‘A Murder Over a Girl’ investigates the psychology of hatred in junior high

Murder-Over-a-GirlA Murder Over a Girl
by Ken Corbett (Henry Holt 2016)
$27; 277 pp.

Larry King had a rough start in life. Born to an addict who turned tricks for drugs, Larry was neglected and abused and became a ward of the state as a small toddler; at 30 months, the so-called “little brown boy” was adopted by a white couple and life was better … until he reach adolescence. At 15, he began talking about wearing make-up and women’s clothing, and becoming the girl he felt he was.

Many of his teachers “directed Larry to the closet;” the supportive ones were criticized. His adoptive parents tried to downplay his wishes; eventually, Larry left their house and moved into a group home, where he felt comfortable enough to start transitioning. He asked his teachers to call him Leticia and he began wearing cosmetics and feminine apparel to school.

To those who knew him, Brandon McInerney was just a regular kid: Blond, blue-eyed and athletic, he liked riding his bike and hanging out with friends, though there was a side of him that many knew but few acknowledged: McInerney had a quick temper and was fascinated with Nazism and skinhead culture. Larry, therefore, was everything McInerney hated — especially when, as rumor had it, Larry asked McInerney to “be his Valentine.”

At least, that’s what other middle-schoolers claimed, although no one could swear to hearing it. And even if his words were just rumor, some kids still said that McInerney was bothered by Larry’s flamboyant actions, possibly to the point of sputtering rage. On Feb. 12, 2008 — not three weeks after his 14th birthday — Brandon McInerney took a gun to school and shot Larry King twice in the head.

I wish I could say that there’s a satisfying ending to this book, but there’s not. And it’s not author Ken Corbett’s fault, but reading A Murder Over a Girl is somewhat like watching a horrible train wreck that just keeps going.

Corbett, a clinical psychologist, offers readers a look at a crime from a non-lawmaker’s point of view. This unique eye for what happened enhances the understanding of the whole picture, psychologically speaking and especially in the books’ second section. There, Corbett writes mostly about the trial, witnesses, and other research, all of which seemed to allow him to dive more personally into this story — and so, because he presents it well, will you.

This is a timely book, a trial-watcher’s delight and a shocker all around. It has no happy ending, but it’s impossible to look away from, nonetheless. Start A Murder Over a Girl, and you’ll be riveted.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.