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Richard Adams Carey’s gripping new book, In the Evil Day: Violence Comes to One Small Town, is a master work of the narrative non-fiction crime story – as engaging as it is terrifying. In the Evil Day will haunt you.
The facts of the Evil Day in question in upcountry New Hampshire are clear. In August of 1997, a disgruntled madman named Carl Drega shot and killed four people, including two state police officers, and wounded several others in a series of events that paralyzed and shocked both the state and the nation. But back then, in the pre-internet world, the events of that day, at that time, didn’t happen in real time on the smart phones of people around the world. And to this day, even for those who lived through that terrible day, many questions remain unanswered. But perhaps no more.
Carey, a teacher at Southern New Hampshire University, digs deeply into the lives and backgrounds of each player in this terrible tragedy. The first third of the book is all set up and like a skilled story-teller, Carey gently talks the reader through each player, each family, each life, as the story moves toward its shocking center section. By the time the actual shootings take place, so many “characters” are already ingrained in the readers’ narrative that the story has become personal. Even Drega is given, if not sympathy, then at least a deeper depth of character then one would expect considering the heinous nature of the acts he committed.
It may seem counter-intuitive to view a book about mass murder through the lens of poetic prose, but Carey’s very fine narration is a direct descendant of In Cold Blood or Helter Skelter. Lyrical. Lucid. And yes, poetic.
Like those masterpieces of non-fiction crime reporting, Carey leans in toward painting a bigger picture, creating a vivid landscape of the small town New England in which the crimes took place. And unlike a simple journalist headline story, Carey constructs In the Evil Day like a novel, with characters, motivations, coincidences and relations. The fact that these people are are real – this place is real – make the acts of that day and indeed the book that much more beautiful and heartbreaking.
In the end, In the Evil Day, is a deeply researched and equally deeply felt ode to small town courage and resilience. Carey’s greatest gift as a writer is, perhaps, what every journalist strives to attain: empathy.
~ Dan Szczesny