The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City is Laura Tillman's meditation on the lasting effects of a harrowing crime on the border city of Brownsville, Texas. It was published by Scribner and is available in your local bookstore, or at Indiebound, Books-a-MillionBarnes and Noble, iBooks, Audible,

or on Amazon:

"A diligent and sensitive meditation on how we reconcile ourselves to human acts that surpass human comprehension."

– Brooklyn Rail

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Description from Scribner:

In Cold Blood meets Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family: A harrowing, profoundly personal investigation of the causes, effects, and communal toll of a deeply troubling crime—the brutal murder of three young children by their parents in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.


"A haunted, haunting examination of mental illness and murder in a more or less ordinary American city...Mature and thoughtful...A Helter Skelter for our time, though without a hint of sensationalism -- unsettling in the extreme but written with confidence and deep empathy."

- Kirkus Reviews, starred review. 

"This thought-provoking portrait of a murder implicates the community at large and forces the reader to grapple with the death penalty, which Rubio is sentenced to. Tillman's book exemplifies provocative long-form journalism that does not settle for easy answers."

-Publisher's Weekly, starred review. 

"For readers who prefer thoughtfulness to titillation. The murders may not have been widely known outside of Brownsville, but this book will be."

- Library Journal, starred review.

“A dogged attempt to understand what happened, a review of the psychological, sociological and spiritual explanations for the crime . . . a meditation on the death penalty and on the city of Brownsville. . . . The short lives of these “small ghosts” are given lasting meaning in this book.”

– Marion Winik, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"As disturbing as it is insightful and mesmerizing."

– Texas Standard

"A devastating tale of true crime and the sociology of the dirt-poor border town where it took place... Even in the horror, there are glints of hope."

– The Dallas Morning News

"Rather than focus on the gory details, Tillman instead is interested in how Brownsville itself has been wounded, and how it sets about to recover... There is strength in her rejection of a single narrative."

– Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

"A diligent and sensitive meditation on how we reconcile ourselves to human acts that surpass human comprehension."

– Brooklyn Rail

"In 'The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts,' Tillman offers an alternative possibility - that there is urgent cause for reflection. Not so much to blame society for the crime, but to recognize that there may be responses to atrocity that can be constructive, and even healing (to the extent that such healing is possible)....Ultimately, fragile hope emerges in the book." 

- The Lifted Brow

"Laura Tillman has undertaken the kind of work that only the rarest of reporters actively seeks: she has shown us that even in the darkest corners of society -- and of the human soul -- there is beauty and hope to be found, and there are no absolutes despite how eager we might be to ascribe them. In the process, she paints a perfect picture of true journalism: its labor, its obsessiveness, its challenges, its toll, and also its value. I can't fathom how difficult this story was to tell, nor can I measure its greater meaning now that it has been told."

– Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

"The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts takes as its subject the long shadow of an unthinkable crime--suggesting that thinking about the unthinkable might be a necessary part of the human enterprise. This remarkable book is built of diligent reporting and sensitive reckoning; its questions haunted me long after I finished reading it. The invisible root system of social injustice that dwells beneath our justice system is made more visible here, thanks to Laura Tillman’s passionate work and her willing heart."

– Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

"All the issues that plague those living in poverty are in evidence in this story of love and loss in Brownsville, Texas. Laura Tillman delicately excavates the lives at the center of this tragic tale, providing insights into the people and the place that made them. She plumbs the American class divide so astutely and so sensitively, it’s near impossible not to see the humanity even in those we would have previously called monsters. To better understand the social issues at play here and across the country, please, read this book!"

– Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones

"The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts is as tragic as it is ultimately tender. With stirringly poetic prose, Laura Tillman has written a story that will haunt you with the despair it reveals. Painstakingly researched and told with an unflinching eye for detail, she knows this world of the border. "

– Oscar Cásares, Author of Brownsville

"Extraordinary… It is so exciting to see a young writer of such high intelligence and passionate unremitting commitment to a subject engage on this risky plane of investigation. The resulting book is a small masterpiece, contributing something very new, profound, and badly needed to our culture."

– Suzannah Lessard, author of The Architect of Desire