I'll Take Care of You
Pinnacle Books; 417 pages
The other month, after a school shooting in Colorado, the local sheriff declined at a press conference to identify the suspect by name. Doing so, he explained, would provide recognition to a person who "deserves no notoriety and certainly no celebrity."
Such is the dilemma of crime reporting. As one who has covered a massacre, I've faced it myself, and even a book like Dave Cullen's "Columbine," which thoughtfully examines the communal ripples of a tragedy, walks a fine line between condemning and trumpeting its subjects. Call a killer a blot on society if you will, but you're still expending ink on someone who might relish being called a blot on society in print.
Nanette Packard, who was convicted in 2012 of plotting the murder of Newport Beach businessman Bill McLaughlin, apparently lacked the media ambition of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but it may take no longer than the cover and first page of Caitlin Rother's "I'll Take Care of You" to decide if you want to read her story. The cover, which features a sleek female half-portrait, prefaces the title with "A dangerous woman's seductive promise...," while the author's note describes Packard as "the woman who stars in this true-crime reality."
True, that sentence goes on to label Packard "the spokesmodel for the greed and epidemic of materialism that have plagued our nation for years," but a star is a star, regardless. The simple truth is that if a book like this wasn't meant as entertainment, it wouldn't sport an embossed cover with the words "Includes Dramatic Photos" displayed prominently on the back.
Is the book entertaining, then? Yes and no. Rother, a prolific true-crime novelist who has reported for the Los Angeles Times and other publications, has an assured storytelling voice, and "I'll Take Care of You" builds tension — though not really suspense, since we know the case's outcome — as it shifts among the parties involved.
The novel opens with the 1994 slaying of McLaughlin, who had thrived in the pharmaceutical field before being gunned down at home by an intruder. His $1-million life insurance policy stood to go to Packard, his much younger fiancee, who had taken charge of much of his finances and, in Rother's portrait, had an insatiable lust for high living coupled with compulsive dishonesty.
McLaughlin's death stood as a cold case until evidence convicted Packard and Eric Naposki, her former NFL player boyfriend, who was found guilty in 2011 of pulling the trigger. Over more than 400 pages, Rother tracks the defendants' lives with grueling precision, citing phone conversations, bank transactions, witness accounts and more to assemble the narrative. Toward the end, she even writes herself into the book, giving accounts of two jailhouse interviews with Naposki (she was unable to speak to Packard).
There comes a point, though, where that detail crosses the line from exhaustive to exhausting. The Packard trial made headlines, but unlike Columbine or the Trayvon Martin case, it wasn't a huge cultural phenomenon with implications beyond itself. As a result, "I'll Take Care of You" feels informative but one-dimensional: In the opening chapters, we're invited to shake our heads at Packard and Naposki's misdeeds and root for justice to prevail, and 300-some pages later, our position hasn't changed.
If that's what you want, of course, that's what you get. An objective critique of "I'll Take Care of You" could note that it's skillfully written, extols the good work of the Newport Beach police and doesn't glorify the woman at its center. Or does. My head applauds Rother for her journalistic savvy, even as my heart sides with that Colorado sheriff.
Mind Over Matter
Young the Giant
Fueled by Ramen, 13-track LP
One of the hardest goals for a musician or band to achieve is the release of a solid debut album. It's the album that defines who the musicians are and gives listeners a capability benchmark.
Irvine's Young the Giant broke onto the scene in 2010 with the group's self-titled debut record, and with its release, the band transformed from an Orange County indie group into a global sensation.
With its first record out of the way, the band now faces its next hurdle: avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. That's the term that critics love to use when describing a second album that fails to live up to the standards of the first.
Fans have had four years to become familiar with Young the Giant's first set of songs, so will the tracks on the band's latest album, "Mind Over Matter," live up to expectations or fall flat?
Of course, fanboys and girls will love the new LP. I have a friend who is absolutely obsessed with the band, and she loved the new album as soon as it came out. But "Mind Over Matter" might have to grow on the casual listener, as it did on me. Eventually, it won me over.
"It's About Time" was the first single the band released from the album, and it caught my attention right away. The song is accented by frontman Sameer Gadhia's powerful voice and the catchy beat played by drummer Francois Comtois. It's one of the group's heavier songs, and fans may not like the harsher guitar riffs, but I'm all for it.
The next tracks, "Crystallized" and "Mind Over Matter," are easily two more hit singles. "Crystallized" is an energetic song that starts off with a steamy howl from Gadhia that I'm sure will appeal to his female fans. The track then leads into an offbeat verse and an infectious chorus that will have you singing along in seconds.
"Mind Over Matter" slows the pace, but not by much. This song, and frankly all Young the Giant songs, revolve around Gadhia's seductive voice. The lyrics are cradled along by string instruments, keyboards and a simple drum beat, and Gadhia's singing takes care of the rest.
But other songs, like "Anagram" and "Teachers," take the focus on vocals or instrumental layering too far. "Anagram" sounds like the band tried too hard to create intricate layers in the song. The soft, airy guitar riffs are fine, but the strings just take it over the edge for me.
Members of Young the Giant took a bold step, perhaps too bold, when they recorded "Teachers." The song is fine for the most part, but once you get close to the end, the band experiments with Gadhia screaming and what sounds like either a screeching keyboard or guitar solo.
My guess is they were trying to record a dynamic song that would make the crowd go nuts during a stadium concert, and I honestly would get a little rowdy if I heard this song live, but Young the Giant has another song that can do just that, "In My Home."
"In My Home" has the qualities of an epic show-stopper. It's an energetic song about chasing after something you've wanted for a long time and finally getting it. I also interpret the track as a recap of Young the Giant's career thus far and its future.
The chorus, "I know I was born for this / Every night I dreamt of it / In my home," just instills courage in a person.
So does the album "Mind Over Matter" have the gusto to overcome that sophomore slump? I think it does. Putting out that second LP is a difficult task for any band. Whether to stick with what has worked or venture off into something new is what plagues musicians.
If a band chooses to record the same album over and over, the fans will be kept happy and commercial success may result. But growth happens when you take that chance.
Sophomore slump or not, Young the Giant members are listening to their gut and doing what they want to do, because they're a young band, after all.