True crime books are now widely available; their intimate details no longer surprise or shock us as they once did, way back when In Cold Blood (by Truman Capote, published in 1965) was the first of this genre in the United States. That said, readers can find much more than just gore and guts in the contemporary books; the legal, police, forensic and court systems are outlined in full force. Reading a good example of true crime is almost like taking a preliminary course in our criminal justice system.
Kevin Flynn’s Relentless Pursuit falls into this latter group. Engaging, gripping and filled with facts, this memoir of a murder and the ensuing long investigation and trial is minutely chronicled. Flynn is a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
This is the story of an African American woman, Diane Hawkins, a single mother of six, and one of her children, 13-year-old Katrina, who are killed one summer night for no apparent reason. The murderer cuts out Katrina’s heart. Although initially not much attention is paid to the crime because these are poor people, Flynn takes on the case in part because he, too, has a child. He realizes how special children are: “One year before, just hours after our son, Connor, was born, I’d looked at the baby and said to my wife,” Yesterday we didn’t even know who he was, and today, if anyone harmed a hair on his head, I’d kill them with my bare hands.’ “
He also believes in justice and works against domestic violence. And he is sympathetic to African Americans. When he realizes the man picked up as the suspect’s lawyer (who is “self-confident” and
"empowered”) is of that ethnic group, he says, “ Maybe we’ll get along okay. I’m suspicious of a lot of white people too.”
Flynn creates a close bond with various members of Diane’s family. A large group living in the inner city, the family gathers together often, attends all court hearings, and prays for Diane’s and her daughter’s souls. They also pray for Flynn to find and imprison the murderer, and they pray for Flynn himself. For, during this trying, when clues sometimes evade him and answers are hard to come by from the suspect, Flynn’s aging father discovers he has inoperable lung cancer. As Flynn is bringing the suspect to trial, he is spending much of his free time at his parents’ home.
For this reader, the highlights of the book are two-fold: the prosecutor did get his suspect and the jury found him guilty, and the relationship between the lawyer and his client(s) was amazing and heart-warming. Not a churchgoer, Flynn found himself oddly blessed and soothed by Diane’s family prayers and acts of faith on his behalf. It was also fascinating to learn of how many people are involved in bringing a suspect to trial, including blood-spatter experts. Who knew such a job existed?
Finding, convicting and proving a murderer to be a murderer, especially one who shows little remorse or emotion, is such a complicated business. In these types of cases, especially with few witnesses, it can take years to learn the truth.
Even then, sometimes the truth eludes everyone. Flynn and his co-workers are relentless in their pursuit of that truth.
This is a satisfying book for anyone interested in a mystery, a true crime story and a heartwarming friendship between two races (and social/educational classes) not always comfortable together in our largest urban centers.