This is a fictional version of the Kitty Genovese murder, which, if you are unfamiliar with it, involved a woman being stabbed in Queens outside her apartment while several people inside the building either heard or saw it, yet did nothing to help.
The book caught my eye in the store because I remember our criminal law textbook mentioning the case. The point in law school being that even given such a horrendous situation – all the neighbors had to do was call the cops – there is no criminal culpability for failing to help or aid someone in a dangerous situation. (Unless you helped create the situation, of course. Or if it’s your kid, or someone in similar relationship) It was with that lesson in mind I read the book.
I enjoyed the descriptions of all the neighbors. When discussing the case in class, the horrific nature of the observers was a given. These were clearly the worst kind of people. Jahn, though, personalizes them. They aren’t virtuous at all. But they aren’t demons, either. Each had their own reasoning; to each, their lack of action was understandable.
Unfortunately, the book only concerns that night. I wish it had a part two, covering the reactions of the neighbors after they realized what their apathy allowed to happen. Even more than the neighbors’ reactions, I wish the book had explored the political consequences. This would have been a fantastic time to explore everything from grandstanding district attorneys – who, with a cry of “Justice for Kitty” would bring charges against the neighbors even knowing they had broken no laws – to local politicians rushing to enact something I am sure would be called Kitty’s Law.
Such was not to be, though. I’ll have to imagine all of that myself. Not that it’s hard. Which is maybe why Jahn skipped it and stuck with the tough part.