Suspended Sentences

This month's East Bay book news.

Local killer: Last month, Union City-bred James Daveggio was sentenced to death for the 1997 abduction and murder of a Pleasanton woman in a van specially rigged for torture. Carlton Smith, whose book Hunting Evil (St. Martin’s, $6.50) recounts Daveggio’s crimes, wasn’t overjoyed at the news. This prolific true-crime writer opposes capital punishment. It was while writing about Yosemite murderer Cary Stayner “that my qualms really began,” says the San Franciscan, who is now writing about Christian Longo, the Oregon family man who killed his wife and kids, then holed up in a stolen Durango for a spell at SFO before fleeing to Cancún. “But we owe it to the victims to tell these stories. Who else will be the custodians of their history?”Smith has become convinced that the wrong man, one Marvin Mutch, is in San Quentin for a 1974 Union City murder actually committed by Daveggio. (For one thing, Daveggio dated the victim.)

“I was horrified — they’ve stolen thirty years from Marvin’s life,” he said. Smith has alerted the Union City police and the Alameda County district attorney to his findings, “but they refuse to do anything. They don’t want to admit they’re wrong.”

Asking for trouble: In Fannie Flagg‘s new novel Standing in the Rainbow (Random House, $25.95), a redneck politician scorns protesters during a speech at UC Berkeley, circa ’67. “I’m for everybody except for these pea-headed, lily-livered professors,” the cracker declares, “who have been brainwashing you against your own country.” Shortly afterward, he vanishes without a trace. His disappearance haunts the rest of a sweeping story that manages to be both epic and intimate.”Every novel I write has a murder in it, or at least a mystery,” says Flagg, “because I’m so aware that life itself is a mystery. A plane could hit me in the head as I’m sitting here talking with you.”

Some might call the book escapist, with its big-hearted small-towners. Flagg is philosophical about that. As an actress thirty years back — she was in Five Easy Pieces, for starters — she was a regular on TV game shows. “You think that sort of thing is beneath you” — but then she visited a hospital one day where people in an intensive-care waiting room were watching The Match Game. “That’s when I realized that if you can give somebody thirty minutes of relief from their worries, you’re giving them a gift. I stopped being snotty.”

Postmortem: When The New York Times raved about Alice Sebold‘s debut novel The Lovely Bones (Little, Brown, $21.95), whose narrator is a murdered girl, Sebold got butterflies.”Since my stomach is my barometer of all things nervous,” says the author, who is married to former Express contributor and fellow novelist Glen David Gold, “my gut has turned into some pump-action mechanism that screws itself into a knot before a review is due, and then relaxes, but only a little bit, when it’s good.” Turned down by several major publishers thanks to its postmortem perspective, the novel speaks for anyone who ever lost someone. Grateful readers have been telling Sebold that it “has the effect of a permission slip for grief.”

Sinning in São Paulo: Members of death squads suffer job burnout too, as Martha Huggins, Mika Haritos-Fatouros, and Stanford’s Philip Zimbardo found while researching Violence Workers ($21.95), new from University of California Press. For their landmark study, they interviewed Brazilian cops who were “atrocity facilitators” during their country’s 1964-1985 military regime.

Family values: Underground-press impresario Paul Krassner, who covered the Patty Hearst trial for the Berkeley Barb, excerpts his letters from Charles Manson in Everything You Know Is Wrong (Disinformation, $24.95), a new anthology in which Thomas Szasz, Arianna Huffington, Tristan Taormino, and others blast secrets and lies about crime, war, Ritalin, meat, and more. The LAPD, Krassner reports, seized a cache of homemade porn flicks from Roman Polanski and Manson victim Sharon Tate‘s house, including one featuring Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers, Warren Beatty, and Mama Cass Elliot in an orgy. Nor were the victims, as the public believes, chosen at random. “I’m a crook,” Manson wrote Krassner from Corcoran State Prison in 1992. “Mass killer. It’s a job, what can I say?”

High crimes: When he was a private investigator, Vallejo’s David Corbett met a drug smuggler who had saved the life of a total stranger, rescuing the man from a burning boat in an Alameda marina. Corbett learned right then that there’s more to people, criminals included, than meets the eye. As a PI, “you’re obliged to see everybody as a real human being. If you make them into a caricature, it’s useless.” This lesson served him well when he was writing The Devil’s Redhead (Ballantine, $24.95), whose pot-smuggler protagonist wants only to win back the love of his life but winds up in a war with the crystal-meth crowd. Lots of chats with the genuine article have given Corbett a flair for authentic dialogue; a long-ago visit to a meth lab near Oakley gave him a setting for the novel and a loathing for what he calls “the drug from hell.” To “cast the drug world in the worst possible light,” as he hoped to do with his villains, one sure way is to hook ’em on crank.

Easy does it: In Walter Mosley‘s latest, Bad Boy Brawly Brown (Little, Brown, $24.95), it’s 1964, and now-fortysomething sleuth Easy Rawlins is asked to wrest a boy from the embrace of revolutionary politics. El Cerrito’s Peter Handel, mystery columnist for Pages magazine, remembers “discovering” Mosley twelve years ago when he was the Chronicle‘s mystery columnist. Devil in a Blue Dress was hot off the presses. “Of course I loved it,” Handel recalls. “I was one of the first to review him at all anywhere.” By the time the two met, Mosley was famous. “He called me on a Saturday morning and took me to breakfast.” They strolled Clement Street, where at Green Apple Books “everyone was staring at him.” Mosley bought a vintage Charlie Chan paperback.

Breakout: In Alcatraz Justice (Creative Arts, $15.95), former Contra Costa County deputy district attorney Ernest B. Lageson recounts the sensational murder trial that followed a 1946 uprising on the Rock in which five men died. Lageson’s dad, later a Pittsburg schoolteacher, was one of nine prison officials taken hostage during the melee.

Hey, Joe: Six years in jail on a weapons charge temporarily derailed the career of Arthur Lee, whose band, Love, was one of the first racially integrated rock outfits and is covered in Richie Unterberger‘s Turn! Turn! Turn! (Backbeat, $19.95), a monumental chronicle of how folk-rock changed the world. After interviewing John Sebastian, Judy Collins, and hundreds more, Unterberger — who will be at Booksmith in San Francisco on August 6 — remains convinced that the father of the genre was not Bob Dylan, but the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. “I don’t have to take the party line. He’s the guy,” says the author, whose forthcoming reading at LA’s Book Soup will feature a live appearance by Donovan. Most of the bands in his book, you’ve heard of. But as for the best-ever unknowns — he says it’s a tie between Kansas’ Blue Things and Berkeley’s Blackburn & Snow.

Interruptus: The heroine halts a bloody vivisection in the nick of time, shouting, “You were committing an atrocious crime!!” in Cinderalla, the new full-color fairytale-gone-grotesque manga by Junko Mizuno (Viz, $15.95), who will be at Virgin Megastore in San Francisco on August 6. She’s the hottest thing going in Japanese comics, says San Ramon-bred Alvin Lu, a novelist and Viz editor.

Life of the party: Edited by David Hilliard and longtime Oaklander Donald Weise, The Huey P. Newton Reader (Seven Stories, $17.95) is the first major collection of writings by you-know-who. It includes never-before-published materials from the Black Panther Party archive, including juicy bits about the late Berkeleyite Eldridge Cleaver.

Lost and not forgotten: Richmond’s own Christopher Darden helps to lose the case against O.J. Simpson in Justice (Three Rivers, $14), a collection of crime articles by Dominick Dunne that’s as sharp-edged as a certain missing knife.

Snippets: Pretty pictures tell scary stories of agricultural atrocities in Fatal Harvest (Island, $75), in which Alice Waters and other writers urge you to eat right. Berkeley’s Huston Smith and other writers probe the groovy intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics in Zig Zag Zen (Chronicle, $24.95). In Girl, Get Your Money Straight! (Broadway, $11.95), Oakland’s Glinda Bridgforth offers a “financial healing” program designed specially for African-American women.

Previous articleWhen Pot Clubs Go Bad
Next articleScreamin’ Creamies

Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

few clouds
56.7 ° F
60 °
53 °
55 %
20 %
56 °
55 °
53 °
54 °
53 °