Picks and Pans Review: A Stranger in the Family

updated 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

How does an all-American family man turn into a serial killer? That's the conundrum posed by this chilling true-crime tale. A handsome engineer from a close-knit clan, with a wife and toddler, Richard Daniel Starrett looked to his Martinez, Ga., neighbors like a golden boy—until Feb. 11, 1989, when a 17-year-old girl banged on one of their doors screaming for help. No sooner was her story of abduction and forced sex publicized, along with Starrett's picture, than calls came pouring in from alleged victims in Georgia and South Carolina pointing the finger at him.

Within days, as Starrett directed police to the body of a 15-year-old he'd left beside a creek, the mystery shifted from who to why. Authorities were baffled; so was Starrett's family, particularly his iron-willed mother, Gerry. She would subsequently give the South Carolina-based writers of this book unlimited cooperation and access to her son and his prison journals, in the hope that their project would help piece together the puzzle—and possibly save another family the same anguish.

The result is a bizarre odyssey that makes for compelling reading. (Dutton, $23.95)

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