What I’m Reading: True Crime Time

First, my second book — I’m almost finished with the first draft! I think I can safely say I’m 3/4 done. I’m hoping to finish by the end of May, and use June and part of July as a resting period to finish revising the stories in my upcoming short story collection.

In between work on my own books, I’m still trying to read each day. I have read a couple of good true crime books (which, without revealing too much, have also helped me along with Book #2). I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by the late Michelle McNamara. I admit I was not familiar with her blog or her work until after her death in 2016. I read the book before they caught the suspected Golden State Killer last month.

The book was an interesting read about McNamara’s attempt to solve the mystery of who was responsible for a series of murders and rapes in California. Without a known criminal to detail, most of the book was accounts of the murders and accounts of the cops’ attempts to find him; as well as her own. It was an interesting read, but I did find myself thinking it got repetitive after awhile with no known suspect to bring all the murders together. There was no villain to get to know — just his crimes. It’s understandable why this was the case, but now that there’s a suspect in jail, I hope the book will be rereleased with an addendum from Patton Oswalt, Paul Haynes, or Billy Jensen, all of whom helped finish the book McNamara left behind. I would buy and read it if they did.

Shortly after (though not right after — I need breaks between true crime stories), I read a classic true crime novel for the first time: The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy by Ann Rule. This was the polar opposite of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for not only did Rule (and the public) know that Bundy was responsible for a slew of murdered girls, Rule knew him personally. They’d worked together at a crisis center, and remained friends and confidants even as he was being investigated.

The Stranger Beside Me was fascinating. Rule did an excellent job with something that’s very hard to do: she wrote about Ted Bundy’s human side without glossing over the atrocity of his actions or the fact that he was not a good person. One of the passages that struck me the most was from the FAQ she added to the revised edition I purchased:

Q: Was Ted Bundy really nice … underneath?
A: No.

I really appreciated how quick she was to shoot down any notion one might have to try and gloss over who he was. Rule spoke of their friendship, and spoke to how she thought he was broken and how she wished he could’ve been committed or had some sort of treatment that would’ve saved others and himself; but she never made him out to be a martyr or a nice person. She knew who he was, and she wrote about what she knew.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the macabre and my interest in stories about killers, true crime was never really on my reading radar. Reading two true crime novels in a short period of time, I’d say that’s mostly still the case. I’m interested in these stories, but the format can grow tiresome when every other chapter has yet another story of someone getting killed. There are only so many times I can read a variation on “Jane Doe was really excited to live a full life. She didn’t get to” before I want to say, I get it. It’s like reading a really long episode of Unsolved Mysteries. The first couple accounts at least are necessary, because it establishes what the killer did and how they did it. After awhile, though, it’s understood that there is a killer and these people we’re being introduced to will be killed. It no longer feels suspenseful or shocking after that. It feels tedious, and almost feels exploitative.

This is why I’m a little more fascinated with stories about other things to know about the killer. What were they thinking? What were they like before? What’s going on with the friends and relatives and partners who love them even after they’ve been exposed? What did people know about them and yet not associate with them becoming murderers? What can we learn from all this?

A story I feel does this really well is My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. It’s a graphic novel written by one of Dahmer’s childhood friends. While his violent crimes are mentioned, they’re not shown or depicted over and over. Rather, we see Dahmer as a teen, one with violent habits that are ignored and psychological issues that the adults in his life dismiss as growing pains. The book ends with him picking up his first hitchhiker. We all know what happens next — and in my mind, it’s more effective to leave it there.

I’m taking a small break from true crime, as I do; but if you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!


I’m no stranger to serial killer stories — my short story, All the Pieces Coming Together, tells the tale of a man who’s found a place so perfect to hide the bodies that there isn’t anybody to hide. You can read it for free. It’s also included in my short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.

Last summer, I read and discussed The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a girl who’s drawn into a cult reminiscent of the Manson family. I think it’s going to be a movie soon. I recommend the book despite its flaws.

Thanks for reading!

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