A Rhode Island Tragedy, Well-Told: A Review of “Killer Show” by John Barylick

Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America’s Deadliest Rock Concert

John Barylick, University Press of New England, 2012

Note to self: buy fire extinguisher for apartment.

It is a tragedy I had never heard of until I came across Mr. Barylick’s book in my local library: the fire at a Rhode Island bar, “The Station,” that claimed one-hundred lives, scarred hundreds of survivors both physically and psychologically, and left dozens of children orphans.

It is a story not of an accident, but of a series of small crimes, crimes which even the well-meaning, not thinking of what could happen, allowed to slide. It is also a story of justice coming not through the criminal courts, but the civil.

Mr. Barylick represented the victims and their families in the lawsuit that followed the fire. The masterful scope and style of Killer Show, as well as the author’s horror and righteous anger, which shine through every page, will raise your opinion of torts lawyers far above what you’ve come to expect from cheesy, late-night personal-injury commercials. (For the record, the author devotes a chapter to his distaste for such advertisements. )

Killer Show is as complete an account of this, or any tragedy, as can be. Mr. Barylick begs forgiveness in the acknowledgements for not being able to present every victim and survivor’s story, but those stories which he does retell are suspenseful, heartfelt, and full of respect for the participants.

Woven in and around the night of the disaster are many contextual threads: the shoddy history and sleazy owners, past and present, of The Station; the construction and policy decisions that made the blaze certainly inevitable; and, most disturbingly and morbidly fascinating, the science of fire and burns.

It turns out that there are fourth-degree burns.

There is very little blood and gore in this book, but there are unflinching descriptions of what happens to the human body in a fire. The faint-hearted may want to reconsider.

For all others, though, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Stats:

5/5 stars overall, for excellent story-telling;

1/5 “fraidy-cats,” because the evil in this book is  not waiting to jump out and grab you, it’s sitting in the bar stool next to you

3/5 “ick-factor” because of graphic injury and death. 

 

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