Tuesday, June 19, 2012

True Crime Trash

I'm not a huge true crime fan--not really one at all, in fact--but I watch my share of police procedurals, and I have a soft spot for Criminal Minds, which is not a fabulous show, but I like the psychology aspect.  It's clever--not the show, but the idea of profiling.

Sometimes I like to read the memoirs of FBI profilers: My Life Hunting Serial Killer types of books.  When one popped up at the library as an ebook, I jumped on the wait list.  It's actually called The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers, by Pat Brown, so I know that she's able to write a clear title.  Or at least, the ghostwriter is; I don't hold a ghostwriter against her, though--writing a craft, and if your craft is hunting serial killers, there's no reason to assume you can construct a coherent narrative.  So hats off to Bob Andelman.

At the beginning I mostly called it readable.  The first chapter was pretty good, actually--she talks about being a stay at home mom and getting a weird vibe off a student renting a room in her house at the same time that a murder takes place in her neighborhood.  The cops didn't believe her.  Her interest turned to profiling.

Then, in the second chapter, she backtracks to describe her life.  This is the chapter where I started to kind of dislike her. There's nothing wrong with the actual course of her life as she describes it, but the way she talks about it is kind of dismissive of everyone else.  She went to three or four different colleges and community colleges, but nothing held her interest.  (Okay, kind of ADHD, but that's not a character flaw; she's looking for her place in life).  Then she gets married and becomes a stay at home mom, and thrives.  This is kind of wonderful.  She homeschools her kids, they adopt their third--all lovely. 

Except, when she's describing her decision to homeschool, she talks about sitting in a public school classroom for a while and leaving in disgust at the chaos.  When she adopts a six-year-old and is told that he has a learning disorder, she scoffs (I'm pretty sure that was her word--scoffs) at the people who tell her this, and teaches him to read.  She cosleeps, breastfeeds till they're past two, et cetera--great!  I know lots of people who do these things!  But she talks about them like, I don't know what all you crappy parents out there are doing, but this just felt natural to me.  She refers to having a kid sleep in their own crib as shoving them in a box by themselves. 

So yeah, I kind of hated her even before she started profiling.  But then we get into how she became a profiler; she became obsessed with the unsolved case in her neighborhood and her ex-tenant who she's certain did it.  She's got a very convincing case--maybe not for a court of law, but enough that the cops should have been all over it.  She was dismissed as an hysterical housewife, which I'm sure must have rankled.  From many years later, she tells about what she'd learned about the investigation--a jurisdiction war that put inexperienced cops on the job, a victim's family with enough political ties to put pressure on the DA to close the case, and a local suicide of a troubled man that coincided with the murder--that led to the poor police work.  But she doesn't talk about these things with the "we do our best" inevitability of the seasoned police officer, or with the "we can do better!" enthusiasm of an Atul Gawande of crime.  Instead, she talks with the shrill, "won't somebody think of the children?" hysteria of a nervous housewife.

I hate to sound so dismissive.  It's just that she doesn't sound very professional.  She sounds very anti-cops.  I'm curious how the rest of the book will play out.  Because the next part is where she talks about teaching herself to be a profiler, essentially by reading hundreds of books on profiling and then calling herself a profiler.  Instead of an investigator, or something--it's clear that she wanted to be a profiler, if only from the number of times she says the word profiler on every page.  It's not that she wanted to solve crimes, help victims, investigate, etc.  She specifically DIDN'T want to study criminal justice or forensics, work her way up through an organization, etc.  She wanted to be a profiler, and so she called herself a profiler and set up shop.

Next we'll see how it worked.  I get the impression she hooked up with the press.  I kind of anti-recommend this book, but it's fascinating reading in a train-wreck kind of way.  I mean, the last negative review I wrote was of a book that I slogged through out of duty.  This one I'm reading with shameful avarice, the way you watch a marathon of America's Next Top Model, or Dance Moms.  That's how I feel about this book; I don't recommend it, but I can't look away.

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