This post has been rolling around in my mind for weeks. I have a lot of thoughts to share and plan to break this into three parts.
- Part One – background and review of True Crime Addict.
- Part Two – review of Dead Girls.
- Part Three – contrast the two books and discuss the positives and negatives of the genre.
Background: Several years ago I became a fan of true crime podcasts. It’s a terribly sad subject matter and I dropped most of them for my mental health in favor of politics podcasts. That worked out well.
My Favorite Murder was the very first one I listened to and still listen to on occasion. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the podcasters and somehow strike a balance with a very difficult subject matter. They aren’t perfect in their presentation every time but they are far more respectful of the victims than most.
Then I stumbled on another one, Sword & Scale, that many seemed to enjoy. I made it through exactly 1.5 episodes and realized that something wasn’t sitting right with me. It was so sensational and the podcaster, Mike Boudet, took special pride in graphic details, terrifying 911 calls, and taking a very dramatic and over-produced tone when presenting his research and timeline of events. I moved on after listening to half of an episode with graphic descriptions of harming children. No thanks.
Other than the obvious, I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why I enjoyed one podcast but not the other. Beyond the graphic sensationalism, there was something more.
So after practically having a nervous breakdown over politics, I revisited the true crime genre with this book by James Renner. The title of the book was intriguing and I hoped it would answer some of my reasons for pause about this genre.
It did not disappoint from the very beginning. Let’s start with the title:
True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray
Look at the tagline: “How I Lost Myself…”. Put that with the title:
True Crime Addict, I, Myself
All descriptors for the author. The disappearance of Maura Murray is almost an afterthought. There was my first issue with the handling of this genre.
Was the disappearance of Maura Murray investigated in this book? Yes. And with a large bias against the family because they didn’t want to talk to Renner. With much sarcasm… I can’t imagine why.
I listened to the audiobook read by the author and hearing it straight from his own mouth was interesting to say the least. Within the first few chapters he revealed that a test he took with his therapist scored him with a personality and characteristics similar to Ted Bundy.
He didn’t speak of this with fear or reserve but almost a bravado. It was unsettling to say the least to include such personal psychological references in a true crime book about a missing woman.
He also spoke of falling in love with a missing girl after seeing her “missing” poster when he was a young boy and was formerly obsessed with her case. Missing girls and women consume this author and his life over and over and he spends a fair amount of time writing about such.
Enter a quick preview of the second book, Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin.
Investigating these murders essentially ruins [detectives] Cohle’s and Hart’s lives. When we see them in 2012, Cohle is gaunt and bedraggled, now a bartender who starts drinking at noon on his day off. Hart is off the force, too, and divorced, drinking again and working as a private eye. How sad these murders had to happen to them.
-Dead Girls, Alice Bolin
Interwoven into Renner’s book were the author’s own life experiences, mental health, family issues, trauma, and descent into alcohol abuse. Sound familiar?
There were also plenty of self-congratulatory passages on his research methods and “transparency”. He created a network of internet sleuths who spent their time chasing theories, some being straight up conspiracy, and freely shared this information on his blog.
On the surface it seemed to be an interesting methodology. But in the end there were elements of harassment of the victim’s family. For example, Renner gave out the father’s address in the book. There was also harassment of Renner’s family that stemmed from his blog and research.
The harassment of the Murray family was barely discussed and mostly under the guise of investigative journalism. But the harassment of the author’s family had at least a chapter devoted to it and much was made of the rage he felt and the reminder of his Ted Bundy-esque characteristics.
Again, it was more about what the investigation of the crime did to him; how the disappearance of Maura Murray had and was happening to him.
This is a common theme in true crime be it from the investigative journalists, the authors, or even law enforcement. Dead Girls explores this phenomenon and that is where I’ll pick up with Part Two.
My rating of True Crime Addict: ✂️✂️✂️/5 but not for writing or content. Rather, this book brought to the forefront my issues with the genre and helped me organize my thoughts around the sensationalism of females being harmed.
Who would I recommend this book to? Not many; even the true crime fans. It’s a disjointed investigation that leads nowhere. And to complicate matters, it’s an odd thing to witness as Renner inserts himself and his own issues into the disappearance of a young woman.
Multiple young women.