Big Fat Article: David Grann's "A Murder Foretold"

Slate's Culture Blog
March 29 2011 10:14 AM

Big Fat Article: David Grann's "A Murder Foretold"

Every once in a while, a big, fat articledrops and gets everyone chattering-but because you have a job, you can't readit until at least the weekend. That's where Brow Beat comes in, with ouroccasional feature, "Big Fat Article ." We'llgive you a rundown of what to expect when you finally have that free hour-orfour.

Today's BFA: " AMurder Foretold ," by David Grann, TheNew Yorker (30 pages on Slate 's office printer)

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Here's atip: If you're not already familiar with the Rodrigo Rosenberg case, do notGoogle "Guatemala YouTube murder." You'll just spoil the fun of David Grann'sjuicy murder mystery, and you'll have only yourself to blame. With thisGrisham-esque tale of assassination and high-level political corruption, Grannproves once again that he's a master of suspense.

There aremany mysteries to unravel in the story, but the main one focuses on Rosenberg,a high-profile lawyer in Guatemala who becomes obsessed with tracking down thepeople who murdered a client and that client's daughter. (Why is he soobsessed? That's mystery #1.) As Rosenberg starts digging into the crime, hestarts getting threats himself-and then, a month after his client is killed,Rosenberg is shot in the head while out on a solitary bike ride.

In and ofitself, the assassination might not have been so newsworthy: Guatemala is ascary, corrupt place, as Grann explains. (Personally, I had no idea of theextent of the country's lawlessness.) But something truly strange happened atRosenberg's funeral. A friend of his named Luis Mendizábal-who just happens tobe a legendary spy-stood up and announced that Rosenberg had left behind avideo, with instructions to release it in the case of his murder. That video ,which subsequently spread across Guatemala like wildfire, opened with thisbombshell:

Good afternoon .... My name is RodrigoRosenberg Marzano and, alas, if you are hearing or seeing this message it meansthat I've been murdered by President Álvaro Colom, with the help of [thepresident's private secretary] Gustavo Alejos.

Did thePresident really order Rosenberg's murder? Who is the shady "inside man" whofed the assassins secret information? Was the spy a double-crosser? In the wayit twists and turns until the end, "A Murder Foretold"-while decidedly moreviolent-reminded me a lot of Grann's blockbuster article from last summer,about the investigator who finds fingerprints on works of art (a piece he discussed on Slate 's Culture Gabfest).What elevates the story out of the realm of pulp are Grann's narrative gracenotes-like the heartbreaking moment when one character, watching securityfootage of a loved one's murder, reaches out to briefly touch the televisionscreen. It's a bloody tale, beautifully told.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.