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Book Review

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by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Son & r & by Jack Olsen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & wenty-five years ago, Jack Olsen published Son, the real crime story of Spokane's South Hill rapist, Kevin Coe, whose attacks terrorized the Lilac City and reminded us just how vulnerable we are in the face of psychopaths. Olsen -- a former Time correspondent who's now deceased -- diligently constructs in vivid detail a fast-paced drama that flips among the brutal attacks, the victims and the secret life of Coe, who from prison continues to deny his guilt. The book also examines the bizarre relationship between Coe and his mother, who later tried to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor involved in her son's initial 1981 trial.





Olsen's riveting account is worthy of another read, especially now as Coe returns to the spotlight for a civil commitment trial in which the authorities hope to prevent his release from prison.





But it's not simply nostalgia or the upcoming trial that still makes Son good reading today. Olsen writes a hard-to-read but harder-to-put-down book that illuminates a dark, distressing chapter in Spokane's history -- one that we shouldn't soon forget. Besides exploring the mind of a psycho, the book looks at the culture and power of the city -- from its police department to its conservative newspapers that, Olsen suggests, were slow to respond and slower still to warn the citizenry. In this way, history implicates more than Coe alone. "Vicious sex crimes like rape were uniformly downplayed," Olsen writes in the prologue. "Newsprint was better used to characterize 'the All-American City' as an ideal setting for business."





The story touches many of the city's most prominent figures, from the Cowles family (Coe's father was the managing editor of the Spokane Daily Chronicle), to attorney Carl Maxey and broadcaster Shelley Monahan (now with KHQ).





In the end, the book provides a snapshot of Spokane 25 years ago. Readers new to the book may be surprised that many of Olsen's observations still hold true today. As artfully as Olsen has rendered this disturbing story, Son will be compelling -- and necessary -- reading for another generation of Spokanites.