This is a harrowing book, a taut and compelling true-life tale of duty and hypocrisy, of physical death and the death of dreams, Bleak and unflinching, it should take its place on the dark shelf of the best American dystopias…” — Lawrence Shames
From Kirkus Reviews
Uncommonly trenchant account of the only known FBI agent to confess to murder. Mark Putnam’s admission in June 1989 that he’d killed an informant stunned his Bureau supervisors. In previous two years on the job, Putnam had made a complex case against an interstate truck-theft ring under local police protection; busted a serial bank-robber; and amassed cocaine-trafficking evidence on a local politician. His first posting was to an obscure office in Pikeville, Kentucky, whose inhabitants included, as Sharkey (Deadly Greed, 1991, etc.) puts it, “some of the most cantankerous and individualistic humans alive”–men and women who had to make shift with mining, drug-dealing, or welfare in order to survive. When Putnam revved up, the other Pikeville agents warned, “Relax…this is a sleeper office nobody cares about.” Undaunted, the young agent rode around with the local sheriff, meeting the people of the hills and hollers. Soon, a seam into local crime was opened by pretty Susan Smith, mother of two, occasional prostitute, and drug- user. Smith coveted the money that the FBI paid informants, and fingered for Putnam a bank robber hiding with her ex-husband. An intense two-year working relationship followed, with Smith romantically obsessed with the agent despite constant rebuffs. Finally, with his marriage faltering, Putnam succumbed–but he soon broke off the affair, prompting Smith to retaliate through a raging campaign of defamation. The woman finally consented to “talk it over,” and Putnam drove her to a deserted road where she attacked him–kicking, scratching, and biting. By the time the fight ended, Putnam had strangled Smith and rolled her body into a ravine. Telling no one, he attempted for a year to go about business as usual–but he lost weight, scratched his chest until blood ran, and became cadaverous. At last, like Raskolnikov, guilt and terror drove him to confess. Bristling with vivid characters, knuckle-biting revelations, and psychological wallop: a true-crime standout. (Photographs) — Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Rookie FBI agent Mark Putnam was pleased with his assignment to an office in the hill country of Kentucky as it would allow him the freedom and independence to make a name for himself and get ahead. He began cultivating informants and pursuing bank robbers and chop shop operators. One of his informants, Susan Smith, an attractive drug user with connections among the rural underworld, was one of the most useful and one of the most troublesome. Becoming emotionally (and financially) dependent on Putnam, she began to inject herself into his personal life, finally taking advantage of Putnam’s troubled marriage and seducing him. This tangle of motives and loyalties ultimately led to a confrontation wherein Smith threatened to reveal that she was pregnant. Allegedly, she also attacked Putnam physically, and he responded in the heat of the moment by strangling her. Sharkey makes both this scenario and Putnam’s subsequent actions to cover up the crime psychologically believable. By implication, Sharkey condemns the FBI for encouraging the use of paid informants, but the force of his story lies in the sharp characterizations, the human drama, and the tragic inevitability of its conclusion. For all popular true crime collections.
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I’ve read a lot of true crimes stories, by many different authors, and I have to say, this one, Death Sentence, by Joe Sharkey stands right up there with the very best of them. No small feat! I am usually fairly tough in my reviews, can be painfully harsh, but this chronicle of the List murders is 100%.
And the second wife, Delores – his portrayal of her courtship and life with John List as Bob Clark was honest and believable, just perfect. He only reported what he knew, and the reader could easily make their own conclusions of how that union tramped along. I had issues with Helen’s sister Jean, about her going to see this monster and even cosidering compassion and forgiveness, but author JS managed that sticky point well also, by letting the reader know how Jean’s feelings waxed and waned. All in all, this is an extremely well crafted script, if I could give it ten stars, I wouldn’t hesitate. Highly recommended read!!
From Kirkus Reviews
Despite a failed effort to link its subject to a larger picture of greedy national yuppieism, this murder story builds and grips like a novel woven by James M. Cain and Theodore Dreiser. The story runs a course whose ironies are well captured by Sharkey (Death Sentence, 1990–not reviewed). This is a tale of a pathetically flawed man whose veneer of charm hid an emptiness that even his own family could not see and that at last drove him into moral eclipse. Without hope of college, tall, handsome Charles Stuart attended vocational technical school in Revere, Mass., learning restaurant skills, and worked in pizza shops while dreaming of his place in the sun as a gracious restaurateur. A little later, he landed a job turning hamburgers at the Driftwood, where he told white lies about losing his football scholarship to Brown because of a leg injury. Soon he met, and later married, brilliant Carol DiMaitis, an honor student he helped steer into graduate school for tax law. Meanwhile, by vast luck, he landed a job with some furriers; he proved so skilled a salesman that his income soon rose from $40,000 to $130,000 a year. Carol was stunned by his rise, since even with her law degree she could not hope to rise above $40,000 yearly. At 30, Carol wanted a baby, got pregnant, refused to abort. Charles steeped her in insurance, shot her to death in his car on a dark Boston street, wounded himself, called for the police. A TV crew came and got incredible footage. In the hospital, Charles described a black assailant and the police, amid huge public outcry, found just the patsy, whom Charles later ID’d in a lineup. How Charles screwed up and why he jumped to his death in a freezing river forms the rest of the story. Certainly not perfect, but riveting all the same. — Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved
Former cop Amato and newspaper columnist Sharkey team up to write a story that’s funny, heart wrenching, gritty, and provocative. Gerry Conte is trying to prove herself worthy of her detective’s shield by working twice as hard as her male colleagues while also valiantly striving to save her marriage and studying law at night. Her latest assignment is baby-sitting junior mobster-turned-informant Eugene Rossi. Eugene’s a small fish, but he may be able to give the cops access to Salvatore “Seashore Sally” Messina, head of the Mafia’s most corrupt family–and it’s Messina the cops really want. Unfortunately, Eugene is all flash, and it’s soon apparent he won’t produce the hoped-for lead to Messina. But Gerry, who’s stuck with Eugene almost round the clock, has developed a strong attraction for the brash, smart-alecky wise guy. Plus, she’s frustrated by the lack of progress on the case and by her colleagues’ willingness to alter the truth. Mouthy and aggressive but determined to do the right thing, Gerry rapidly becomes an object of ridicule among her fellow cops. In the end, she’s forced to completely rethink her goals, priorities, and principles. Amato has already snagged a film option for her book and is hard at work on a sequel. With this snazzy, sassy debut, it’s clear she has launched a promising career and a terrific new series. Emily Melton
From Kirkus Reviews
One of these writers spent nine high-wire years with the NYPD, and does it ever show. The storys too long, and occasionally repetitive, but first-novelist Amato, a former gold shield detective (hence the title), and Sharkey, an investigative reporter (Bedlam, 1994, etc.), have teamed up to make this cop novel seem as real as any Smith & Wesson. At the outset, Eugene Rossi, a CI (Confidential Informant), is in police custody. Detective Gerry Conte gets assigned to help baby-sit him and to help wring him dry of all pertinent information. Rossi (“He’s just a young punk”) wouldn’t mean much to the NYPD if he weren’t nephew to Tony Rossi, a Mafia underboss. But Uncle Tony wouldn’t mean much, either, if he weren’t a potential link to “Seashore Sally” Messina. It’s Messina the NYPD wants to put away forever, partially because he’s a murdering crook and deserves such a fate, but mostly because he’s equally high on the FBI’s wish list. Naturally, both law enforcement organizations yearn to be the first to make a viable case against the slippery Messina. (And by doing so rake in a bonanza of public relations rewards.) Meantime, Gerry finds herself drawnunwillinglyto Eugene. He’s arrogant, ignorant, a fifth grade dropout, and yet there’s some charm to him, a weird kind of innocence that Gerry finds hard to resist. In addition, her sense of fair play is outraged by what she considers shameless double-dealing on the part of the NYPD, with clueless Eugene as the patsy. While the NYPD and the FBI plot and counterplot to trap Messina, Gerry’s caught in the middle. She wriggles free, battles colleagues who are also back- stabbers, outfaces the Internal Affairs Bureau, and eventually scores a sweet if offbeat victory. Authenticity galore. Plus Gerry, who is as appealing as she is convincing.(Author tour) — Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
“A fine portrayal of an honorable cop’s workaday life”. — Publishers Weekly
|Reviews from 1994:
From Publishers Weekly
In this powerful, scathing indictment, Sharkey ( Above Suspicion ) exposes profound venality and criminally actionable practices in today’s psychiatric industry. He ascribes soaring medical health costs (more than $125 billion in 1991) to a conspiracy involving the biopsychiatric profession, for-profit mental and addiction facilities, drug and insurance companies. He further charges that many in the psychiatric profession have abandoned the severely mentally ill while private, investor-owned hospitals offer bounties of up to $1500 to clergy, teachers, police and “crisis counselors” for recruiting–one Texas legislator uses the term “body-snatching”–troubled adults, adolescents and children covered by insurance policies that pay up to $30,000 for inpatient care. In 1993, the fraud practiced by Medicare- and Medicaid-subsidized hospital chains such as National Medical Enterprises, with 86 psychiatric hospitals and revenues of $1.74 billion in 1991, was revealed by the FBI. The psychiatric industry, Sharkey warns in this chilling, well-documented account, is lobbying for a large slice of the health reform pie and continues to “create mental illness with advertising.”
From Library Journal
Journalist Sharkey (Above Suspicion, LJ 12/93) focuses on the abuses that developed in some large for-profit mental health hospital corporations throughout the 1980s. As an increasing number of health insurance providers began covering costs for in-hospital mental health treatment, some corporations exploited this coverage by basing admission and discharge decisions solely on insurance. Some hospitals used questionable or totally unethical marketing practices, going so far as to pay bounties to clergy, school personnel, and family counselors for referrals. A few of these corporations went bankrupt as legislatures and insurance agencies tightened control, but most continue to operate. Healthcare reform remains a hot topic, and Sharkey adds a piece to a much larger puzzle of what needs fixing in the healthcare field. For most public libraries.