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Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf
Pub. Date: March 14, 2017
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Candlewick!)
Summary: Everybody likes Chris Goodman. Sure, he’s a little odd. He wears those funny bell-bottoms and he really likes the word ennui and he shakes your hand when he meets you, but he’s also the kind of guy who’s always up for a good time, always happy to lend a hand. Everybody likes Chris Goodman, which makes it especially shocking when he’s murdered. Here, in a stunning multi-voiced narrative including the perspective of the fifteen-year-old killer and based on a true and terrible crime that occurred when he was in high school, author Allan Wolf sets out to answer the first question that comes to mind in moments of unthinkable tragedy: how could a thing like this happen?
Genre: True Crime, Historical

Having moved from sunny California, Christopher Goodman was always a little odd, not afraid to be his own person. With his love of bell-bottoms and his insistence on shaking hands when meeting someone new, he certainly caught the attention of everyone around him, but he was a nice guy, always ready to lend a hand. Unfortunately for Chris, his kind-heartedness cost him his life.

Back in the late 70s Allan Wolf was in high school when one of his classmates was murdered, shot after offering a ride to two boys. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is Wolf’s way of honoring his friend as well as relieving friends and family of the blame they’ve been carrying all these years: if I had invited him over for pizza he would still be alive, if I hadn’t kept him out so long he wouldn’t have been there for those boys to get into his car, etc.

Told through multiple voices – including the killer’s – this is a novel that focuses on a boy’s murder and explores the weeks leading up to his death. A group of students who otherwise wouldn’t have had any reason to talk to one another are brought together after Christopher’s murder following a town festival. From the boy who discovered his body to the girl who had a crush on him, these kids are all linked to Chris in a way that binds them together.

Because this is ultimately a story based on a personal tragedy and a very real crime, I feel hesitant to critique it. However, I found myself enjoying the idea, the premise far more than the actual book. I never felt a real connection to any of the characters, I was only reading to find out who had killed Christopher. The perspective jumps so rapidly from character to character that they never came across as individuals to me – this was partially due to Wolf’s nicknames. Any time the narrative shifts, the character is always introduced with, not just their name, but also a label, so the story would bounce from Squib Kaplan – The Genius to Hazel Turner – The Farm Girl to Doc Chestnut – The Sleepwalker and so on.

As a side note: I read this book in November in the midst of NaNoWriMo. Since NaNo was at the forefront of my mind, I couldn’t help but notice little quirks about Who Killed Christopher Goodman?: from the aforementioned character labels (that were used every time the narrative switched) to scenes being replayed through each character’s eyes. I couldn’t help but compare this book to a NaNoWriMo story – Wolf did several things I personally have used to reach 50,000 words!

At the end of the book Allan Wolf includes a bit about the actual crime: the murder of Ed Disney and how it put an end to the town’s yearly festival. I won’t give anything away, since it would spoil the entire mystery, but the boy who did it had originally been sentenced to 41 years after being tried as an adult and was paroled after serving 13 years. However, he was back in prison within the year and is now serving three consecutive life sentences. The festival was brought back a decade later after having gone through a complete overhaul. Instead of Deadwood Days it was renamed Steppin’ Out and went from being a street fair to a more family-friendly event.

While Who Killed Christopher Goodman? wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped, the true story and murder that the book was based on certainly got my attention and kept me reading until the end – I needed to know what happened and who killed Chris! The addition of the author’s notes at the end was very welcomed. I’m someone who loves to know more about the real story behind events, to dig deeper into history, so knowing the true story behind a classmate’s murder really made this novel for me.

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