another throughout the day and the cell phone masts tracked where Skylar was. The power of attorney plan was botched and almost deliberately designed to throw suspicion on these two to whom, apparently, the victims had given complete control over their finances.

Incredible! But a rattling good read. January 2015; 474 pages

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