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by Matthew McGevna
Akashic Books, July 2015
288 pages
ISBN: 1617753475

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

LITTLE BEASTS is not a mystery in the traditional sense, although there is a murder – a horrific child killing based on a 1979 crime in Long Island, New York. McGevna takes the real-life death of John Pius, which many Long Islanders will still remember, and loosely structures a story around it.

The fictional murder doesn't happen until two-thirds of the way into the book. McGevna slowly reveals the lives of three eight-year-olds, James Illworth, Dallas Darwin and Felix Cassidy, who grow up in working-class families in the fictional town of Turnbull. In the summer of 1983, the three friends get in all sorts of mischief—from stealing candy at a neighborhood store to stealing a pile of wood another group of boys had set aside for a treehouse. They also deal, however, with their own troubles at home, from an alcoholic father to another father whose piousness demands much of his son. The reader knows one of the three will be a victim, but not which one, and we read with our hearts in our throats as we grow closer to each boy.

We also follow the life of the would-be killer, David Westwood, an outsider at his high school, someone who is verbally bullied by his classmates and whose girlfriend is stolen away by an older student. But this downtrodden teenager also has a hair-trigger temper and, on one hot summer day, it will end in a murder.

In the aftermath of that day, McGevna shows us how the brutality and tragedy of that event affect the families of the three boys, as well as David Westwood. There will be justice, of some sort, and even redemption. But, as in real life, there is no happy ending.

§ Lourdes Venard is a newspaper editor in Long Island, N.Y.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, August 2015

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