Laura Tillman was a rookie reporter at the Brownsville Herald in 2008 when she was assigned to cover a story about whether a historic building in Brownsville’s Barrio Buena Vida should be demolished. In a tiny apartment in the building, five years earlier, three children were murdered by their parents. Tillman interviewed Brownsville residents, some of whom said the building should go because it was haunted and a constant reminder of the unthinkable. Others said that was superstition—it was just a building.Throughout The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City, Tillman evokes a melancholy, haunting atmosphere, a sense of held breath, of watching. She begins the story rather dramatically. She visits the building and notes “a cloud hovering overhead—an accumulation of meaning more dense and persistent than I’d ever intuited.” Fortunately Tillman soon settles into a compelling style without the purple prose. Her carefully measured dropping of startling and eerie facts into an otherwise routine passage is jarringly effective. Tillman provides an intelligent, thoughtful exploration of mental illness and its treatment by the legal system, capital punishment, the role of journalism in reporting on crime, the social pathologies of poverty and drugs, and curandera culture on the border.
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