Picks and Pans Review: Life for Death

updated 07/14/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/14/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michael Mewshaw

Mewshaw proved himself a strong writer with last year's Land without Shadow, a violent novel of rootless Americans in North Africa. Life for Death reads like a follow-up, but it is the true story of a boyhood friend, Wayne Dresbach. In 1961 Wayne's parents were found shot to death and the boy, 15, was tried, found guilty and imprisoned. The case haunted Mewshaw until he went back to Franklin Manor, Md. to reconstruct the murders and try to understand why his gentle, outgoing pal shot his parents. The circumstances proved painfully sordid; the Dresbachs were active in group sex, which was witnessed by Wayne. None of this, Mewshaw says, was revealed in court. The boy's trial, his inadequate defense and imprisonment exacted a terrifying toll. Finally paroled nine years ago, Wayne is an embittered truck driver in Baltimore. The story is the ugliest of tragedies, yet Mewshaw's handling of it is sympathetic and articulate, a worthy entry in the Thomas Thompson genre of real-life crime chronicles. (Doubleday, $10)

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