A new book about the Boston Marathon bombings last April is more gripping than a mystery novel, has more deeply drawn characters than a literary novel and is enriched by the details of a history book.
"Long Mile Home," by Boston Globe reporters Scott Helman and Jenna Russell, is a surprisingly fantastic read.
"Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City's Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice"By Scott Helman and Jenna Russell
Dutton, 352 pages, $27.95, scotthelman.com/
The basic outline is well-known: Two brothers are suspected in the April 15 bombings that killed three people, seriously injured hundreds and caused utter chaos.
It's the lesser-known nuggets, and the interweaving of the characters' stories, that make "Long Mile Home" a must-read.
The book starts out with a beautiful history of the Boston Marathon and poignant description of its opening moments: "a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill on a twisting two-lane road, a kinetic rainbow of tank tops, radiant T-shirts, race-day costumes, visors, headbands, and hats." Readers are introduced to the race's longtime director, Dave McGillivray, whose short stature challenged his dreams of being an athlete until he found a refuge in running.
As for the Tsarnaev brothers, the authors write that the older one, Tamerlan, heard voices in his head and erupted at fellow Muslims who celebrated secular holidays like Thanksgiving and honored non-Muslims like Martin Luther King Jr. The younger brother, Dzhokhar, was a former high school honor student who foundered in his studies at college and became a high-volume pot dealer, they say. The disintegration of their family and personal failures appeared to leave the brothers "with few positive influences, no direction, and little to lose," the authors write.
The vivid descriptions of the explosions and the firsthand accounts of their aftermath are beyond chilling. The randomness of who survived and who didn't is captured by a moment in which Krystle Campbell allowed a fellow spectator to take a prime viewing spot because her friend was closer to the finish line. Campbell was killed by the explosive-filled backpack dropped close to where she was standing. Also killed in the explosions were Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi and 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose friends say told the best knock-knock jokes and stuck up for other kids.
Stunningly, the death toll remained at three in great part because of the location of the bombing: near a medical tent and within 2 miles of six top hospitals, the authors write.
The suspense and anxiety is palpable as investigators sift through surveillance video in search of the suspects. Once the brothers' images and names are publicized, the action reaches fever pitch with a fateful carjacking -- the details of which are jaw-dropping -- and firefight with police. Officers had pinned down the older brother when the younger brother fled in the carjacked Mercedes SUV, running over his brother in the process.
Authorities shut down several communities, asked residents to stay indoors and went door to door in search of the younger brother. Ironically, he was only found after the shelter request was lifted. Homeowner David Henneberry had been itching to go out to his lawn and put two errant paint rollers back in their place on his boat, but he didn't want to disobey police. When he finally ventured out, Henneberry saw blood on the floor of his boat and a still body lying near the engine box. Dzhokhar was taken into custody and is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
It's an incredible story, and the heart-rending pictures in the middle of the book are a stark reminder that it's real, not fiction.