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!

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

”The murders in the shadows add up to a hell of a lot more than the murders in the spotlight. The blood of the forgotten was just as red as the “famous” victims.”

Chase Darkness with Me is an absolute must have for true crime fans. Billy Jensen is an incredible writer. He pours so much of himself into this book – from explaining why he’s interested in helping solve crimes, to his honesty about the sacrifices he’s made to be 110% dedicated to seeking justice. (Spoiler: being a citizen detective is HARD. It’s an enormous commitment and not for the faint of heart.)

The sections about Jensen’s dad are some of my favorites. He was an interesting man (with a somewhat checkered past) and it sounds like he was a dedicated, loving father. If he were alive today, I’m pretty sure he’d be a Murderino.

There are so many emotional ups and downs in this book – from catching the bad guys, to frustration over dead ends. But the lowest and highest points are definitely the loss of Michelle McNamara and the eventual capture of the Golden State Killer.

Jensen’s chapter about learning of Michelle’s death is a tough one – he’s an expert at transferring his grief to the page. (Sidebar: if you have not yet read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, I would recommend picking it up before you read Chase Darkness with Me. It will make the chapters about Michelle and GSK all the better.)

We think of superheroes as vigilantes in flashy costumes that shove the law out of the way and take matters into their own hands – that’s not true here. Jensen is compassionate, driven and dedicated to seeking justice and helping grieving friends and family find closure. He doesn’t step on toes. He works with local authorities. He asks for permission from the families before he takes on a case.

In a world that sometimes feels full of bad guys, Jensen is a good one.

“It’s chaos. Be kind.”

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – Stay Sexy and Don`t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

“You start out with an idea you like. You write that idea down. You let it sit for five days, and when you come back to it, the words have rearranged themselves on the page. Now it’s shape-shifted into the dumbest idea you’ve ever seen.”

SSDGM is the perfect companion to My Favorite Murder. It’s best enjoyed by people who have been MFM fans for a long time (or at least have listened to a sizable chunk of episodes) – there are a lot of references to the podcast, inside jokes, etc.

Karen and Georgia have managed to write one of the funniest/saddest books I’ve ever read. It feels like you’re sitting down with your two cool, older sisters and getting valuable life advice.

Overall, totally worth the wait and the hype.

“We barely get any time on this planet. Do not spend it pleasing other people. Fuck politeness. Live life exactly how you want to live it so you can love the life you make for yourself.”

TRUE CRIME REVIEW – The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

“…extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile.”

The Stranger Beside me is a must-read for any fan of true crime. I don’t know if it was fate or divine intervention that put Ann Rule and Ted Bundy together in 1971, but it resulted in one hell of a book.

I knew quite a bit about Bundy going into this – I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts and have had an interest in the topic since high school.

This book was still incredibly shocking, terrifying and provided such an in-depth look into Bundy’s life and personality that the reader feels like they knew him. Although Bundy has been dead for 30 years, I still found myself watching for him out of the corner of my eye.

I think what makes Bundy so horrific (as opposed to someone like Charles Manson) is that he could hide his true self. He convinced so many people that he was kind, caring, a good friend, a gentleman. He compartmentalized the various parts of his personality incredibly well. Even after he confessed to multiple murders, Ann Rule admitted that a part of her felt bad for him and mourned who she thought he was.

When I was little, I remember my mom telling me that “monsters are real, they just look like everyone else.” Never has that rung more true. Bundy looked like everyone else. Only his victims saw his true face.

While reading the book, I also started watching the Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix, and it’s been interesting to follow along with both. Would highly recommend either watching the Netflix series or finding a podcast episode about Bundy to supplement your reading.