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Carolina Skeletons

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Carolina Skeletons

David Stout (born c. 1942 in Erie, Pennsylvania) is a journalist and author of mystery novels, two of which have been turned into TV movies, and of non-fiction about violent crime. For his first novel, Carolina Skeletons, he won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel.

Biography and career as journalist

Stout obtained a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Notre Dame in 1964, and a master's in English literature from Buffalo State College in 1970. His early work as journalist was for The Erie Daily Times, The Buffalo Evening News, and The Record of Hackensack in northern New Jersey.[1]

In 1982, Stout changed to the New York Times, where he continued to work both as reporter and editor. In 1997 he moved to their Washington office and became a night rewrite man, i.e. working mainly in the office and turning information and texts received from others into articles. After 2000, Stout worked mainly for the paper's website, again including work as rewrite man. Throughout his career, Stout's responsibilities had also covered sports and domestic news. After 27.5 years with the New York Times, editor Stout took advantage of a buy-out offer in 2009 and left the newspaper. He stated he was "leaving with very warm feelings for the [New York Times]."[2] By February 2010, the New York Times' online archive listed 1425 articles by Stout.[3]

Career as author

Since the late 1980s, Stout has published four books about fictional and non-fictional violent crime cases. In 2003, a short note in a New York Times article about one of Stout's books described Stout's perspective on "violent crime [to be] unsentimental" and suggested that his approach may be shaped by "his own motives and his own demons from the strangling murder of an aunt.[4]

1988-1993: Novels

For his first novel Carolina Skeletons, published in 1988, Stout received the Edgar Allan Poe Award for "Best First Novel".[5] It was also nominated for the 1989 Anthony Award in the same category.[6] The book is based on the true story of the 1944 murder of two girls in South Carolina, for which the 14-year old African-American boy George Stinney was later charged and executed on the electric chair, becoming the youngest child ever killed through capital punishment in the United States. Stout used the controversies surrounding Stinney's guilt and trial for a mystery story. A little less than the first half of the book is based on the facts although changing the name from George Stinney to Linius Bragg. The remainder of the book is fictional and tells the story how a nephew of the convicted unravels the truth some 40 years later. The book tells about still prevailing racial prejudice in the South, but also about Southerners—including police officers—honestly trying to uncover the truth. The New York Times, one of whose editors Stout was at the time of the book's publication, described the "ending of Carolina Skeletons" as "somewhat pat," but praised the novel generally as "sensitive, well-written" and "full of compassion and understanding. It is a plea for people of different ethnic and social backgrounds to understand one another and come together. The theme is sorrow and pity, not vengeance."[7]

The novel was turned into the 1991 made-for-TV movie Carolina Skeletons (alternative title: The End of Silence), directed by John Erman and starring Louis Gossett Jr. The movie made some changes to the book's plot, e.g., turning Gossett's character, who returns to his hometown to find out the truth about the crime, into the brother instead of the nephew of the executed boy. The boy himself was portrayed by Kenn Michael, who was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Young Actor in a Television Movie for the role in 1993.[8]

Stout's next novel was Night of the Ice Storm (1991), a fictional whodunit about a journalist solving a murder, which had remained unsolved for some 20 years. New York Times critic Marilyn Stasio called the novel "coolly terrifying" and the plot "killingly suspenseful." She compared the novel to Carolina Skeletons in the way Stout "expertly works the genre format on more than one level," reaching "into the psychology of grown-up children tortured by unresolved love-hate relationships" and developing the story into a thriller which is "even more haunting as a fathers-and-sons drama." Moreover, finds Stasio, the story can also be read as a "regional novel" about the fictional upstate New York town of Bessemer with its wealthy steel-and-coal past, which has now become "a symbol of stagnation for those who must decide whether to stay or leave."[9]

In 1993, The Dog Hermit followed: Set again against a (Thanksgiving) winter storm in a fictitious upstate New York community that had once seen better times, and starring again a journalist becoming interested in a crime, the plot evolves this time around a kidnapping case, whose young victim is abandoned to die in the forests around the rural place of Long Creek. New York Times critic Stasio praised Stout's "clean and direct [writing] style," with which he conjured "the vivid scenes of suspense he's after." Stasio also highlighted that the story offered again more than "only" a mystery plot: "Less showy, but just as sturdy, are [Stout's] sensitive observations on the absent fathers, lost children and forsaken values that go with the territory of bleak towns like Long Creek."[10]

The novel The Dog Hermit was turned into a 1995 TV movie under the title A Child Is Missing. Directed by the TV movie and series director John Power, the cast included Henry Winkler, Roma Downey, and Dale Midkiff.[11]

Since 2003: Non-fiction

A few years later, Stout turned to writing non-fiction books and published Night of the Devil: The Untold Story of Thomas Trantino and the Angel Lounge Killings (2003) about the murder of two police men in New Jersey. (The phrase Night of the Devil had already been linked to the crime in 1981, when it was used as title for a documentary about the Trantino case.[12]) Trantino was sentenced to death for the killings, but never executed due to the 1972 suspension of capital punishment in the United States. Trantino became a "model prisoner," but his release on parole was delayed due to pressure of police, politicians, and people close to the victims.[13] New York Times critic Charles Salzberg praised the book for not "taking sides or moralizing about the death penalty," but instead providing an "evenhanded, well-researched account of the legal machinations that kept Trantino a prisoner, as well as a fair and sympathetic portrait of the families of the victims, who still suffer the effects of that night at the [crime scene]."[13]

Stout's latest publication, The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child (2008), is again a non-fiction book. It tells the story of the unsolved death of America's Unknown Child, a young, unidentified boy found in Philadelphia on February 25, 1957. Stout had already published a New York Times article about the crime at the beginning of 2007, the year of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the boy's body.[14]

Overview of Stout's books

  • Carolina Skeletons (1988) – novel, based on a true story
  • Night of the Ice Storm (1991) – novel
  • The Dog Hermit (1993) – novel
  • Night of the Devil: The Untold Story of Thomas Trantino and the Angel Lounge Killings (2003) – non-fiction
  • The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child (2008) – non-fiction

References

External links

  • Internet Movie Database (crediting Stout as author of his two novels that were turned into TV movies)
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