review: Marla Cantrell
By Anita Shreve | Knopf | 241 pages | $26
Most of us go to our jobs every day without a passing thought that evil might find us there. But in September 1980, two criminals walked into Staton’s Jewelry in Van Buren, Arkansas, a town of 12,000, just as the store was closing. Owner Kenneth Staton, and his daughter, twenty-four-year-old Suzanne Ware, were hogtied, gagged and shot to death. When an inventory was taken, $100,000 in merchandise was missing.
The crime caused fear and fury. As decades passed, the story surfaced so rarely it was easy to forget the horror ever happened. But Anita Paddock never forgot. She’d followed the case from the beginning, and she’d felt the communal heartbreak many of us had when the murders took place.
When she sat down to write Closing Time, she’d already spent hundreds of hours researching the case. She grew close to the Staton family, visiting Ruth, Kenneth’s widow, often. At Ruth’s kitchen table, she listened to story after story. Years before, Kenneth, who’d battled crippling rheumatoid arthritis for decades, had taken up watch repair, with dreams of opening a jewelry store. Ruth had pulled evening shifts at Dixie Cup to help make that dream come true.
The couple had four daughters who adored their parents. The youngest girl was Suzanne, who died by her father’s side.
As the story unfolds, it follows the path of the criminals who planned and executed the crimes. The narrative also steps into the lives of the remaining Statons, as they swam against their current of grief, as they were held afloat by the kindness of their community.
One of the best examples was when cabinet maker, Mark Kesner, showed up at the jewelry store as the family was preparing to reopen, with a gift that offered a measure of peace. He got to work, installing a two-way mirror so that anyone in the back room of the store could see what was happening on the sales floor. “I decided the mirror would be more helpful than flowers,” he said.
Again and again, the Statons were being shown that good cannot be overshadowed by evil. Ruth received so many flowers, she’d had to put them in every room of her house. The kitchen filled with casseroles and muffins, and 200 people sent cards.
It is a striking juxtaposition, seeing good and evil side by side. Anita takes readers back to the beginning of the criminals’ lives, showing what went wrong. She traces their steps after the killings, as detectives chased every lead. And she uncovers the one witness who pulled the clues together, even though coming forward was a harrowing move.
Closing Time is an edge-of-your-seat true-crime novel. It’s also the story of a family struggling to find their way in the wake of so much cruelty. The Statons will make you believe in the power of love, in the treasure that resides in the hearts of a devoted family.