Monday 13 October 2014

When murder starts to hurt

So it appears I have a stop button, a 'full' mark, an invisible trigger that says, "Oi! No more! Go back to the light!"

As you know I've just finished reading a run of true crime books and they have been riveting, some more so than others. I began with Virginia Peters' expose on murdered German backpacker Simone Strobel, Have You Seen Simone? What a captivating tale. Did Simone's doe-eyed boyfriend kill her? Was it an ex-crim from the shady caravan park where they were staying? Will we ever, truly know?

Bundy run
I followed that one up very quickly, eagerly I must confess, with the horrific Ted Bundy story, The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. Ted Bundy, of course, needs no introduction. He makes Smone's boyfriend look like a kitty cat. Before he was put to death, the monster—and that's the only name for him—murdered and mutilated scores of innocent young women, all dead-ringers (if you'll excuse the pun) for a girlfriend who once rejected him. A sore loser of the most horrific kind.

Unlike the previous book, which was interesting in a hanging-on-the-couch, passing-the-time kind of way, this one was perched-on-the-edge, nail-biting stuff. Worse, it was hard yakka. Ann made me sit through murder upon murder upon murder. She had promised each family she would do their daughters justice, and so she does, in endless gory detail. Yet something (the devil inside?) spurred me on and I somehow managed to finish it while also ordering a copy of Australian author Helen Garner's 2004 non-fiction book Joe Cinque's Consolation.

No consolation for me
Garner is one of Australia's finest fiction and non-fiction writers and this book has been a classic Aussie tome for a decade, the kind that is often pored over at Book Clubs. It's the true story of how one woman drugged and killed her boyfriend and how at least one other woman, and perhaps entire dinner parties of people, conspired to allow it to happen, if only through a form of quiet acquiescence. A tragic tale it's almost nonsensical in the sheer idiocy of the death, and the fact the convicted got off so lightly.

A fine read, I'm sure, yet I found this book even harder to get through than the Bundy one, and not becaue Garner can't write an intriguing tale, or the murder (albeit just one) was any less chilling. Instead, even as I opened that first chapter, I was beginning to reach the high tide mark or, to risk mixing my metaphores, was starting to feel a little bloated, a little over done. I should never have taken that final nibble.

Only stubborness and a serious lack of better fodder by my bedside table forced me to finish it. And finish it I did. I then promptly cancelled my next order, The House of Grief, Garner's latest book about a father who drowns his three young sons on Father's Day, and let out a long, pent-up sigh.

No more. I was done. Finito.

Stranger than fiction
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Crime fiction and true crime are such very different beasts. The latter is so much more haunting than the former, merely because of its authenticity, its truth.

I can get lost in a cozy crime novel and find my way out at the end of the day without any damage done. I can put the book aside, place my head on my pillow, and be snoring within minutes.

With true crime, the ugliness lingers. It nips at my soul, it follows me into darkened hallways and puts a quick in my step at night. And every single time it takes a little something from me and leaves a little something behind, something grubbier, something less bright.

I don't know how Ann Rule went on to make a career out of the true stories of grisly serial killers. Or how Helen Garner wrote Joe Cinque's Consolation (her second true crime novel I might add) then pulled herself together in time to sit through the court case of a father destroying three beautiful little souls.

I don't know how they did it and I don't know why I decided to binge on them all in the space of a few months. But binge I did.

The hangover from hell
I won't be reading true crime again in a hurry. In fact, it turned me off crime altogether. I couldn't even bring myself to buy Harlan Coben's latest, Missing You, even though I'd been anticipating it for months, was saving up my pennies to splurge next time I hit a book shop.

There'll be no more crime—of any kind—for me for a while. The day after finishing Joe Cinque's Consolation, I went to my local library and sought out the happiest, most optimistic-sounding book I could find. It didn't take long to settle on The Brightest Star in The Sky by Marian Keyes.

I've never read the best-selling Irish author before and I was in stitches. It was funny and delightful, like a cool glass of water on a blindingly hot day. While it wasn't without an unsettling scene or two, and it's not likely to win a Pulitzer any time soon, the premise of the story was such a joy and such a necessary relief.

In very simple terms, it's all about life. And it was exactly what I needed after wallowing in death for so long. Thanks, Marian, for the break, and for bringing me back to the light.

HAPPY reading everyone!
xo Christina