Within the first couple of chapters of Mr. Larkin's book, I began to find uneasiness with his conclusions. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, other than in several places where he would quote interviewees and then come to a conclusion in contradiction to what the interviewees said ("...in spite of this, it is obvious that..."). Then in his chapter on the influences of the evangelical church community around Columbine I had it. Mr. Larkin was injecting subjective opinion into his narrative. The invective and almost lurid condemnation of the influence of right-wing churches caused me to step back from conclusions I might otherwise agree with. Once I recognized this propensity to inject himself into his work, I began to see it everywhere.
For example, Mr. Larkin states in multiple parts of the book that Dylan Klebold was a bisexual or that he was unsure of his sexual identity. He returns to this over and over to make conclusions. But, his evidence for this is a claim by a single reporter that Klebold told him he was bisexual on an Internet chat board. No other evidence is presented, and no similar speculations are presented in the many other books I've read on this incident. Larkin makes significant conclusions based on little more than speculation.
One of the best books I've read on Columbine is Dave Cullen's "Columbine." Cullen, a journalist, had deep access to investigators, evidence, the culprits' "basement tapes," and to almost all the significant people involved in this tragedy (Harris' parents apparently being the rare exception). His narrative of the attack itself was riveting, and he let the experts talk through him to explain the causes and the aftermaths of the tragedy. Cullen, too, describes the domineering influence of the area evangelical churches and their bad influence over the months following the attack. But, he reports all of this in the matter-of-fact style of journalism.
Mr. Larkin, in his book, dismisses Dave Cullen and his book as the work of a "non-professional." Okay, let's compare Mr. Larkin's approach.
Larkin apparently had limited access to the key persons involved in the case and much of the evidence of the case. Certainly less than Cullen, who spoke to almost everyone and had insights into the personal lives of victims, survivors, and even some of the investigators. Larkin, on the other hand, appears from his own descriptions to have gathered many of his interviews by haunting the periphery of the Columbine community, ambushing kids on their lunch breaks in nearby restaurants. Kids who often had little or no direct involvement in the shooting, and only had opinions about the school's social environment.
The results of a couple of incidents when he did have access to important persons are also telling. In one, he describes how his wife tried to sell Columbine Principal DeAngelis on a violence intervention program she had instituted elsewhere. He noted that DeAngelis became unresponsive, with little description of why that might have been. In another incident, he describes having an interview with the Jeffco Superintendent of Schools; when he asked about violence intervention programs in Jeffco schools she abruptly halted the meeting and had him escorted off the premises. He mentions this incident at least twice in the book, with no explanation of why she reacted as she did. There had to be more to the story, and I'm pretty sure I know what it is:
Multiple books on Columbine, particularly Cullen's, describe the exasperation of the faculty and the survivors with the number of self-serving sociologists and psychologists swarming around the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. Larkin describes in his methodology persuading a university to sponsor his work in order to give himself validity and gravitas with the people he wanted to study. Sounds very much like one of the swarm, to me.
Larkin was not always picky about the sources he used, either. He wrote at some length about "ceremonial violence" as hypothesized in a book by Jonathan Fast. The problem is that Fast's book has been discredited for lifting entire passages and narratives from Gregory Gibson's "Gone Boy" without proper attribution. Gibson himself dismisses Fast as a "hack sociologist."
While Larkin does extensively cite other books and studies as sources, one must wonder, based on discomfort with his methods and inadequacies of his interviews, how much of his book drew on those sources rather than his own legwork. There a far better books out there on Columbine, and the psychological conditions and sociological environments out of which school shooters emerge. This is not the book to read.