It's been nine years since Chandra Levy disappeared, touching off a search that exposed an affair between a promiscuous congressman and the 24-year-old congressional intern. That the incident may seem further in the past owes much to timing. Its run in the national headlines ended with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and resumed briefly when her bones turned up in a Washington park in May 2002.
The story faded from national attention until the March 2009 announcement that a Salvadoran laborer was charged with the killing — and not U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who lost his political career in a wave of national scorn over the scandal. Levy had apparently been randomly attacked.
Now, with Ingmar Guandique awaiting a murder trial, two Washington Post reporters who fingered Guandique as the killer in a 2008 series have written Finding Chandra, an adroit true-crime narrative that tells the story from the perspectives of the Levy family, Condit, Washington police and other law enforcement and media figures.
The book, by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, is an expansion of their newspaper series, which publicly cleared Condit and laid bare a sheaf of mistakes by Washington police. And it reads much like a newspaper series, taking readers through the shifting focus of chapters that deal with specific characters or institutions, with frequent reminders of the larger context. The technique serves to make the book, despite the high drama inherent in the subject, feel less like a suspense novel and more like hard journalism.
At times, the book's character-snapshot structure can become a distraction, particularly when its focus wanders onto members of the media. Though the book capitalizes impressively on the depth of reportage in the newspaper series, the conclusions feel rushed, since the case against Guandique is still pending. For all we learn of how the Levy case exploded, from Condit's affair to its disastrous consequences, the book ends before the last chapter of the story.