Picks and Pans Review: Son

updated 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Jack Olsen

Studying the popularity of such books as this—sordid, detail-packed nonfiction accounts of crimes—probably ought to become a branch of abnormal psychology. But this is a particularly, if morbidly, fascinating volume. "Son" is Fred Coe, the Spokane, Wash, newspaper editor's son who became a rapist. His mother, Ruth, who referred to him as "Son" even when speaking to third parties, tried to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor involved in Fred's conviction in 1981. (After the trial, she remarked that one witness was "far too ugly for Son. He would never rape a woman like that.") The "hit man" turned out to be an undercover police officer, and Ruth Coe, too, ended up in jail. Olsen, a former SPORTS ILLUSTRATED editor, conducted more than 150 interviews for this book. The most touching, perhaps, was with a woman who lived with Coe during much of the time he was committing the crimes. Her anguished realization that he was guilty becomes the saddest part of the story. Olsen's attempt in his epilogue to relate Spokane to the crimes, as if the city were somehow responsible, seems strained. But this book makes a powerful impact, partly because so many of the characters, from the rape victims to Coe himself, seem so familiar. (Atheneum, $17.95)

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