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Reviews for Family Blood
"Family Blood takes us through the morass of one clan's creed, jealousies, manipulations, and tantrums. Long before murder entered the picture, tax evasion, theft, insurance fraud, and racketeering were accepted family practices. Dapper, dishonest granddaddy perfects a scheme to fool auditors. His son-in-law, Gerald Woodman, is a scam artist. Gerald's two sons, Neil and Stewart, gamble in Vegas and rub elbows with the mob. If you need the insurance money, is killing Mom and Dad such a stretch? The question is really this: Does a book about despicable people make good reading? Well, yeah, it does. The authors do a fine job of showing motivation and psychology. We also see good detective work as the police peel away onion layers of information to expose sordid facts. The title is perhaps a misnomer because it implies a strong religious connection, and religion doesn't play into these people's lives. Recommended for medium to large collections."
Lois Walker, Winthrop Coll. Lib., Rock Hill, S.C.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A complicated chronicle of patricide and matricide in southern California. The morning after Gerry and Vera Woodman were gunned down in Brentwood, California, in September 1985, several members of the victims' family told cops that the couple's sons, Neil and Stewart, had orchestrated the slayings. By the time these accusations proved correct, police had engaged in a lengthy process of identifying four Las Vegas thugs who'd been spotted lurking near the murder site, and of linking them to the Woodman brothers by tracing hundreds of phone calls and interviewing witnesses who'd seen the suspects together. The legwork was fairly routine and, as detailed by Wolf (Fallen Angels, 1988 paperback) and Attebury, not especially exciting or ingenious. Meanwhile, the authors load their text with extraneous details--names and business histories of Woodman employees, backgrounds of minor witnesses, etc. They supply the necessary background, though, telling us that Gerry Woodman, a foul-mouthed bully, immigrated to US from England shortly after WW II. After taking up residence in California, he built a plastics- manufacturing business that bankrolled a luxurious lifestyle. But during the corporate-takeover frenzy of the early 1980's, Woodman's eldest sons wrested control of the company from their father, who vowed revenge. A major reason for Woodman's rage was that he was no longer able to skim millions of dollars annually from the company, a practice that for decades had financed his gambling habit and numerous mistresses. Neil and Stewart continued the skimming, though their money went to sprawling mansions, prestigious autos, and designer originals for their wives. But the sons lacked their father's business sense and, by 1985, the company faced bankruptcy. Neil and Stewart, desperate for cash, planned to collect on a $500,000 insurance policy on their mother's life and use it to salvage the firm. A complex tale lacking in narrative drive--but of interest for its Oresteian picture of a family bent on self-destruction." (Photos)
Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Los Angeles Times
Whodunit Unravels Family Dysfunction
By JONATHAN KIRSCH
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
At the close of the High Holy Days in 1985, an elderly Jewish couple was shot to death in the garage of their apartment building in Brentwood as they returned from Yom Kippur observances. The killers were described at first in the press as "barefoot Ninja warriors," but the family immediately suspected that the estranged sons of Gerry and Vera Woodman were to blame for their murders.
"Murderers!" shouted one relative when Stewart and Neil Woodman showed up at the funeral of their mother and father. "How dare you come to this gathering?"
The mystery of the "Yom Kippur Murders" is unraveled in "Family Blood," a true-crime whodunit that also amounts to a portrait of a tragically dysfunctional family, a primer in how to run a crooked business, and a kind of cracked version of the Horatio Alger story in which the highest expression of free enterprise is the ability to "outthink, out-scam, out-hustle everyone."
READ MORE OF Johnathan Kirsch's L.A. TIMES REVIEW
"Family Blood" consists of two elaborately interlocking narratives. One focuses on the saga of the Woodman family in a series of flashbacks--it's the rise and fall of a gifted immigrant entrepreneur who made and lost several fortunes in the boom-and-bust cycle of Southern California. The other story follows two LAPD detectives who managed to untangle the conspiracy that resulted in the deaths of Gerry and Vera Woodman, the collapse of the Woodman business empire, and the crashing and burning of the Woodman family itself.
No one in the Woodman family evokes much sympathy. Gerry Woodman was a bully, a tax cheat, a compulsive gambler and philanderer, a "Neanderthal" whose greatest joy was intimidating and humiliating his family, his business partners, even strangers on the highway. "Ugly" was his pet name for his 5-year-old daughter, and "Schmuck" was what he called his sons, especially when co-workers were around.
Neil and Stewart Woodman grew to despise their father and resent their mother, or so we are told in "Family Blood," but they aped Gerry Woodman's sharp business practices, his extravagant spending, his genius for tax evasion, his taste for winning through intimidation. Indeed, even after the utter estrangement of the father and his sons, we are shown that what burned in their hearts was an emotion that more nearly
resembled unrequited love than bitter hatred.
"To his family, Gerry was . . . a stubborn, difficult, but commanding presence, a black hole of affection that pulled his children closer and closer despite their intellectual judgments," the authors write. "Despite the scorn and abasement he suffered at Gerry's hands . . ., Neil craved his father's love with all the shuddering compulsion of an addict for his needle."
The Woodman boys may have inherited many of their father's worst qualities--including his gift for the scam, his addiction to gambling, and his coarse language--but they were willing to go one step beyond their father in sheer brutality.
According to "Family Blood," they began to cultivate some unsavory friends who were willing to use a little muscle to collect a debt, scare off a competitor, or punish an unruly employee. Eventually, the same men--including an ex-cop named Steve Homick and a few of his henchmen--agreed to solve the problem that the Woodman brothers were having with their folks. Stewart and Neil had already won a nasty lawsuit against their father and wrested the control of the family business away from their parents, but they were still in financial trouble--and they were beneficiaries of a half-million-dollar insurance policy on their mother's life.
"Steve Homick told the brothers what a hit would cost: about $50,000," we learn. "To Neil and Stewart it seemed like a fair price."
"Family Blood" evokes the dark side of Southern California as surely (if not as lyrically) as a Raymond Chandler novel. One of its authors, Larry Attebery, is already a familiar face on KCOP. But, more important, the authors succeed in drawing an intriguing map of the ethnic, class and cultural boundary markers on the terrain in which the ordeal of the Woodman family took place. At its best moments, "Family Blood" is like a Michelin Guide to a certain time and place in the social history of Southern California.
Now and then, Wolf and Attebery seem to feel obliged to decorate their serviceable prose with rhetorical flourishes that distract us from the otherwise taut narrative: "Late afternoon's golden sunlight melted into slanting rays of amber," they write of Gerry and Vera Woodman's last day among the living, "and pools of mountain shadows gathered in the hollows to herald the end of Yom Kippur . . ."
More often, though, the authors of "Family Blood" write with the urgency and clarity of seasoned journalists with a good yarn to tell. And the story itself is colorful and compelling enough, in a kind of accident-by-the-side-of-the-road way, to hold the reader's attention even without the fancy metaphors.
Even though I faintly remembered the "Yom Kippur Murders" from the newspaper headlines, I found myself reading late into the night to find out how the mystery ended.
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