Out Here in the Darkness
by Abra Stevens
LNJ Publishing

"Disappointment moved from one to the next, its birth sprouting the awareness that nothing comes easy, not even murder."

Variants of the expression "a book you can't put down" have long been considered tired clichés. But, be that as it may, a book you can't put down is exactly what this one is. This mesmerizing tale of a brutal murder, the people who committed it, the individuals responsible for solving the crime, those called upon to administer justice, and the many who were tangentially affected is a book that holds one spellbound. Not since Truman Capote's groundbreaking In Cold Blood has there been such a masterful combination of reportage and dramatic storytelling.

The true crime chronicled here is the murder of one teenager by other teenagers. The act and its immediate aftereffects took place during August 1985 in Houston, Texas. However, author Stevens goes to considerable lengths to document what happened to the principal individuals involved during the years that followed as well. This story serves as a startlingly graphic reminder that regardless of exceptional novelists' imaginative capabilities, no work of fiction can match the searing impact of truth well told.

The tale begins by examining a smattering of teen stragglers who wind up forming a loose coalition. They are somewhat connected by typical teenage disdain for anyone considerably older than themselves, fraying or fractured home lives, attraction to heavy metal music of the 80s, the allure of the occult, and most of all, by the consumption of drugs—marijuana and homemade meth being particular favorites. For various perceived slights by an acquaintance of theirs, along with the senseless idea that they'd just like to see someone die, they conspire to kill a young man. His murder is a repugnantly gruesome event, followed by even more drug-induced behavior that leads to an additional killing plus an attempted one via throat slashing. However, being teenagers, they just can't keep from recounting their exploits to others. Soon, tips are made to the police, and one by one, the conspirators are identified, arrested, and put on trial.

Stevens has constructed her account by thoroughly analyzing transcripts, recordings, and court documents, plus extensive interviews with lawyers, police officers, witnesses, family members, one of the actual participants in the crime, and additional sources. Her meticulous attention to detail is evidenced not only by the specificity of her narrative but also by the inclusion of her source notes, where she documents instances of verbatim retellings versus informed reconstruction. While the events are compelling in their own right, Stevens' riveting depictions enthrall. From her gripping descriptions of the crimes themselves to absorbing courtroom debate to the participants' engrossing emotional and psychological states, this author never takes her foot off the accelerator. Even after her tale of mindless murder and mayhem has concluded, her exploration of the incarceration and eventual disposition of the participants in this tragic series of events will keep readers turning pages one after the other.

Tthough sometimes difficult to endure due to its unflinching recreation of what actually happened, this book is a gripping cautionary tale that deserves to be read by both adults and teens. Its author is a first-rate writer who proves herself worthy of being sought out not only for this exceptional accomplishment but also for her masterful literary skills that will likely be applied to whatever subject matter she tackles in the future.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award da Vinci Eye Finalist

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