the tarnished eye

I guessed it right. I guessed who the killer was. I didn’t get the clue through his words, through his lies. It was through his small gestures. I felt it the moment I noticed those little gestures that may seem trivial to others but to me, the moment I saw those tiny little movement of his, it was as if some pointed object struck me inside. But being human, I wasn’t certain. So when Sheriff DeWitt finally discovered the sole person behind the gruesome killing of a family of six, I almost jumped for joy. That my instinct – though it didn’t make sense at first since there were suspects more likely to commit the murder – was right about this particular guy. It was already one o’clock in the morning when I finished this book, I couldn’t sleep right away. When I decided to rest on my bed, I started to cry, remembering the time when every member of the Norbois family was still alive.

She is silent for a moment. Then: “Hugh, why did Frisch do this?”the tarnished eye

“I wish I knew.”

“It sure makes him look guilty, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t believe it. Somehow it feels too pat.”

“What does Kevin think?”

“Kevin thinks case closed. Keep it simple, stupid.”

“Does it remind you of the Leyden case?” she asks. “Remember? That family that was killed up in Bay View?”

“Yeah, I remember. Guy who fought with all of his neighbors and treated his employees like dirt. Everyone thought the family was killed because of him.”

“Yes,” she says. “Only it turned out his wife was having an affair with the choir director at church. And she was about to confess it to the minister. So the choir director shot them all.”

“And your point is…?” Hugh asks.

“Support for your theory,” Karen says. “The most obvious suspect isn’t always the killer. And the most obvious victim isn’t always the source of the crime.”

“I think that was last week’s theory.”

“You have good instincts, Hugh. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably not right.”

“Karey,” he says, “the truth is, I’m burning out here. Not just on this case.”

Her voice is suddenly very businesslike. “You always say that. On every case.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No. It’s just the way you are until you come up with the right answer.” She takes a breath. “However. I also think you have a lot on your mind these days.”

“You do, huh?”

“Yes. And I don’t think it has anything to do with burning out on the job.”

He laughs. “Now there’s a meal. Don’t give me too much to chew on.”

“I love you,” she says.

“Love you, too.”

“Hugh? Don’t overlook the beautiful people. That choir director was a very beautiful man. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t a killer. Now get some sleep.”

— excerpts from “The Tarnished Eye” written by Judith Guest

Reading this book instantly reminded me of the Vizconde Massacre. However, with the case of the Norbois family, all of them died. Yes, including the father. Even the three teenage boys who you’d think could fight off the criminal. Nobody came out alive. With a series of gunshots that automatically killed the family, except for the 10-year old girl who was raped and got whacked on the head which caused her death (the mother also got raped), nobody could come out alive.

I didn’t see the act of murder. The author decided not to show this. Instead, what I only saw was a family found dead right in their own home. It was actually worse to imagine what really transpired in that house than seeing the act of murder itself. But why? What happened? What kind of sin have they committed to deserve such a tragedy? Was there an intended victim?

While the author was showing me the scene of the murder where Sheriff Hugh DeWitt is in-charge of solving the crime, the author would alternately bring me back to those days when every member of the Norbois family was alive and well. Each of them dealing, coping with whatever simple pleasures, problems, and issues they may have as individuals and as a family.

The father and the mother are Edward and Paige Norbois. They have four children: Derek (19), Stephen (17), David (13), and Nicole (10). They live in a huge house in Blessed, Michigan.

They are a very private people, they don’t mingle a lot with their neighbors. They’ve held a party once inside their home but it was exclusively for the friends and classmates of their children. Actually, Edward had a hidden agenda for this. He just wanted to see what kind of people his sons hangout with, check if they are up to something, or if they carry bad intentions. Behind his stoic and rigid demeanor, he does have strong concern for his children even if he’s not that very close to them, except for the youngest Nicole who knows her way around him, so affectionate, so warm. Unlike his sons who all have issues with him.

The couple have been invited to parties but Edward dislike it. He attended once but that was it. Because first and foremost, he dislike this next door neighbor that Paige became friends with. Second, keeping a close relationship with neighbors can be complicated, they can invade your privacy so he would rather keep a friendly distance, greeting people if he sees them and that’s good enough.

Paige, on the other hand, is the more sociable (a quality that Nicole is also blessed with). When the mother and daughter walks down the street, they would stop and have a small talk with one of their neighbors who just happened to be sitting on her porch. Paige likes attending parties organized by her neighbor friend. Unlike her husband, she’s very friendly, open, and always ready to mingle if given the chance. She also cherishes her solitude, especially when she doesn’t have to deal with her husband. They’ve been married for 20 years but up to this time, there are things about him that she cannot fully understand.

Edward likes to see himself as the chief of the house, the one who tells every member of his family what to do and what not to do for as long as they are all living in one house. I wouldn’t say he is dominant because even if he’s like that and his wife or his son didn’t do what he just said, especially when he makes a comment about her or his friend, he just leave you alone. He doesn’t hit you or slap your face if you say a bad word, no he’s not like that, but being the man of the house and a good provider, he still prefer showing his children his authority since he is the type of person who likes to be in control, who likes to leave things in good order. He owns Challenge Press, the bread and butter of the family which provides them all the luxury they can afford and a huge house that Edward feels satisfied about.

Paige, on the other hand, is always aiming to be the good wife, the good mother. She is the gel that keeps the family together. If there is conflict inside the house, she is the one who appeases one of her troubled sons. She tries to show them that she is there for them, that she is there to listen to them although sometimes her sons feel she falls short in this. That sometimes they feel she’s just acting it out.

The eldest son, Derek, is an artist. He loves to draw, do his sketches whenever his spirit moves him. He is quiet, so kind, only sees the good in other people that some friends or acquaintances can easily take advantage of him and this is what his younger brother, Stephen, hates about him. “How can a guy this smart be so dumb about people?” he sometimes ask himself. By nature, Stephen is a rebel, he speaks his mind, he doesn’t always do what his dad or mom told him to do. He hangs out with the same weird-looking kids. He feels he knows what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t like bonding with his brothers and sister. He’s more comfortable to be around with friends. David, on the other hand, likes to keep a journal since he was 10 years old (among the kids, he is the one that I liked most). Nobody knows but in that journal, he predicted the day his grandma will die. All those fears, gut feel, memories, he writes them down in that journal. Today, he is holding a death card. Three times in a row, he always get a death card. He wonders about what it means. He feels like telling it to his dad, his mom, or even to his brother Derek, but he’s holding back. He is getting second thoughts. His dad will just freak out and see him like an oddball. His mom will listen for sure but he may never know what her mom truly feels inside. So Derek is also out of the picture. All of them wouldn’t believe him, anyway. Nobody takes him seriously, anyway. So David decides to keep things to himself.

On the night that they were packing and preparing for a vacation the would happen the next day, the murder happened. (As a reader, I truly felt their loss. After getting to know each of them intimately, knowing about their hangups, their dreams, their fears, then all of a sudden knowing that they all died in a home where they were supposed to be safe, I truly felt their loss. Once upon a time I was seeing them going about with their own lives, dealing with the pressures of being part of a family and at the same time living their own individual lives, they seem to be people who do not mind other people’s business, they meant no harm, but like a thief in the night, some bad guy wanted all of them dead. They are gone. What kind of monster had done this to them?!)

Sheriff DeWitt interviewed all the people that the family got acquainted with: 1) Roger Frisch, the business partner of Edward, 2) Anne, the secretary of Edward for 20 years, 3) Friends of Derek and Stephen, 4) Elaine, the next-door neighbor of Paige. At first, Sheriff DeWitt had difficulty talking to neighbors regarding what happened to the family because most of them told him they barely know the family. An old woman had a nice brief encounter with Paige and her daughter but just the same, she told him the family just lived quietly and peacefully in their neighborhood so it was unimaginable for her that somebody or some group of bad people did this to them.

As days and weeks go by, Sheriff DeWitt was able to open a can of worms of long-kept shocking secrets. So one thing led to another, he got to meet more and more people that could possibly be the suspect. Sheriff DeWitt, needless to say, did not leave any stone unturned. Although Roger Frisch was the easy target for being the prime suspect after he learned that Roger sneaked out some money from the company fund and committed an act of dishonesty by forging Edward’s signature, forging the financial reports which caused a terrible fight between him and Edward Norbois, DeWitt thinks it could be Paige’s lover. But he wasn’t sure about it so he continued to search for clues, evidences, stories from other people, and visiting the house more than once where the massacre occurred. Sheriff DeWitt would take time to take a look at the belongings of the deceased, especially those belonging to the teenage sons, especially the room of Derek which easily attracted him to enter because of the drawing and sketches found in his room. For Sheriff DeWitt, everyone could be a suspect. So this gave him too much of a burden to carry.

While trying to solve the crime, Sheriff DeWitt was also dealing with his personal issues like the death of his infant son, like his relationship with his wife, and the lost time with her daughter. His work was keeping him away for a long time from his family. But he knew if he didn’t do it well, if he didn’t seek justice for the Norbois family, he wouldn’t forgive himself just the same. So he constantly search for clues, evidences, looking for the missing link.

Fortunately, Sheriff DeWitt got a supportive wife in Karen. His wife knew him fully well than he knew himself. Karen was actually the unlikely person who helped him solve the crime, the woman who was just a housewife. Needless to say, it was also an unlikely person who committed the crime. Some person that you could have just taken for granted, some person that you could have just considered a witness. He used to be a roommate of Derek. He’s very neat, he wears nice clothes, speaks well about Derek like how genius he was, and very much comfortable in answering the questions. However, like what Sheriff DeWitt got from this former landlady of Derek, the air of arrogance could not be deny about this guy. He didn’t eye him as the suspect, though. In fact, the guy got along with him just fine, with the ability to change the topic about Derek’s last contact with anyone to talk about his dream of being a cop one day. Since he seems to know a lot about Derek, including his romantic relationships and sex life, Sheriff DeWitt brought him along with him to the house of the Norbois family, with a hope that this friend of Derek could help him figure things out. (This is where I saw the signs that he could be the killer.)

Sheriff DeWitt kept in mind what his wife reminded him a few nights ago. So he kept the things that the guy had held in his hands when he got to talk with him in his car. Like the can of coke, the cigarette butt, anything. Needless to say, he was smart enough to do that.

I bought this book four days ago for only P39. It is worth more than the money I paid for. “The Tarnished Eye” is based on an actual unsolved crime that occurred in Michigan in the late 1960s. This is the second book I read written by Judith Guest. The first one was “Ordinary People” which also has a film version that won Best Picture in the Oscars.

When it comes to tackling family relationships, Judith Guest does it very well. Grabe, she made me cry after reading this. When you get to know her characters, the family that she likes you to understand, to try to relate to, you easily understand them, relate to them. I think everyone can relate when the topic is about family. However, to write it in a way that would still haunt you even after you’ve finished reading the book, that would move you to still remember each of the character like you’ve met them personally, remembering them so alive and well before the tragedy, that even when each of them died a brutal death, they gave life more meaning to those who are still living, to try to make sense of what they are living for or what they are fighting for. That even when things seem so hopeless, there is hope. The Norbois family got their redemption because the living, like Sheriff DeWitt and people who volunteered to share their stories, feel their loss, the injustice that shouldn’t have happened to them. And because they didn’t want it to happen to their own families, they were, especially Sheriff DeWitt, angry enough, determined enough to look for the killer. And they succeeded, giving justice to the Norbois family whose souls could finally rest in peace.

19 September 2011

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