Ever since I was a little girl and peeked at the pictures in my Granddad’s books, Small Sacrifices (about Diane Downs’ murder of her children) and Life with Billy (about June Stafford’s abuse at the hand of her husband Billy), I have been hooked on true crime novels. As I got older it wasn’t so much about learning how far one person would go to hurt another, but why someone would choose to do it, to torture and rape and kill someone who had no connection to them. I needed to know what had happened in their lives, what set them apart, what went through their minds. I was also curious in their choice of victims, if there were things to learn to avoid it happening, and of course what I might do in the situation. I also was, I guess I’ll say amazed, at the ways that families and friends chose to excuse certain behaviours and ignore warning signs. I started off with this little introduction so you can understand why I was eager to read this book my sister gave me for Christmas, saying she thought I’d like it because I “like to know sick shit”. While it’s not as simple as being a gore-whore, I was intrigued.
The Serial Killer Whisperer is about a young man named Tony Ciaglia, who at 14 was hit in the head with a jet ski (referred to as the Windrunner Accident throughout the book) and awoke from a coma with a traumatic brain injury, mostly effecting the emotion and “rage” part of the brain. After years of alienation from friends and family and under the care of a therapist, Tony decides to write to serial killers. He feels they me be the only people who understand the rages and feelings he is trying to cope with. To my surprise, his therapist and parents (with whom he still lives) agree to let him write to approximately 40 serial killers in various prisons with the understanding that he must open and read the responses with his parents so they can keep track. Tony hears back from most of them but the book mostly concentrates on Arthur Shawcross, David Gore and Joe Methany. All had raped, tortured, killed, and sometimes cannibalized their victims. The book excerpts large parts of their letters, most with disturbing details and more pride than remorse. The manipulation of Tony by these, well, monsters really, is so blatant that I was continually astonished at the lengths his parents let him take, or that they (his father usually) take with him.
I’ve never written a book review before, so I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to reveal. I usually read books others don’t, so I usually divulge everything since no will read it anyway. Then again, I’m a spoiler lover most of the time and usually find a lot of reviews don’t give enough information. However, this book doesn’t really offer much, or at least not what the cover promises or what I was expecting. Tony doesn’t really get a lot of resolution or answers to his own problems and the interactions seem off. Like they wanted to make sure you know that this was for altruistic purposes and not that they found a great hook or were enjoying the insider status. The letters, meetings, and conversations with the killers only reveal what the killers want to reveal, which does provide a sort of insight you don’t get with the movie version murderers we’re used to. The Afterword is the only part of the book that really offers any real satisfaction, for me at least. I think by writing this book this way and including the gruesome, it took away from Tony’s brain injury and its effects on his world, making it almost a footnote. That could have been an interesting book. Instead, the spotlight is on these killers and their deeds, with the concern for their victims overshadowing the interest in Tony.
This book does remind you that these people are out there and there isn’t always a method to their madness. It’s like when you’re a kid in the dark and you think of all of the scary movies you’ve seen and you can picture what’s under the bed. But part of you hopes that’s not what there and part of you knows that’s not what’s there, but you don’t look. Just in case. Well, the images formed from the words of these killers is what’s under the bed. They are there, they don’t care, they can’t be fixed. Hopefully that made sense.