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Friday, August 2, 2019

Book Review: Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (audio)

I wish I remembered who had suggested I read this. I do believe it was one of my customers. True Crime has been a big trend the last couple of years, and Ann Rule is the doyenne of the genre. However, despite selling truckloads of her books when I was a bookseller, I had always dismissed her as a ripped-from-the-headlines exploiter for the masses of people's tragedies. I underestimated her.

When Ann got a book contract to write about a half dozen missing Seattle girls, she never expected to be part of the story herself. What journalist would? What journalist would think,, oh, the murderer is probably a friend of mine? So this book, I understand, is considerably different from her others. In this one, it's part memoir while also being a true crime story.

Ann had been a cop but had quit to pursue her dream of being a writer. As a former cop, she knew crime, and that's what kept food on her table. I got the impression she fell into this genre more than had a passion for it. Also, this genre didn't exist at this time. The only place for it, besides the local news, was true crime magazines that were considered rather salacious and sold at the checkout counter of grocery stores. As a recent divorcee with several children, Ann didn't seem to have a lot of options either way.

She doesn't get into the story of her marriage at all, but afterwards she did feel compelled to volunteer at a hotline for people who needed assistance dealing with tragedies. A colleague at the hotline was a young college student she got along with. They stayed friends for years after. His name was Ted Bundy.

Talk about riveting. This book was terrifying, visceral, not exploitative of the dead girls, and for a long, long time Ann just couldn't believe Ted did it. It truly took a preponderance of evidence to convince her, which is a good thing. Unlike anyone writing about Ted Bundy now, she went in not knowing for sure that he did any of the crimes. In fact, she went in with more than an open mind--she went in sympathetic and biased towards the suspected killer. And yet, she was convinced. This book created the genre of true crime in books. It set the standard. Because of Ann's unprecedented access to the murderer, it had more information and set a higher bar than nearly anything to come after could achieve. It is the gold standard.

Today it's also extra fascinating in that there are several Afterwards that brought the book up to date through Ted's execution. I do wish there had been at least one since then--I'd love to know, with our current technology, if more murders have been attributed to him, and if more bodies were found, as the suspicion was always that he was much, much more prolific than anyone could ever prove. And Ted, convinced to the end of his ability to charm anyone, stayed in touch with Ann until she could no longer tell him she had even a shard of doubt about his guilt, so her communication with him was unlike any journalist writing about a murderer before or since. Even Truman Capote, as close as he got to his subjects, didn't know them before they were in prison.

If you too have been swept up in True Crime, this is the book for you. The one that started it all. It will make you double check you locked the doors at night.

I listened to this eaudiobook via Libby/Overdrive.

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