True-crime writing at its best
Dominick Dunne became a chronicler of criminal justice for the rich and well-connected after his own daughter was murdered in 1982 by her boyfriend. But his fascination with high-profile crime first surfaced during his youth, as he admits in his new book, Justice, in a chapter on the 1943-44 trial and conviction of Wayne Lonergan for the murder of his socialite wife and brewing heiress Patricia Burton. "I was a teenager in boarding school at this time," he writes, "and I remember risking expulsion every afternoon by sneaking into the town of New Milford, Connecticut, during sports period to read the latest accounts in the New York Daily Mirror and the New York Journal American at the local drugstore."
The 18 articles in this collection were written originally for Vanity Fair. They cover the trials of the Menendez brothers for the shotgun slaying of their parents, of Claus von Bulow for the attempted murder of his wife and the still-in-progress proceedings against Kennedy kinsman Michael Skakel for the bludgeoning death of young Martha Moxley. But Dunne devotes most of these pieces to the endlessly absorbing trials of O.J. Simpson both the one he won and the one he lost. Dunne relates that he became such a familiar fixture in court that during the civil trial Simpson approached him smiling and offering his hand. Dunne says he declined to shake hands but notes that Simpson despite all the revelations about him still possessed an almost irresistible charm.
Dunne is at his best when revealing the personalities and social backgrounds of the principals who confront each other in the courtroom. A dogged gatherer of facts and gossip, he always seems to know the right people insiders he bumps into at elegant parties who have tantalizing information to share about the trial in question. He makes no pretense of being objective, freely coloring his accounts with his own impressions and biases. He is contemptuous of Judge Lance Ito in the first Simpson trial, less than dazzled by prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, but quite taken with police detective Mark Fuhrman.
Socially privileged himself, Dunne brings an insider's perspective to his coverage of the trials of the well-to-do that few other crime reporters can hope to match. Always perceptive, ever engaging, with Justice, Dunne has done it again.
Edward Morris writes from Nashville.