Picks and Pans Review: Echoes in the Darkness

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joseph Wambaugh

The author is the former Los Angeles cop who wrote The Blue Knight and The Choirboys. He also wrote the nonfiction The Onion Field and, like that book, Echoes in the Darkness is a carefully researched description of real crimes. There are two men at the center of this story. Dr. Jay Smith is the principal, and Bill Bradfield is an English teacher at Upper Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. Bradfield, fascinated by poet Ezra Pound, is a womanizer who charms his conquests utterly. He has grandiose schemes. Smith is a former Army Reserve colonel whose wife works in a cleaning shop. Their oldest daughter and her husband are drug addicts. Smith is a thief. Dressed as a payroll guard, he has robbed a local Sears store. He loves guns and pornography dealing with bestiality. When the police discover that Smith's daughter and her husband have disappeared, a bizarre sequence of events begins to unfold; the couple's welfare checks are still being cashed, for one thing. Then one of Bradfield's women friends, who has made him the beneficiary of her four insurance policies, is found dead, and her two young children have vanished. It takes seven years for investigators to uncover evidence that Bradfield and Smith are accomplices and to bring them to trial. Wambaugh calls the two men sociopaths, and certainly they are terrifying characters: a monster with a Ph.D. and a charismatic liar who holds power over homely women. The book is marred only by a few lapses into truly awful writing. One character's "eyes had all the expression of a pair of hubcaps." A lawyer "was so overloaded with nicotine he could have jump-started a DC-10." One of the criminals is "so tormented and tense and exhausted he looked like Grigori Rasputin underwater." But readers of Echos in the Darkness won't care, because the evil it reveals is harrowing and haunting. (Morrow, $18.95)

From Our Partners