As a true crime reader, I can be hesitant to read a book about an unsolved case. Naturally you wonder - how will this end? There is no need for such hesitation in We Keep the Dead Close. Becky Cooper takes a case that has turned into Harvard myth and brought the investigation the victim deserved to fruition. Cooper, a Harvard alumna herself, details her time at the Ivy League school and her personal growth following graduation as it evolves into the study of Jane Britton’s murder in 1969. Her reexamination brings attention to Britton’s life, not just as a victim but as a woman with personality and accomplishments. This deep dive into a cold case reads as a slow burn, but I really enjoyed how Cooper handled her investigation with grace and dignity while still being incredibly thorough. We Keep the Dead Close is an extremely worthwhile read.— Madi Hill
For readers gripped by In Cold Blood and I'll Be Gone in the Dark, We Keep the Dead Close is both a haunting true crime narrative of an unsolved 1969 murder at a prestigious institution and a lyrical memoir of obsession and love for a girl who dreamt of rising among men. You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the U.S. government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn't let you forget. 1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student in Harvard's Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.
Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she'd threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a 'cowboy culture' among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.
WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman's past onto another's present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.