By AL PARKER
For more than a century, accounts of true crime have been tremendously popular among readers.
One of the earliest and most popular chroniclers of true crime trials in English history was William Roughead, a Scottish lawyer who attended every murder trial of significance held in Edinburgh between 1889 and 1949. His essays on the trials were subsequently published in a series of best-selling books, launching the "true crime" literary genre.
But it was Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, "In Cold Blood," which detailed the massacre of the Clutters, a rural Kansas farm family, that is usually credited with establishing the modernistic style of the genre.
In "When Evil Came to Good Hart: An Up North Cold Case," journalist Mardi Link has chronicled the slaughter of another family -- the Robisons -- whose deaths in Emmet County in 1968 have gone unsolved for 40 years. Dick and Shirley Robison, along with their children Ritchie, Gary, Randy and Susie, were found shot to death in their summer cabin in Good Hart.
There are plenty of suspects, ranging from the quirky native who discovered the bodies, to Dick Robison's business associates. Police even probe links to John Norman Collins, who committed the "co-ed murders" in Washtenaw County in 1967-69, and an inmate held at a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
Despite tireless efforts by investigators, the solution to this case has remained just out of their reach. And Link does a meticulous job of detailing their efforts and their frustrations. Her exhaustive research shines as she spins a fresh look at a 40-year-old tale of murder, mayhem and mystery.
As a former police reporter, I'm always interested in how writers weave usually dry police and court documents into a narrative that is not only readable, but compelling. I've spent hours combing through police records to find those nuggets that help bring a story to life.
Through the use of dusty documents, current-day interviews and interesting bits of local history and lore, Link has found those nuggets and crafted a book that keeps one turning the pages.
She combines the tenacity of a good reporter with the literary ability of a talented novelist to provide readers with a book that deserves attention in northern Michigan and beyond.
Al Parker, of Traverse City, is an award-winning writer and lifelong bibliophile.