So Sarah Monette does the Unread Book Challenge, and one of the books she blogged about was Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me. And I decided to read it.
Everyone remarked on my reading this book–Jason asked me why I was reading it, Scott asked me why I was reading it–hell, even my nine year old kid asked me why I was reading it. And to be honest, I’m not totally sure?
I’m from Florida. I remember listening to the radio the day Ted Bundy was executed; I was on my way to school. My father and I talked about it–my father has read a bit of true crime in his day; it’s not a Thing for him the way the Kennedy assassination or Steve McQueen is a Thing for him, but he went through a phase–and one thing I remember is my father saying that Bundy really screwed up when he tried to grab a cop’s daughter, because she’d been taught about this sort of thing and was smart, and she told her father when she got home.
That really stuck with me, a lot: be smart, don’t trust the guy trying to coax you into the van, and tell a grown up.
I’d also read Small Sacrifices and found it pretty compelling. Granted, that was sometime in college (I think?) so many years ago, now, but I remember the thing with folding the towel to figure out the blood stains, and learning about narcissism, and those kids … and Ann Rule hadn’t actually known Diane Downs, so surely the book about the serial killer she’d worked with would be even more compelling.
Um. No, actually.
It is definitely a product of its time. Diction, sentence structure, word choice. I also found it kind of coy, but I think that’s a problem that stems from hindsight. We know Bundy confessed, but when the bulk of this book was published, he hadn’t (there are three updates at the end of the book, one detailing the time before Bundy was executed). Rule was convinced he was guilty, he was convicted. But the book separates his movements and the murders. It feels like we’re supposed to wonder if he did it. And maybe that last shred of “maybe” is why she wrote it like that–or maybe she was ordering this book by her own discovery of the murders and her eventual conclusion that he committed them? But either way, it really didn’t work for me. I felt very distanced from it all.
And my father’s story about the cop’s daughter didn’t include her brother showing up and scaring the guy off, nor that they followed the van (and got the license number? I think?) before going home and telling their father–and I wonder now if he did that on purpose.