The labyrinthine corridors of Baltimore’s Belvedere hotel hide secrets and stories. If the rooms could talk, they’d speak of illicit affairs, crimes gone wrong and suicides. A true crime writer like Mikita Brottman couldn’t ask for a more perfect place to live. But when a partly decomposed body is discovered on the 13th floor, she is drawn into a dangerous obsession.
In An Unexplained Death, Brottman details the decade she spent seeking answers to the death of Rey Rivera—a handsome, newly married man who had seemingly everything to live for—who fell from the roof of the Belvedere hotel in 2006. Baltimore’s police treat the case as a suicide, but Brottman is convinced that something more occurred. Brottman’s investigation spirals compulsively down every possible avenue as she researches Rivera’s employer, Freemasonry, the history of suicides at the Belvedere and manuals for hotel owners on how to handle guest deaths.
Brottman’s psychological drama is perhaps the real story here. What is the hold this unexplained death has over her? Brottman speaks of a lifelong feeling of being invisible, and as she haunts the halls of the Belvedere in her nightgown, she becomes something of a ghost herself. Her attachment to Rivera’s death and her need to discover whether it is a murder or suicide drive her to the edge of sanity and safety.
An Unexplained Death is a compulsive exploration of the shadowy borders of our collective fascination with unsolved crimes. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into the darker history of a once majestic hotel. But the most important story it tells is about the interrelationship of death and memory, how we remember and memorialize our loved ones, and how we fear being forgotten after we die. In the end, Brottman’s exploration of Rey Rivera’s death is an act of narrative remembrance.