Tacoma Confidential: A True Story of Murder, Suicide, and a Police Chief's Secret Life
Paul LaRosa will appear at Third Place Books, 6:30 p.m. Sat., Jan. 7.
By Paul LaRosa (Signet, $7.99) You likely recall the Crystal Brame story from 2003—the attractive Tacoma mother of two, abused by her intense husband, David, who, as the city's police chief, appeared immune to discipline or prosecution and led a secret sex life on the side. Years of domestic violence ultimately pushed Crystal to plan a divorce that further angered her armed and controlling partner. Based on phone messages and writings, Crystal started each day wondering if she'd live to see the end of it. On May 3, she didn't. A week earlier, the chief mortally wounded her in a busy Gig Harbor parking lot, then shot himself, witnessed by their children. Stunning as it was, some weren't surprised: They included the neighbors who tuned out the Brames' chronic quarreling, not bothering to call police—after all, David was the police. It didn't surprise wives of other abusive officers, either, who, besides the difficulties of coming to terms with such violence, encountered a blue code of silence when they sought help. As Paul LaRosa reminds us in his well-crafted and engaging new true-crime paperback, Crystal, 35 at her death, wrote an attorney after news of her violent marriage and planned divorce hit the press: David, 44, who once held a gun to her head, "will come after me. I am pleading with you to please put the restraining order in place immediately for my personal protection." The next day, April 26, she was shot in the head. While being rushed to the hospital, she was conscious enough to reach into her mouth, remove the bullet, and hand it to one of the medics. LaRosa, a CBS producer who worked on a 48 Hours version of the Brame killings, says the medics were floored. His book in part seeks to recount the systemic failures and corruption that abetted her preventable death. It's a story still unfolding, with scores still being settled. This past September, Crystal Brame's family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma for $12 million, stirring up members of David Brame's family who say the true story—that Crystal was a hot-tempered aggressor—still isn't being told. In October, an estimated 20,000 pages of internal documents were released reflecting City Hall and police inertia in dealing with the chief's actions. In December came a tepid review of LaRosa's book by The Tacoma News-Tribune, which LaRosa notes was in a "year-long slumber" on the Brame abuse story until scooped by the Seattle Post- Intelligencer. The TNT, writes LaRosa, merely followed with a story that "had an air of superiority to it, almost as if the pursuit of tawdry divorce news was something the other guys did." (Indeed, a TNT editorial-page editor even sent an e-mail to David Brame almost apologizing for having to write about the divorce.) There is a postscript to this valuable journalistic account. Just before Christmas, Congress approved the "Crystal Judson Domestic Violence Protocol Program," a federal law using Crystal's maiden name that provides more than $200 million for domestic violence programs and, in particular, changes the way police departments handle such cases involving their own officers. Marvelous. But her death will mean little if, as Tacoma has shown us, the law is not truly enforced by, and against, the enforcers. RICK ANDERSON I'm No Saint: A Nasty Little Memoir of Love and Leaving
By Elizabeth Hayt (Warner, $24.95) I'm of the mind that anyone who writes a memoir ought to be old enough to know better. Barring that, memoirists must have lived through something awfully singular and noteworthy in order to win my bedtime and bus reading hours—unless, that is, I'm on assignment. Beyond writing for the Style section of The New York Times, Elizabeth Hayt hasn't done anything at all worth noting, which make her 293 pages of coke-snorting, absentee-parenting, blow-jobbing, stripteasing, plastic surgery, and spoiled sniveling utterly gratuitous and banal. America—to say nothing of Long Island, where Hayt hails from—is home to untold numbers of women who search for self-meaning between the sheets. Mastheads and libraries are full of writers, male and female, who mistakenly believe that amphetamines will fuel their intellect. Silicone and saline sit in the breasts of thousands who still feel unloved, ugly, and unfulfilled. You will wait and wait and wait for Hayt to provide these masses, her readers, with something distinct, something that gives her the right to be their voice—something that will matter to them, or to anyone—but it will never come. Her story isn't significant, and it ends flatly with no thoughtful or meaningful resolution. Hayt's narrative begins at her 1986 wedding in Great Neck, N.Y. In the second paragraph, Hayt tells you she "performed cunnilingus" on one of her bridesmaids just hours before her nuptials. A hundred or so words later, she explains that she's not a lesbian; she prefers "cock to cooch." Soon, she is traveling backward through time and remembering an early sexual experience. "The tender place, once my private playground, was now cleaved into something angry and public." Later, in college, "petals bloom" inside her; as a young, married mother in Manhattan, she brags about her "flexible" ungaping vaginal entrance while detailing an affair with a younger man. By turns vulgar, removed, and ridiculously sentimental, Hayt's hallmark is full disclosure. But even if Saint were more appropriately filed under soft-core porn, it would still be dull and awkward. Don't let Hayt's subtitle mislead you. She doesn't leave anyone; they leave her, over and over, because she holds on to them so tightly that they must either split or suffocate. When her marriage doesn't work out, she looks for love and self- esteem in all the wrong places. Ho hum. She feels accomplished when she warms the "glacial heart" of a sexually abusive art dealer, and she feels worldly and edgy while listening to U2 in an East Village apartment "right out of Rent." Ho— seriously—hum. With each surgery, with each lover, with each therapy session, Hayt heroically resists maturing. She can regurgitate her therapist's advice and note the significance of The Bell Jar, but she can't put any of it to use. Sex equals power to her, regardless of the fact that fucking, sucking, and stripping only drain her of it. Thanks to science, she's got a nice body and pretty face; but, so far at least, there is no surgical procedure for boosting self-esteem, and Saint only proves that thoughtless sex doesn't do it, either. LAURA CASSIDY A Mouth Like Yours
By Daniel Duane (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $22) And you thought your last relationship was bad. Even in a novel like this, as opposed to a memoir, there's something gratifying about reading how much worse one couple's experience is than your own. Or, as the Germans call it, nyah-nyah-nyah. Struggling, sensitive surfer Harper is a Berkeley grad student, the sort of guy inclined to date fellow academic women who bake him vegan blackberry pies as a token of their sexual gratitude. So it's a bit of a shock when New York–based Joan, visiting her old San Francisco home, takes an interest in him. She's aloof and forbidding, completely uninterested in his work or family life, and selfish and spoiled in a way that makes her, of course, completely irresistible. As our narrator, Harper sheepishly admits Joan knows how to press "my hot-sex-and-total-dependency buttons." Caught in the neverland between M.A. and Ph.D., he can understand how Joan's withholding of love ("I have no room in my heart") makes her the binary opposite of his generously loving family. Her erotic power is all about denial, and Joan mocks Harper as the "hysterical bottom" in their fling. Contrasting Joan to one of his egalitarian Berkeley bed-mates, he finally decides, "Who the hell wants a non-oppressive sexuality?" Of course he ends up being the oppressed and unhappy party, speaking after the wreckage has settled. Before he gets there, he muses, "I know I suck, Joan. I fucking hate myself. And it's helping me a lot. I'm really going to grow and change and become a stronger person. Which will really help me support you better." Poor Harper is the victim in a power struggle that Neil LaBute might've constructed onstage, only with the sexes reversed. Joan remains rather mysterious to the end, "a glorious and mysterious nut" who provides "emotional heroin" to Harper. Mouth doesn't make her quite a full character, but she's a recognizable—if extreme—type of abuser. And monsters don't have to be psychologically deep when they've got sharp teeth. In his second novel, Daniel Duane is stronger with descriptions of his Bay Area environs (where he's written nonfiction accounts about surfing and climbing). Harper's doctoral student lover keeps turning their trysts into tutorials on Bahktin; later he, the student of West Coast cool, notes a Manhattanite dressed "studiously hip in a kind of 1950s auto mechanic–fly fisherman idiom." These are the kind of sharp cultural observations that Duane has put to use in his journalism (for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and others), and they crisply stud the course of his otherwise slim, predictable novel. He's got a command of locale and detail, even if the invention is lacking. Mouth is more about Harper's mind-set than anything else, and it reads with all the torturous self-scrutiny of a diary; even after the crash, it's hard to regret something that really turned you on. And if Harper ultimately declares, "I can't be called a pussy anymore," you know that, with a guy like this, it won't be the last time he makes that resolution. BRIAN MILLER