Picks and Pans Review: The Piano Teacher

updated 12/07/1987 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/07/1987 01:00AM

by Robert K. Tannenbaum and Peter S. Greenberg

An aspiring young actress was murdered in Manhattan in 1966. Eight years later another actress was killed by the same method. The connection: Charles Yukl, a psychotic killer. Tannenbaum, a former New York City prosecutor who worked on the second case, and Greenberg. a TV producer-journalist, have pieced together Yukl's life—the story of a killer whose accomplice is the ineptness of the legal system. The authors draw on court documents, police records and interviews to produce a frightening profile: Yukl, a throwaway kid before the term became trendy, was ignored by his divorced parents and failed at almost everything he tried. He was an emotional volcano. After the first murder he went to prison and thought he was getting help. But once he was paroled he found his sickness welling up into another rage. After plea bargaining his way into a 15-years-to-life sentence for the second killing, he committed suicide in prison. The portrait of Yukl is strangely sympathetic: He was a kind of monster, of course, but also a man who knew he was trapped by his compulsions. The criminal justice system is portrayed more damningly. Tannenbaum, for instance, recalls watching aghast as a police detective hopelessly compromised the case against Yukl by insisting on questioning him after he had asked for a lawyer. Tannenbaum and Greenberg re-create such scenes so that they read like fiction, meticulously reconstructing the murders, the courtroom scenes and the lives of the victims. Their book is worth seeking out amid the glut of true-life crime tales. (New American Library, $18.95)

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