Genealogy of a Murder: Four Generations, Three Families, One Fateful Night (Hardcover)
A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read Book for May 2023
The multigenerational tale of three families whose paths collide one summer night in 1960 with the murder of a police officer.
Independence Day weekend, 1960: a young cop is murdered, shocking his close-knit community in Stamford, Connecticut. The killer remains at large, his identity still unknown. But on a beach not far away, a young Army doctor, on vacation from his post at a research lab in a maximum-security prison, faces a chilling realization. He knows who the shooter is. In fact, the man—a prisoner out on parole—had called him only days before. By helping his former charge and trainee, the doctor, a believer in second chances, may have inadvertently helped set the murder into motion. And with that one phone call, may have sealed a policeman’s fate.
Alvin Tarlov, David Troy, and Joseph DeSalvo were all born of the Great Depression, all with grandparents who’d left different homelands for the same American Dream. How did one become a doctor, one a cop, and one a convict? In Genealogy of a Murder, journalist Lisa Belkin traces the paths of each of these three men—one of them her stepfather. Her canvas is large, spanning the first half of the 20th century: immigration, the struggles of the working class, prison reform, medical experiments, politics and war, the nature/nurture debate, epigenetics, the infamous Leopold and Loeb case, and the history of motorcycle racing. It is also intimate: a look into the workings of the mind and heart.
Following these threads to their tragic outcome in July 1960, and beyond, Belkin examines the coincidences and choices that led to one fateful night. The result is a brilliantly researched, narratively ingenious story, which illuminates how we shape history even as we are shaped by it.
About the Author
Lisa Belkin is an award-winning journalist and the author of narrative nonfiction books. Her career at the New York Times includes stints as a national correspondent, medical reporter, and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. She lives in Westchester, New York.
[An] exhilarating, intimate study of fate, chance and the wildly meaningful intersections of disparate lives.... Belkin writes insightfully and engagingly.... She has a keen eye for an anecdote and a sharp sense of humor.
— Robert Kolker - New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
Belkin stages the drama with the pace and tension of a Greek tragedy.... Gripping.... Belkin craftily sustains suspense.
— Tom Nolan - Wall Street Journal
A revelatory work of nonfiction, one that will influence my own future crime writing, and that, I suspect, of others in this space.... Belkin expertly renders the humanity in all of these ancestral tales, using her narrative-nonfiction skills to convey adventure, loss, longing, joy, heartbreak, and emotional devastation.... When true crime is in fresh need of new narrative possibilities that truly center the actual lives and afterlives of those affected by violence, Genealogy of a Murder provides a road map for how to do so. I felt forever changed after reading this book, and know it will have ripple effects for those creating, and consuming, true crime.
— Sarah Weinman - Air Mail
[A] riveting true crime account.
— Joumana Khatib - New York Times
Deep research and vivid storytelling elevate this crime tale.
— People, "Best Books of Summer 2023"
A truly great read.
— Maren Longbella - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Outstanding.... Belkin’s judicious research parlays into an engrossing, expansive narrative that reads like a real-life Greek tragedy. It will spur contemplation and debate in an audience far beyond just true crime diehards.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
[Belkin] masterfully builds hand-wringing anticipation.... [and] creates an impressive work of in-depth narrative journalism that artfully conveys the countless paths a life can follow and exposes the instinctual human desire for alternative endings. An absorbing, thought-provoking inquiry into what it means to change and defy the odds.
— Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Belkin offers a historical example of the ‘Butterfly Effect’.... [that] true-crime aficionados will savor.
A generational saga both exquisitely detailed and majestically sweeping.… This wonderful book by master storyteller Lisa Belkin carries the reader effortlessly along, revealing profound truths about the history of our country, the intertwined nature of our personal stories, and the forces—often hidden—driving our own lives, our own loves, our own times.
— Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
In this riveting narrative, Lisa Belkin brings history to life. Weaving philosophical, psychological, historical, and personal threads, she dissects how the past shapes us and makes us who we are. Meticulously researched and beautifully constructed, this book reads like historical fiction—though it is, almost unfathomably, true.
— Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train and The Exiles
Genealogy of a Murder is a deeply researched, intensely personal investigation that bristles with tension from start to finish. Masterfully composed and remarkably courageous, it is a hauntingly powerful story that’s impossible to forget.
— Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Lisa Belkin’s Genealogy of a Murder reads like the best novels, with rich characterizations and can’t-put-it-down pacing. But the story she tells is true, a true story of America and the forces that shape us—for good and for ill—for generations. It’s a work of ambition and a work of art, and one hell of a great read.
— Mimi Swartz, executive editor, Texas Monthly, and author of Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart
Lisa Belkin has taken an incredible story and unraveled it in the most masterful way. This is an intensely readable, fascinating book that will be with you for a long time.
— Julie Klam, author of The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters: A True Story of Family Fiction
Lisa Belkin is a beautiful writer even when addressing wrenching topics, as shown in this elegy of a police officer’s murder and the path to it. This is an exquisite exploration of how our meandering human paths converge, in love, in success, in tragedy.
— Nicholas D. Kristof, coauthor of Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope
Something more than ‘true crime.’ Epic personal history, maybe? Whatever you call Lisa Belkin’s latest passion project, it's riveting: a big, sweeping, multi-generational saga about all the little moments over half a century that steered the stories of three families to collide on one fateful, fatal night.
— Mary Laura Philpott