REVIEW – The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan

Attention true crime fans: you’re going to want to pick this one up. I hadn’t heard of Tony Costa (the Cape Cod Vampire) before, but WOW was he a piece of work.

Costa was active in the mid to late 1960s and, honestly, got away with a lot of his crimes due to the time period but also some really inadequate law enforcement procedures and protocols. There were moments in this book where I wanted to scream about the missed connections and lack of shared information between departments. Lives might have been saved, but isn’t that the case with a lot of serial killers?

The Babysitter is part true crime book and part memoir – Liza Rodman grew up in Provincetown and Tony Costa was her “babysitter” at times (our idea of a babysitter now is not really what Tony was back then. He would take Liza and her sister on errands with him to get them out of their mom’s hair while she worked or went out on the town with her friends). Liza’s sections alone could have been their own book – she was a child who didn’t really stand a chance with her own mother. Liza’s mother was neglectful and mean and hurtful and irresponsible. Definitely proceed with caution if child abuse (mostly neglect and verbal abuse) is a touchy topic for you.

The book moves at a relatively slow pace but it stands up against the heavy hitters in true crime literature like In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, The Stranger Beside Me, etc. Tony Costa might not be as well known as Ted Bundy, but he was just as horrible (and probably would have been much worse if they hadn’t caught him in time).

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Last Call: A Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

Last Call is a great read for fans of true crime – it’s a heartbreaking, gruesome tale of a man who preyed on gay men in the 80s and 90s. Last Call is incredibly well-researched and amazingly written – packing a ton of information into a relatively short book.

Elon Green focuses a lot on the victims of the Last Call Killer and less on the killer himself (this is relatively common among newer true crime books, and for good reason), and does so with great care and compassion.

Last Call might also be a good choice for those new to true crime, since it’s a shorter book and the murders are relatively recent, it’s easy to follow if you’re not familiar with the genre.

Thank you Celadon Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

We Keep the Dead Close is a very well-researched true crime book with an incredibly elaborate “plot.” Yes, Cooper discusses Jane Britton’s murder and the subsequent investigation, but she also covers the gender politics and discrimination that are rooted deep in Harvard’s history.

This held my interest for maybe the first third, and then slowed down a bit towards the middle. Cooper takes a few detours that are somewhat connected to Jane’s story, but feel somewhat meandering at times. You’ll definitely learn more about archaeology than you ever thought possible in a true crime book. This does have some shades of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – in that Cooper reminded me of Michelle McNamara. Cooper’s obsession with Jane’s case mirrors that of McNamara’s when she was researching the GSK.

Overall, Cooper’s dedication to researching and telling Jane’s story is admirable, and I have to give her major props for the work it took to make this book happen.

Thank you Novel Suspects and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC!

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

“Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn’t be just like us.”

This book is an essential choice for true crime fans – John Douglas is basically the OG profiler. Mindhunter is part true crime book, part memoir, as Douglas outlines his start in the FBI, his time in the bureau, and his coworkers (he never fails to give credit where credit is due).

At times, Douglas’ confidence might come across as arrogance, but you have to remember that he is a man that essentially created the game. He knows what he’s talking about, and he’s not afraid to show off his expertise.

Although slightly a victim of its time (Mindhunter was released in 1995), it’s still a solid true crime read and will likely be loved by scores of “Murderinos” and fans of Criminal Minds. I’d highly recommend watching the Netflix show based on this book – Mindhunter (the show) has the hook that Mindhunter (the book) lacks.

REVIEW – America’s First Female Serial Killer by Mary Kay McBrayer

“You had better wait and in a little while I will have another funeral for you.”

As an avid reader of true crime, I was very excited to receive a copy of America’s First Female Serial Killer in my September Night Worms box! Jane Toppan’s story is sad and disturbing. After feeling less than her entire life, she becomes an “Angel of Death” (for true crime newbies, that describes a medical professional who kills their patients).

This book is part nonfiction, part fictionalized(ish) narrative. McBrayer takes some liberties with Jane’s story, but tries to piece together a complete overview of her life. Some parts of this book are chilling (Jane’s confession is pretty horrific) but it’s not a keep-the-lights-on kind of book. I found some parts of this book more interesting than others, but I think it’s a great choice for anyone looking to read more true crime.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan

“…I can tell you right now there is no one who knows me, or who has ever known me, who knows anything about me, really…I’m two different people, basically.”
“How long have you been two different people?”
“A long time.”

Oh man. Okay. This is true crime for the SEASONED true crime reader/listener/watcher. If you’re new to the genre, do NOT start here. This book is brutal and Israel Keyes’ cruelty and sociopathy know no bounds. American Predator is short (especially compared to other true crime books i’ve read) but Callahan was able to fit so much into this narrative. We meet a relatively wide range of people involved with capturing Keyes and attempting to uncover the other murders he (likely) committed.

“Sometimes who you were came down to the small things.”

Something that makes American Predator more impactful than other true crime books i’ve read is how recent Keyes committed his crimes. It’s easy to feel distanced from a serial killer who operated in the 70s and 80s, but a lot harder to ignore someone who was murdering people in the 2010s. His back story is disturbing and I found myself wondering (as always) if serial killers are born or created.

Despite the horrors in this book, I highly recommend it to any true crime fan looking for a story they likely know absolutely nothing about.

REVIEW – Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

“If you don’t run with this, if you don’t move forward with this and expose him, you’re on the wrong side of history.”

Catch and Kill is one of those books I should have read immediately upon release, when the Weinstein trial was ongoing and his fate was hanging in the balance (I mean, I guess it still is. But the buzz around this story has died down considerably).

Farrow’s relentless pursuit of the truth, and of bringing Weinstein to justice, is commendable. The book is interesting. It’s good. It’s important. But because I have read so much about this case, I did find myself a bit bored in the middle. This book could have easily been reduced by 100 or so pages (again, I think my opinion would have differed had I read this back in October or November).

Regardless of my reading experience, I was disgusted to learn just how many people were covering up for Weinstein, or turning a blind eye to his crimes. I wasn’t surprised, necessarily, but when it’s spelled out in front of you, it packs a punch. On the flip side, i’m grateful that good, moral people still exist to make sure criminals like Weinstein get what they deserve (although, he got away with it for so long, i’m not sure the punishment can truly fit the crime).

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

“The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered.”

This might sound odd, but Killers of the Flower Moon reads almost like a true crime podcast. Grann includes enough detail that you know you’re getting a comprehensive story, but not so much that you get lost in unnecessary facts or unrelated side stories.

The book is split into three parts – the first focuses mostly on Mollie Burkhart and her family, the second on Tom White (and the FBI) and the third is Grann’s own account, taking place only a few years ago.

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

“The aim is not to be a friend. The aim is not to be a foe. The aim is to get to the truth.”

The Killer Across the Table is an incredible entry into the true crime genre. Douglas is the OG profiler and his insight and experience is fascinating. His writing is educational but not without emotion or humanity.

“Lesson learned: everyone is a potential suspect, and don’t let looks or behavior fool you.”

Douglas recounts conversations he’s had with some of the most sadistic and prolific killers in our history. His ability to analyze their responses without inserting his own emotions is incredible. I loved getting a little backstory about the origin and evolution of behavioral profiling (as a fan of crime shows and Mindhunter, I knew a lot going in to this book, but it doesn’t make the reading experience any less interesting).

I have so much respect for Douglas and the other pioneers of the field – they faced the worst of humanity to help understand and evaluate why some people are so compelled to harm others.

REVIEW – The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton

“Slowly, our tether unwound, until it felt as if all we had left in common were the crimes committed against us.”

This is an INSANE story and tough to get through. It’s about a family facing identity theft, but it goes so much deeper (and so much more sinister) than that. Nothing in this book is simple or as it seems – there are so many layers to get through and every single one is more shocking than the last.

“All of it was an elaborate illusion, a magic trick we never stopped perfecting. On the outside, our lives looked solid and well put together, but on the inside, everything was falling apart.”

This book also examines the desperation of keeping up appearances – spending money you don’t have, buying things you can’t afford. The theme of “perception” runs throughout the entire book, and it gets so incredibly dark at times. Betz-Hamilton also outlines how insecurity can be passed down through generations. It’s also incredibly sad – the isolation Betz-Hamilton felt as a child, and the effects she carries with her to this day.

“…I learned that the most basic, fundamental truths about us were nothing more than masterful illusions.”

The Less People Know About Us provides a raw and uncomfortable look at betrayal, financial abuse and compulsive lying. Even after the facts are laid out in front of you, it’s still hard to fathom how one person can so deeply and irrevocably harm the people they are supposed to love.

Thank you Grand Central Publishing for the free book!