This is an unusual blend of crime fiction and memoir which may be part of a current trend that is emerging as I note The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich employs the same mix. We meet the author Claudia who, with almost a sense of shame, initially sets out to write a journalistic piece on the serial killer, Kendall Francoise, who murdered eight women in Poughkeepsie, New York and kept their bodies in his parent’s loft.
At first determined to keep her boundaries fixed she writes using a post office box as an address and asks some questions of her killer – but Kendall isn’t so keen to share and the correspondence is as much a game of cat and mouse as the spider and the fly. It turns out that Kendall wants to hear Claudia’s secrets as much as she wants to know his
“Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I’ll have to give it to you, when confronted at least you’re honest, as honest as any reporter. . . . You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn’t it?”— Kendall Francois
The conversation via letters lasted for four years while Kendall was incarcerated before his life sentence was passed in 2000. I’ll be honest that very little of what Claudia set to discover about Kendall or his family, who lived amongst the larvae casings dropping down into their somewhat grotty home, was realised. This isn’t a book to read if you want to hear the killer’s thoughts about his crimes, it is rather a character study of a man who is determined to be in control, and the latter probably goes in some way to explain why those eight women met their ends at his hands in the two short years from 1996 to 1998.
Claudia is an equal enigma as what she is trying to understand about herself is far more nebulous. She seems to be persistently concerned about her obsession with Kendall and wants to find the reason why. It isn’t overly clear from the book whether she makes peace with her younger self or not, but I hope so.
The style of writing had me fooled at times, it reads like a novel despite being non-fiction and although for much of the book, the truth remains elusive and the correspondence teases as if more of substance will be revealed if Claudia can ask just the right question, or maybe give just the right amount of herself to the killer to mull over while he sits in prison, I found it gripping. It is equally as tense as any novel, just as readable as many a psychological thriller, so much so I had to remind myself that this man committed a terrible crime and eight poor women lost their lives because of him.
What the book does show through its two different main characters and their families is that outward appearances can disguise something far darker and if you have lived in this dual world, as Claudia herself did, then trying to understand the darkness can become an obsession.
“He had no special knowledge or preternatural charm. He was what I’d made him.”
This is another worthy addition to my true crime shelf and was the eleventh read for my 20 Books of Summer 2017 Challenge.