I was pretty enthusiastic about this book, having written the title down upon release, and after seeing it on several best of 07 lists. All in all, the read was informative and - at times - interesting; but, I also found myself wading through the final two of the book's four sections wondering about the book's length and organization and the author's approach.
Goldman had excellent access to some of the key players in the trial, though it was almost exclusively through connections to a human rights NGO (ODHA) that was investigating and serving as co-plaintiff in the case.
Another reviewer seems to imply that Goldman has an agenda, or an axe to grind - I don't know. But, it is obvious from very early on in the book - in spite of some cursory effort to explore an alternative scenario - that Goldman believes that the Guatemalan army and military intelligence infrastructure were responsible for the murder of Bishop Gerardi. He may think that conclusion is valid based on his own investigation, on witnessing the trial, or by having access to ODHA's evidence and investigative records, and he may be right. But, it doesn't leave for much in the way of development or intrigue.
In spite of some good, fluid writing, I found the pacing choppy and I longed for Goldman to show more of a novelist's eye for character development. The characters reflected very little complex humanity - instead becoming a sum of their relationships, avocations, affiliations and possessions. And, in failing to gain any access to the defendants he focuses on almost exclusively, Goldman bakes what turns out to be only half a pie. It is clear he considers the father/son team tried for the crime to be reprobates and even monsters - but part of the story is in getting to know the monster, a la "Helter Skelter," and - in fiction - "Silence of the Lambs." Also, I was amazed to find early on in the book that a junior priest - Father Mario - who served in the same parish and lived in the same house as the murdered Bishop Gerardi was a co-defendant in the murder. With the priest spending the next several years in prison awaiting trial, Goldman spends almost as much time examining Father Mario's dog, Baloo (also a suspect), as he does exploring and developing the priest's character.
Goldman essentially spends the book's first two parts describing ODHA's case and how it built it. Here is the informative part. I think a lot of Americans who are not oriented toward Latin American politics will be shocked to read some of the historical record compiled in Bishop Gerardi's REMHI report - the document that Goldman implies ultimately leads to the Bishop's murder. There is also some interesting anecdotal stuff about government roadblocks put in the way of the investigation, violence and threats against those running and cooperating with it, and - as above - some examination of alternate theories of the crime.
But, that is partly the problem, the information is largely anecdotal. Neither Goldman nor ODHA seem to have any hard evidence of the crime to rely on, and even in Goldman's own subsequent interviews with witnesses living in protective refuge abroad, no clear picture of the crime emerges.
The book really bogs down in its third and fourth sections, where some of the key characters and witnesses are followed in their post-trial travails, and appeals are heard. Here, the book feels overlong and poorly organized as a lot of this info could have found a home in plumping up the pre-trial narrative.
I think Goldman has written an important book, and undoubtedly a somewhat controversial one. It is packaged very well for the American true crime reader. But, the book never intends to deliver on that level. Part of that is a reflection on precisely the mess in Guatemala that Goldman is recounting, but part of it is a reflection on Goldman's own emphasis on not just telling a story, but on telling ODHA's story.
I can't judge whether that was a worthwhile or correct choice for Goldman to make, given the compelling social purpose the book serves and its political context, but I can say that it made the book somewhat less enjoyable for me.