Biography, Nonfiction, True Crime

Catch the Sparrow by Rachel Rear

A Search for a Sister and the Truth of Her Murder

Another manuscript read, I finished Catch the Sparrow in May of 2021. I’m still not a big true crime reader, but reading this book, followed by the disappearance of Gabby Petito, I’ve been thinking more and more about our culture’s fascination with missing young pretty white girls.

Synopsis

From the publisher marketing:
Growing up, Rachel Rear knew the story of Stephanie Kupchynsky’s disappearance. The beautiful violinist and teacher had fled an abusive relationship on Martha’s Vineyard and made a new start for herself near Rochester, NY. She was at the height of her life – in a relationship with a man she hoped to marry and close to her students and her family. And then, one morning, she was gone.

Near Rochester – a region which has spawned such serial killers as Arthur Shawcross and the ‘Double Initial’ killer – Stephanie’s disappearance was just another news item. But Rachel had more reason than most to be haunted by this particular story of a missing white woman: Rachel’s mother had married Stephanie’s father after the crime, and Rachel grew up in the shadow of her stepsister’s legacy.

In Catch the Sparrow, Rachel Rear writes a compulsively readable and unerringly poignant reconstruction of the dark and serpentine path, across more than two decades, to try to solve the case. Obsessively cataloging the crime and its costs, drawing intimately closer to the details than any journalist could, she reveals how a dysfunctional justice system laid the groundwork for Stephanie’s murder and stymied the investigation for more than twenty years, and what those hard years meant for the lives of Stephanie’s family and loved ones. Startling, unputdownable, and deeply moving, Catch the Sparrow is a retelling of a crime like no other.

Review

As a young woman who also happens to be a violist, I was entranced by the tragic story of Stephanie, a New England music teacher who was murdered in upstate New York. Her step sister, and author, Rachel, explores the mystery of her sister’s disappearance, reconnects with those who were closest to her in the months and years before her murder, and ultimately arrives at a conclusion regarding the identity of the perpetrator.

Rachel strikes the perfect balance between personal and detached. Having grown up in the same town as Stephanie, and whose mother would eventually marry Stephanie’s grieving father, Stephanie was close to her step-father but she approaches her investigation of Stephanie’s murder with a journalistic sense of detachment from her subject. She never personally knew her step sister, but was, like many of us often are by the family members we never met, absolutely fascinated, and determined that she should attempt to resurrect the cold case of Stephanie’s murder.

While the publisher hails this as a true crime book like no other, even I, a person who reads so few of them, sees the marked similarities across the genre. From podcasts to books, it seems the obsession with cold murder cases is still a strong one in our society. While Rachel investigates as thoroughly as she as able, the conclusion she reaches regarding who murdered her step-sister, rings a bit hollow and is hard to fully accept.

Akin to We Keep the Dead Close, Rachel investigates not only the murder of her step-sister, but also how society treats, and obsesses over, murdered young women, particularly beautiful white women. It’s not only a captivating addition to the true crime/memoir pantheon, but also a worth edition to a sociology and gender studies shelf as well.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.

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