“Murder can come before killing,” writer David McConnell notes at the end of his electrifying nonfictional study of masculinity, sexual hysteria, and the threats to masculinity, American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men (Akashic Books). McConnell smartly eschews a sociological approach to his topic, which would start with the killings and trace back to the “reasons” for the murders. Instead, he tackles six separate cases—some notorious, some hardly reported, all relatively recent, all considerably bloody—in which straight and gay men came into violent conflict, writing from a novelist’s bent, telling the stories from the beginning like the seconds before the gunshots that later take on a disturbing peace. McConnell’s acute attention to pacing and details (“a grin like a pulsing vein”) wars with his absolute refusal to tie up the murderers in neat, conclusive bows. Whether the killers were spurred on by personal slights to their idea of manliness or a fanatical ideology, there is a sense of shattered psychologies that haunts both these pages and the larger American landscape. The eyes of many men in American Honor Killings are hard to look into, but this excellent book makes a case for doing so—even if what’s there is not so easy to define.
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