Off Limits

Making book: Staring out from newstands across the country is the face of JonBenet Ramsey, which graces the cover of a new St. Martin's paperback named Death of a Little Princess. All told, over 100,000 JonBenet faces were rushed to print--which, coincidentally enough, is close to the number of dollars mentioned in the ransom note addressed to John Ramsey! But we're getting ahead of the story--just as the publisher of this book did.

In Death's introduction, St. Martin's senior editor Charles E. Spicer Jr. promises that in the True Crime Library--which each month offers "a fascinating account of the latest, most sensational crime that has captured the national attention"--authors "take you right to the scene of the crime and into the minds of the most notorious murderers to show you what really makes them tick." Of course, in JonBenet's case author Carlton Smith had a problem, given that no one has been charged with her murder. So instead, he settled for taking readers into the minds of Denver's most notorious journalists, since most of his book just regurgitates what the dailies have reported. And although the cover promises "Startling Late-Breaking Information," the action stops before the Ramseys held their Magnificent Seven press conference with select members of the media on May 1.

Among the non-startling information $5.99 buys you:
* Chuck Green, who is quoted liberally throughout the book, writes for both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News (see page 95, if you must).

* Although Coloradans call the Flatirons "foothills," Smith writes, "they look like mountains to most people from the far flatter South, like Atlanta."

* Alex Hunter has been married four times and can no longer work out at noon.

* When the News's Charlie Brennan interviewed Metro State journalism professor James J. Brodell as an expert on anonymous sources, to some "it seemed a bit like asking the choir director to justify the choir." Smith himself neatly avoids that problem by simply quoting other published accounts to make sure that all his tidbits are sourced.

But he can't blame anyone else for blither like this wrap-up on page 289: "There is, in such situations as the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a sense of something organic about the events, a natural evolution that is comprised of equal measures of facts, images, prognostications, and explanations. Like a sentient creature, the whole is born, then grows, reaches a maturity, and then begins to die out...

"The growth of the phenomenon known as the JonBenet case was nurtured throughout by the hothouse culture of the news media; and, like every other similar event that binds us into a shared if illusional common experience, the natural conclusion for the JonBenet event was the expectation of an arrest. That way the story could die, as expected, to be replaced by something else....But what if it never happened? What if, like TWA Flight 800, the event just petered out without any finality?"

Well, we guess the True Crime Library would publish a book anyway, which it did in late July. "We wanted to wait for some kind of resolution," explains a spokeswoman, "but finally we decided to go ahead."

After all, there wasn't a moment to waste: St. Martin's "instant" book on Andrew Cunanan goes to press next week.

Smith's masterwork does contain one truly novel tangent: his theory that the beginnings of beauty pageants in the South "might be discerned in Colonial America. Where the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony eschewed colorful clothing and piously constricted their manners to be humble in the sight of God, the planters of the South valued chivalry and style that tended to place womanhood on a pedestal."

A less convoluted look at child beauty pageants appears in the current New Yorker. Since JonBenet's murder, author Susan Orleans reports, "people who don't know anything about pageants are peering into the pageant world and then condemning it because they're shocked by the makeup and the dressy dresses and the sexy sophistication of some of the girls." But that's not a fair depiction, says Darlene Burgess, who founded the Universal/Southern Charm International Pageant seventeen years ago and argues that the pageant industry is a legitimate business. And a big one: After JonBenet was murdered, Burgess took the Ramseys off her 40,000-person mailing list.

Our typo place: A travel section listing in Sunday's Post touts a Nevada bed-and-breakfast that's a refreshing change of pace from the usual muffin-purveying, kitty-loving joints you find in Colorado. This B&B promises "breathtaking views" and "unique amenities," including a "European-trained, formerly attired butler." Viva Las Vegas!

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