Picks and Pans Review: Outside Valentine

updated 09/13/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/2004 01:00AM

By Liza Ward

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Caril Ann Fugate was just 14, eyes twinkling behind long brown hair, and her lover, Charles Starkweather, was 19 and "wiry as a cow dog" when the couple went on a real-life murder rampage in 1958. Captured outside Valentine, Neb., Charlie got the chair. Caril Ann, who was paroled in 1976, gets better treatment: this improbably sympathetic, fictionalized portrait, written by a grandchild of two of Starkweather's victims.

The book is not for the fainthearted. We see the serial murders filtered through Caril Ann's stunned eyes, as she peeks at Charlie from around corners and over railings. "There is a breath stuck in my chest," she recounts of one killing. "There is a pool of blood becoming the carpet." Even before the slayings, unsettling portents abound. Caril Ann watches Charlie lying on his back, "stiff as a board, like something electric that wasn't plugged in, his eyes wide open." That spare and evocative prose makes for a harrowing read as the torments of the characters ripple across generations. But Ward leads them to a poignant, shared redemption.

NOVEL

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