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The Darkest Night by Ron Franscell: true crime book review

16 April 2011

The Darkest Night is more than your typical true crime book. It’s a truecrimeslashmemiorslashnarrative a la Truman Capote. Dare I make such a comparison to the masterpiece that started the whole true crime genre? Well, yes, I just did. This book does remind me of a modern version of In Cold Blood.

Veteran true crime author Ron Franscell gives readers an insider’s view from his vantage point as a young neighbor of two girls who became victims of a heinous crime — one that reverberated for more than twenty years and continues to do so. Franscell compellingly tells the heartrending story of 11-year-old Amy Burridge and her half-sister 18-year-old Becky Thomson.

On a cold September night in 1973, two men abducted the girls from a supermarket parking lot using a ruse after they’d flattened Becky’s car tire. After a tense, terrifying, and life-altering night for all those involved, the girls were mercilessly and summarily tossed from Fremont Canyon Bridge in the now incongruously beautiful state of Wyoming.

Franscell, sixteen at the time, found out about the crime from his mother, who matter-of-factly told him young Amy was dead. (Following is an excerpt from p. 9.)

“What happened?” [Franscell asks his mother.]

“A couple of guys picked [the girls] up from the store and took them out to some bridge and raped them and threw them off.”

Franscell, sixteen at the time, then writes of his subsequent teenaged befuddlement, and of seeing Becky earlier on the day in question — she had waved to him.

Ultimately, Becky lived to tell about the crime, but little Amy did not. Becky’s remarkable tale of surviving that cold, dark night is simply astounding: That she was thrown from such an incredible height (bridge elevation: 5,500 feet) and did not immediately perish; that she was able to climb up to the road in her bruised and battered condition; and that she was able to recover and go on to testify against the two cold perpetrators at trial. Yet, for all that hard-fought-for struggle to survive, poor Becky remained deeply scarred by that night.

Much, much later — 19 years to be exact — Becky went back to that bridge. Understandably haunted by the past, Becky felt a deep compulsion to revisit the scene of the senseless crime in which her younger sister died, while she [Becky] lived. What happened next is both alarming and completely unexpected. It takes a lot to shock to me, but this narrative did an immense job of it.

The book itself is well-written by an accomplished author and journalist. The pace is taut, and the gripping narrative is tinged with the personal. Readers feel as though they come to know Becky Thomson as well as Franscell does. We even come to know the killers, though any of my sympathy is withheld for these two. Franscell obviously conducted extensive interviews as evidenced by the detailed story he weaves. He even talked to the one killer still living. This is one book in which I did not skim any pages, and was always eager to get to the next.

I was able to query The Darkest Night’s author, Ron Franscell, about the nature of his book being a cross between a memoir and a true crime tale. He responded:

For a long time, I resisted the notion that I was writing a ‘true crime’ [book]. To me, it was a provocative, intimate, true story that happened to be about a crime. Most true-crime writing has become way too formulaic since Truman Capote gave birth to the genre in ‘In Cold Blood’ back in 1966. At its heart, ‘THE DARKEST NIGHT’ is a story about one woman’s search for equilibrium, for solid ground beneath her. She might never have found the answers for herself, but her search leads the rest of us to some answers. So ‘THE DARKEST NIGHT’ is not a typical true crime [book]. My personal reflections as a friend of the victims are part of what sets it apart. But I also wanted it to be more literary, to elevate the story to match the event’s mythic quality. Most true-crime books are fairly prosaic, and I wanted to tell a story that transcended plain reporting.

And in that author Ron Franscell greatly succeeds. This is one of my all-time favorite books.

In addition to the author’s personal angle, what also sets this book apart is — as mentioned previously — the ending: It absolutely floored me, and I had to read it twice to make sure I had just read what I thought I did. No spoilers here, but the ending was, by far, the most unexpected, shocking ending out of all the true crime books I’ve ever read. Being that I’ve been gobbling up these books since the early 1990s, that is saying a lot!

I’ll leave you with some final thoughts by The Darkest Night author Ron Franscell:

Evil surrounds us like bad air. Always has. We have no choice in the matter. But we can choose how we respond to it. We can hide from it, and fool ourselves that there are safe places in this world … or we can live. I think we must never give up the fight for justice in this world, but I think we must live our lives as if tomorrow might not come. Becky Thomson, who was given a chance for a second life, showed us what fear can do. It’s her gift to us.

Grade: **** 1/2
Status: Highly recommended

For more info:
More about The Darkest Night
Buy The Darkest Night on Amazon
Ron Franscell’s bio 
Visit Ron Franscell’s Web-site
Ron Franscell on Facebook
Ron Franscell on Twitter 


Sami Hartsfield


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 Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved


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