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April 10, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

BEST INTENTIONS

The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry by Robert Sam Anson (Vintage Books: $7.95) A harrowing account of shattered promise, and, less successfully, a meditation on race relations. Edmund Perry was a 17-year-old scholarship student from Harlem at Phillips Exeter Academy, whose students are groomed for the Ivy League. By all accounts, Perry's career at Exeter had been successful--grades high, he'd been courted by good colleges and had accepted a full scholarship at Stanford.

And then, inexplicably, only weeks after graduation, Perry was dead, killed by a young undercover policeman who claimed that two muggers had jumped him and that he had shot one of them.

Reporter Anson explores Perry's upbringing in Harlem and traces Perry's Exeter career in search of some explanation for the tragedy that made no sense. Anson's thesis, guided by Perry's classmates and others who knew him well, is that the pressures of survival in the street and at prep school led Perry to tragedy.

Yet, by Anson's own account, Perry seemed extremely well-adjusted, and, though Anson turns up evidence of drug use (mostly marijuana and hashish) and even some low-scale drug dealing, they seem to have more to do with normal rites of passage in the elite atmosphere of boarding school. Anson accepts the police account of the night of the shooting, yet, strangely for a reporter of his experience, neglects to check the hospital records to verify the police officer's words, taking instead the words of fellow officers that the officer in question was a "straight kid." Anson's theory that Perry was a ticking time bomb seems oddly tacked on. After reading "Best Intentions," we know a great deal about Edmund Perry, but the essential facts of his death are as unclear as ever.

SOUTH AFRICAN DISPATCHES

Letters to My Countrymen by Donald Woods, foreword by Alan Paton (Henry Holt: $7.95) A collection of articles written by white anti-apartheid journalist Donald Woods, which appeared in the South African newspaper the Daily Dispatch. Published from 1975 until his banning and subsequent arrest in 1977, the tone of the early articles is relatively neutral, at most, wryly satirical, intended to meet the demands of the complex publication laws; but becoming sharply accusatory after the death of Steven Biko while in security police custody. The cause of death, according to Police Minister Kruge: "self-starvation after a prolonged hunger strike." But Woods' article caused international outrage, forcing the South African government to order an inquest and exposed the true cause of death as "brain damage caused by severe head injury" at the hands of the police custodians. Woods was placed under house arrest, but after three months, he escaped from South Africa disguised as a Catholic priest.

Woods' writings are the basis for the movie "Cry Freedom."

UNHOLY MATRIMONY

by John Dillmann (Berkley Books: $3.95) A New Orleans detective tells the story of how his own investigation of a murder led, after painstaking effort that took him far beyond ordinary channels, to the conviction of two men, the Rev. Sam Corey (a mail-order minister, mayoral candidate and massage parlor owner) and Jim Gliesick, a self-professed psychologist, and the exposure of a diabolical plot to falsify a hit-and-run accident, the murder of a young woman (Gliesick's new bride), and profit hugely from the insurance. Chief among the book's virtues is its author's unique involvement in every step of the investigation and trial. "Unholy Matrimony" is as much a portrait of a policeman's life as it is a fascinating and grizzly expose of murder and greed.

THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET

by Sandra Cisneros (Arte Publico Press: $7.50) A portrait of a young Mexican girl, her family and neighborhood. Told in a series of brief vignettes, most no longer than a page or two, "The House on Mango Street" purports to be a young girl's discovery of the power of art. By finding the words for her experiences and feelings, the self-proclaimed "ugly daughter," Esperanza (which means hope in Spanish), begins to wrest some control over a world where her people are powerless and where women have no choices.

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