The Belvedere is a historic building constructed in 1903 and located on North Charles Street in downtown Baltimore. This landmark’s “Beaux Arts” style architecture has resulted in many iconic photographs across its history. Once a hotel catering to the hoity-toity members of upper-crust society, The Belvedere is now a condominium complex and coveted location for wedding receptions and holiday parties. The building also houses the legendary prohibition-era Owl Bar.
One morning in 2006, Mikita Brottman left her apartment at The Belvedere to walk her dog in the surrounding area when she noticed a missing persons poster affixed to a nearby utility pole. Little did she know, but this missing man – Rey Rivera – and the eventual discovery of his body would consume her life for more than a decade. This week, An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at The Belvedere was released. This non-fiction book documents Brottman’s preoccupation with this stranger’s death and the investigation and research she conducted in his honor.
Readers who enjoy crime fiction have often encountered those amateur sleuths who stumble upon the scene of a crime and without a second thought proceed to investigate the case, but it is rare that you hear about such things happening in the real world. Don’t tell Mikita Brottman that, as she felt such a connection to this missing man that she felt compelled to explore what happened to him.
After having been missing for some time, Rey Rivera’s body was found on one of the multiple flat roofs that exist within this complex structure. It was once the site of the hotel’s indoor pool. Rivera’s death was ruled a suicide, but as Mikita Brottman was about to discover, the truth may have been far more complicated than that.
This non-fiction account of the case is completely addictive. Brottman’s writing style is such that readers fall under her spell and become a part of her world. Obviously of interest to native Baltimore residents, like the best true crime books, An Unexplained Death will consume any reader regardless of one’s familiarity with the setting.
But this is not just a book about the crime. Almost in a stream-of-consciousness style, Mikita Brottman weaves in the history of this important building and its Baltimore location and countless other fascinating tidbits. The suicide ruling leads her to an examination of the frequency of hotel suicides, the psychological reasoning behind them, and even the changing methods of self-harm across time. The criminal case puts Brottman on the path of a local publishing firm with ties to the financial sector, so there is detailed history of that organization and interviews with former employees. Scattered throughout are some vintage pictures and images related to both the hotel itself and Rey Rivera’s life (and death.)
Saying she was obsessed with Rey Rivera’s death is a bit oversimplified, but it will be clear to readers as they follow Mikita Brottman’s narrative that this author was deeply connected with this case and just as she is changed by the end of it, readers will come away from An Unexplained Death having contemplated new things and old things in new ways.
LOCAL FOLLOWERS: Mikita Brottman will be talking about and signing An Unexplained Death at Greedy Reads in Fell’s Point on Monday, November 12 @ 7:30 (Info here). Myself and few local mystery authors will be in attendance, so we would love to have you join us!
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.