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Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder


Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder

DOWN CITY by Leah Carroll is as dark as dark gets --- with all the hope of a girl trying to put the pieces of her family's history, and her young life, together. Yet this history involves the cruel murder of her mother and the subsequent death of her father.

It’s hard enough knowing the truth about your parents --- what makes them tick, and why they said the things they said, did the things they did, that didn’t sit quite right with you. Now imagine they’re not around to give you answers. Carroll’s parents are no longer living in the physical world, but they live within her, and she is on a mission to uncover the truths of their existence, as well as their tragic demise. At a young age, Carroll learns how evil murder can be, and how, oftentimes, those affected are innocent children left to survive, and thrive, without those who are supposed to be there the most. Carroll does both survive and thrive, but not without some challenges along the way.

Leah Carroll is a girl living in a world knowing that her mother was brutally murdered and that she can't turn back the clocks and change it. Set in 1980s Rhode Island, this story paints a world I’d be afraid to encounter. There's the side of Rhode Island people remember: the side with beautiful homes and upper middle class families going about their typical days. Then there's the dark side, the evil side of the Mafia and the people they consume. When Carroll is a child, drugs keep her mother away from home some nights. Drugs are also the cord that attaches her mother to those who destroy her --- the “BAD” men. Carroll is aware of these men in a metaphorical sense, and she makes sure not to let them into her orbit. Her family’s history haunts her. It will not repeat itself.

"Carroll narrates with honesty, showing what it's like to long for your parents. I feel like I was that girl, and that's how you know a book is great."

In this memoir written with short, honest and to-the-point sentences, Carroll paints a portrait of the revered criminal, the one neighborhood citizens applaud and want to be friends with, the charming man who wins the affections of the same people he is stabbing in the back. It isn't fair. Don't these people know that this group of glorified criminals is responsible for her mother's death and so many others?

DOWN CITY is both memoir and reportage. Carroll brilliantly interweaves vignettes of her youth with facts concerning the most corrupt crime families in ’80s Rhode Island. The facts that are revealed will make you question --- if you don’t already --- our justice system. The book explores, via a true story, the ways in which drug users can fall through the cracks of society. One of the men who helped murder Carroll’s mother was able to make a deal. Her mother and another victim got no deal at all. What society didn’t know was that Carroll’s mother was a talented photographer and a beloved parent and daughter.

There are lines in books that are difficult to forget, ones that keep you up at night and disturb you, making you question what it means. Why would someone do this? "‘Come on you rat,’ Mastracchio wheezed. ‘Give me the death rattle,’" is that line in Carroll's memoir and the last words her mother hears before she dies. And those are some disturbing words to hear.

Carroll’s mother is the driving force of the story, but her father is the pillar. This charming man, admired by all those he meets, is her best friend. Sometimes, Carroll almost wishes she could be more like him, holding his magic. Sometimes, her father does things we wish our own fathers would have done. One call and he is there. He wants to share his life with his daughter, and there is nothing wrong with that. Yet his alcoholism is what tears them apart, even if it sometimes brings them together. Their memories are played like scenes in a movie, and Carroll dearly holds on to them.

At the onset of the memoir, Carroll asks her own questions: “Who were these people, my parents, and how did they come to this place?” Yet this story is more about Carroll's life as she tries to figure out who she is, and how she relates to her parents whom she longed to know everything about --- every inch of their lives --- but were taken too soon.

DOWN CITY is a heartbreaking book about what it's like to have parents who are different from the rest --- parents who love you in their own special way, but can't get out of their own way. Carroll narrates with honesty, showing what it's like to long for your parents. I feel like I was that girl, and that's how you know a book is great. DOWN CITY exposes the truth, and I think the truth is something people should seek more often.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on March 10, 2017

Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder
by Leah Carroll

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455563315
  • ISBN-13: 9781455563319