Author: Meyer LevinApril 1, 2015
This review will be published in the April issue of Suspense Magazine and appears here with permission.
“Compulsion” by Meyer Levin
With a Foreword written by Marcia Clark, this re-released classic is an unforgettable, heart-wrenching story of murder.
The crime and trial that occurred in Chicago in 1924 was known as the ‘Leopold and Loeb’ case. These events involved two very rich young men who believed in Nietzsche’s idea of the superhuman being. Not only did they believe; they were obsessed by it. Coming from wealthy families, these teens killed a boy because they felt like it, wanting to prove that they could not be caught. At the time, the newspapers called this: “The Crime and Trial of the Century.” And author, Levin, was a reporter for a Chicago newspaper when he introduced himself to the boys, their horrible story, and their famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow. Thirty years later, Levin would write “Compulsion.”
Changing names and fictionalizing the tale, readers in 2015 will still be spellbound. It’s difficult to understand how two young people with all the money and outward intelligence in the world would decide to prove that they were above the laws of the land, but that is exactly what occurred. And even though there was no cutting-edge forensic technology back then, it wasn’t needed. Only one small error was made, discovered, and brought about their ultimate downfall.Stepping in for Levin in the fictionalized world is narrator Sid Silver, a journalist who’s a classmate of one of the murderers. Evaluated by psychiatrists, the families decide to hire a lawyer, Jonathan Wilk (AKA Darrow), who attempts to prove that the boys are not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Moving from murder to courtroom, spotlighting the battles between prosecutor and defense attorney in regards to what constitutes “insanity,” this tale is extraordinarily riveting.
From the Menendez case to the recent American Sniper defense, it still shocks everyone that murderers will attempt to “get away with it” by claiming sudden insanity. Which is why this book has stood the test of time…it still happens today.
Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine