HATCHET JOB: In what looks like the makings of a knock-down, drag-out fight, “Reasonable Doubt” author Peter Manso has fired off a 700-plus-word letter to The New York Times, in response to Dwight Garner’s stinging review Friday.

The Simon & Schuster tome centers on the 2002 murder of former fashion writer Christa Worthington, and the trial of Chris McCowen, who is now serving a life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated armed burglary. Garner’s assessment of how he has always enjoyed Manso’s author photographs — “his sneaky resemblance to Al Pacino” — was among the things that rankled Manso. The book critic went on to describe Manso’s latest work as “a disaster,” ending his review with, “Few books I will not reread sooner.”

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Reached by phone Wednesday in his Truro, Mass., home, Manso said, “This is a review designed to kill a book, not to describe a book or its shortcomings.”

Not that he thinks the latter applies. The self-described two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee said what he thought would be an 18-month project turned into a six-year one anchored in “good old-fashioned, muckraking investigative journalism.” Alan Dershowitz, Vincent Bugliosi and Barry Scheck “blurbed” the book jacket, he said. Racism, police misconduct, a contaminated crime scene, lying witnesses, nonsubpoenaed cell phone records, a crafty district attorney and drug abuse triggered largely by the Nantucket-ization of Provincetown all came into play, according to Manso.

But back to the trial. The way he sees it McCowen, an epileptic black man with an IQ of 76, was wrongfully convicted despite the facts that there was no weapon, no witnesses and no fingerprints. Garner’s contention that Manso is “probably right” about the accused is what really set the author off. How Garner could slam the book and admit that he agreed with its analysis of McCowen stumped Manso. After reading the review, Manso said he thought, “What’s up with this guy? He contradicts himself.”

Manso intimated that the dust-up with Garner tracks back to Norman Mailer. Manso, who wrote Mailer’s authorized biography and co-managed his mayoral campaign, famously fell out with the heavyweight writer after 35 years of friendship. Manso has described Garner as “a devotee of the late Norman Mailer and is a champion of the Norman Mailer Estate.” In Sunday’s piece, Garner described Manso’s oral biography of Mailer as “bristly and blood warm, like a freshly killed wild boar.”

Reached Tuesday via e-mail, Garner said he would provide a short response, pending corporate approval. A Times spokeswoman later said via e-mail, “It is not surprising that Mr. Manso dislikes the Times review of his book. However, his suggestion that the negative review is due to a connection between the book reviewer and Norman Mailer is absurd. The reviewer’s writing related to Mailer consists of a review of his wife’s memoir, and a few blog posts.”

Garner is represented by the Andrew Wylie Agency, which also worked with Mailer later in his career.

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