Such a Good Boy

by Lisa H. Birnie,
ISBN: 0771591535

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Bad Seeds
by Heather Robertson

TRUE CRIME stories are hot, particularly in Hollywood, and Lisa Hobbes Birnie seems to have lucked into a particularly macabre case. In October 1990, 18-year-old Darren Huenemann, the adopted son of a professor at the University of Victoria, persuaded two friends to kill his mother and grandmother so he would inherit $4 million. The murder was gory -both women were stabbed through the neck -- and shocking: Sharon Huenemann and her mother, Doris Leatherbarrow, were prominent businesswomen. Darren seemed to be the perfect child.

The "bad seed" is a familiar horror genre and Darren is a scary killer, but Birnie tacks the storytelling skills of a Stephen King. Written in a flat, drab voice that echoes courtroom testimony, Such a Good Boy is devoid of mystery or suspense -- the title gives the plot away -- and the characters are Lill interesting. As a motive, greed is as big a cliche as the spoiled child.

Birnie tries to portray Sharon and Doris as monster mothers, but they seem to have been ordinary, high-energy women whose anxiety about money came from owning a chain Of Suburban clothing stores. Doris made it clear that Darren, Sharon's only child, would inherit the family business. Why would this assurance he a motive for murder?

Children murder their families for various reasons. Such a Good Boy buries the twist to this story: Darren didn't kill his mum and gran himself, he enticed two younger boys to do it with pie-in-the-sky promises of presents. Derik Lord and David Muir were high-school kids like Darren, and they knew Sharon and Doris as mother figures -- Doris invited the boys in for dinner before they killed her. Both boys came from respectable families, did not get drunk or take drugs, and were in no trouble with the law, yet they committed exceptionally cold-blooded murders for irrational, trivial reasons. Why?

Testimony reveals that Darren's friends knew him to he a weird kid who played Dungeons and Dragons and wanted to star as the depraved emperor Caligula in a school play. Darren talked openly about murdering his gran to collect his inheritance, but most kids dismissed it as a sick joke. He had power to draw other kids into his malevolent psychic space, and to conceal his fantasies from his victims, although Doris had earlier become concerned when Darren seemed to make sexual advances towards her. Psychiatric evidence was apparently not presented at his trial.

Most of Such a Good Boy was written before Lord and Muir came to trial last May -- Darren, swearing to his innocence on the witness stand, was convicted a year before -- and Birnie tacks on their trials as an anticlimax, skipping by important new testimony and ignoring the tension between the Lord, Muir, and Huenemann families. The real mystery woman is Darren's girlfriend, Amanda Cousins. Darren's confidante and alibi -- she and Darren were cooking dinner at the Huenemanns' Victoria house while his mother and gran were being murdered on the mainland -- Amanda became the key witness for the prosecution, apparently fearing that Darren intended to bump her off next.

Good boys commit ghastly crimes as well as bad boys. Such a Good Boy suggests larger questions than greed: does our society have an unusually high tolerance for anti-social behaviour, and, if so, is this necessarily a bad thing?


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