Serial Killers Scare the Heck Out of Me, and A Sunday Book Review or Three

The Knockout roses are always a little shabby, but this mantis doesn’t seem to mind.(Though obviously she doesn’t like her photo taken, i.e. why you get a view of her backside.) I’m hoping that she’s been feasting on the occasional Japanese beetles that show up to eat them. We haven’t had much damage because I go outside in the late afternoons and crush them between the leather fingers of my garden gloves if I find them in the blooms. Grisly, but remarkably effective!


As I write this, I’m desperately working to keep my focus because I have an audiobook I can hardly bear to be away from. My apologies if that sounds anti-social. It just happens to be (drumroll, please!)… Louise Penny’s 2020 release, ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE, which doesn’t come out until September 1st. When I learned from NetGalley that I’d been approved to review it, I nearly fainted.

If you know me, you know I have a serious writer crush on Louis Penny and her Inspector Gamache novels. I wrote to her after I read my first one in 2009, and she wrote back. I took my kids to Quebec City because I loved her descriptions of it. (Okay, I also had to pick up my daughter from her intensive French college summer program there, but she totally could’ve come home on her own!) I have all of her novels in hardcover and most on audio. When my agent was taking me on meetings, the acquisition folks at St. Martin’s/Minotaur were very nice, even though they didn’t buy THE STRANGER INSIDE manuscript. Their rejection might have had something to do with the fact that–as I was following an editor to meet the publisher–I asked if there was possibly POSSIBLY a review copy of Penny’s upcoming book floating around that I could snag. Could it have been the ravening look in my eyes and that sparkle of drool escaping my lips that made her look so surprised alarmed? Seriously, she looked both taken aback and a bit afraid. So much so that she ran to a phone to make some calls while Agent Susan (who seemed a bit embarrassed, and is definitely not a woman who embarrasses easily) stood beside me wondering why we were keeping, um, the publisher waiting. The editor quickly returned to tell me that, sadly, the book was in the middle of production, and there were no advance copies yet available. I’d like to say that I remember politely responding that I certainly understood, and apologizing for delaying events, but it’s entirely possible that I said I’d be perfectly happy with a bound manuscript. Maybe? I hope I didn’t. I probably didn’t because Agent Susan didn’t drop me that day. Except, as I mentioned, they didn’t buy the book.

Anywho–ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE is riveting. I’ll review it either next week or the following week since it’s publishing soon.

Have you read I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, by Michelle McNamara? It’s the story of her obsessive hunt for the Golden State Killer (who was also a prolific rapist). He was sentenced just this past week. The book was published posthumously, as she hadn’t finished it when she unexpectedly died. Some of the chapters are from her articles on the GSK and other serial killers and rapists. It’s also an HBO documentary. From what I’ve heard from people I trust, the documentary is phenomenal. There was also a podcast not long ago.

I don’t know that I’ll be finishing the audiobook. There’s something so intense and real about it that it makes me lose sleep. Audiobooks are immediate. Their words float directly into your brain in a way that words on a page do not. It only takes the briefest of seconds to close your eyes and look away from something disturbing on a page or screen. If you’re watching a film, you can close your eyes and put your hands over your ears. There were moments of listening to this book when I couldn’t get to my phone fast enough to pause the story, and just grabbed the earbud from my ear and shoved it into my pocket, vaguely hoping the difficult words might continue for awhile. That if I then put it back in my ear that it would pick up at some description of McNamara’s rather glamorous life as the wife of comedian/actor Patton Oswalt. There are pleasing descriptions of the many, many people McNamara interviewed in her years researching the killer/rapist’s crimes. It is fascinating to learn how he went by many names for several years, because people believed the crimes were committed by several different people. It’s a lesson in how crime investigations work–and are often ineffective.

Statistically, most murder victims know their assailants, but the idea of being a random or carefully chosen victim of a serial killer seems so much more possible. Statistics don’t matter when it comes to things that terrify us –or me, anyway. Statistics say that an airplane I’m on with take off and land without incident. My brain reminds me that it’s like the lottery: somebody has to win. Or lose, if you will. Statistically, my child should make it just fine driving alone across country in a well-maintained, late model car with GPS and mom-made hotel reservations. Except my brain reminds me that he might not, and could just disappear, as other young men have. It’s the might not that keeps me up. So is it the idea of serial killers that makes it hard for me to listen to this book?

Or is it the writing? McNamara’s words are intimate, her focus brutally intent on the crimes, and their barely imaginable details. Her murder victims, once alive, live again on the page. The ones who survived tell the stories of their encounters–of their rapes and injuries and hours of terror. They report what the GSK said to them. How he taunted and tricked them when they thought he’d left. It all feels so possible.

Or is it that McNamara has touched on my own feelings of vulnerability? Of being a woman. Of wanting to feel safe in the world. Of wanting my family to be safe. Of hoping I didn’t use up all my luck surviving risky situations I got myself into when I was much younger and more naive.

Predictably, I’m going to say it’s probably all those things. The audiobook isn’t due for a couple of weeks. I waited for almost 6 months to read I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, and there are 12 people waiting for it according to the library site. I’ll decide soon if I’ll finish it. I’m 3/4 through.




Lynda LaPlante’s character Jane Tennison, broke gritty crime story ground in both novels and television. (LaPlante wrote much of the television series.) Long after Helen Mirren became THE Helen Mirren, thanks in large part to her portrayal of the nearly-middle-aged Jane Tennison, LaPlante began a series of books about the young Jane Tennison. (BTW–if you’re a fan of the ITV Tennison, and especially if you’re not, read LaPlante’s decided thoughts about the series here.)

I was pleased to get a chance to read and review her latest Tennison thriller, BLUNT FORCE.

Here are my brief thoughts:

Although I’ve seen all of the new Tennison television episodes, this was my first Tennison novel, and I thought it was terrific. Readers under the age of thirty might be surprised at the casual misogyny of many of Tennison’s superiors and people she encounters or interviews. But this is the way it truly was. BLUNT FORCE’s main plot concerns the murder of a film agent, and so many of the characters are deliciously flamboyant and melodramatic. As glamorous as that world might sound, La Plante reveals its tawdry and exploitative nature not just through the crime, but in its players’ immature and purely selfish actions. I particularly enjoyed the secondary characters–the secretaries and models and service and security people whose actions and information are so critical to solving the main crime. La Plante also ties her story to subjects that contemporary readers will find fascinating and familiar–specifically film industry sexual abuse and religiously-motivated punishments. Can’t wait to see this story on the screen as well.

I received a complimentary copy of BLUNT FORCE from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Have a great week, y’all! Big hugs. Stay safe! xx

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