Under the Bridge
This well-executed true-crime story by novelist Rebecca Godfrey recounts the 1997 beating and murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk at the hands of her schoolmates. The story made international headlines as the media descended upon the scenic town of View Royal, British Columbia. Under the Bridge, with six years of meticulous research, interviews, and testimony to back it, is Godfrey's compassionate attempt to understand the wayward teenagers involved, and her hope to find a shred of sense within the savagery.
Virk was trying to fit in with the wrong crowd, and after luring her to a party near a river gorge, a few girls beat her to unconsciousness, then later others dragged her body into the river and drowned her. For readers unfamiliar with most of the bizarre case, there is an added suspenseful rhythm to the narrative as confessions and character statements steadily shape into terrifying revelations. Godfrey begins with character sketches of the youths in View Royal, then lets the story build from the perspective of the law enforcement, which receives new information as the kids hesitantly come forward the week following the homicide.
Like In Cold Blood, Godfrey tugs at our sympathies for (at least one of) the murderers, and through her curious tone and rich detail, succeeds to a great extent. With an awkward objective consciousness and an apt ear for snippets of dialogue, the author grounds us in the gossipy world of a high-school freshman. She notices that one teen "suddenly felt indifferent to it all, and he just wanted to go home and listen to Metallica," and that another "wonder[ed] how she found herself in this heavy body, which did not match the way she felt." Being a teenager is messed up, and while many writers will tactically use the naive protagonists as an easy segue into the weird, emotional and meaty heart of a story, Godfrey has the skill to let the real drama come out from the teenagers' sudden shift into the very adult world of remorse.—Scott Stealey