This week we have two non-fiction books that look at aspects of life that most of us don’t consider too often, and they both demonstrate that the best non-fiction can have just as much of an emotional pull as your favourite novel.
First we have An Unexplained Death (Canongate, £14.99) by Mikita Brottman. The author is a professor of humanistic studies and psychoanalyst, and runs a true crime podcast, and this intriguing book taps into all that experience.
Brottman lives in downtown Baltimore at the old Belvedere Hotel, now converted into an apartment complex, and the starting point for the book was when she spotted a missing person poster while out walking her dog, for the tall, dark and handsome Rey Rivera.
The poster preyed on Brottman’s mind, then days later Rivera’s decomposing body was found in a locked office in an unused part of the Belvedere, a whole in the roof suggesting he’d jumped from a higher part of the building. The police declared it suicide and moved on, but Brottman became obsessed with Rivera’s death and subsequently his life. She investigated both for over a decade, talking to relatives, friends, colleagues, police, private investigators – anyone with a connection to Rivera.
Brottman delivers strong elements of memoir here, talking about her own life and obsession with death
Why did his family refuse to believe suicide? Where was the original police report? What about his job working for a shady financial investment company?
This is the hook that drives the narrative forward, but An Unexplained Death is a much deeper and more compelling story than just Rivera’s suspicious death. Brottman delivers strong elements of memoir here, talking about her own life and obsession with death. She traces the history of the old Belvedere Hotel, once a suicide hotspot, and looks at a number of deaths in the building over the years. And she draws wider implications about our attitudes to death as the book progresses, examining why we often shy away from it but are drawn towards it at the same time.