These Books Will Satisfy Your 'Making a Murderer' Obsession
So, you’ve watched the Netflix smash hit, Making a Murderer, all the way to its inevitable, gut-wrenching conclusion. You’ve visited all the relevant tumblrs, subreddits, and Wiki pages, building your own little case file of facts and theories. You’ve even considered hedging your lovely locks into a nicely cropped mullet, guided by the show’s unabashedly 90s hairstyles. “Now what?” you think, staring deeper into the shower drain. You could continue listening to Serial, guided by Sarah Koenig’s breathless, zen-like voice, but this year’s season doesn’t quite have the courtroom hubbub that drew you to the first one. You could submerge yourself into the neverending maze of Wikipedia’s lists of serial killers and unsolved cases, but such behavior would adversely effect your already-light sleep. Or, dear reader, you could put yourself in Milk’s corpse-cold hands, as we guide you towards five relevant, macabre books.
Devil In The White City by Erik Larson
Hey, wanna read the book that inspired the soon-to-be-released Martin Scorsese-directed film that will finally catapult Leonardo DiCaprio to his first Oscar? Okay, so we don’t actually know if Leo will win for his role in this film, but we do know that the character he plays, Dr. H. H. Holmes, is one-of-a-kind evil. At the end of the 19th century, Holmes created a troglodytic murder hotel in the midst of Chicago’s World’s Fair, hiring and firing architects so that only he knew its true dimensions. Unlike Steven Avery’s case, there is no doubt in Holmes’ guilt, just a series of grisly revelations. The book adds to the intrigue by balancing Holmes’ horror sideshow with preparations for the Fair, as the head architect and landscaper (who eventually helmed the construction of NYC’s Central Park) struggle to strike a balance between industrial chaos and pastoral calm. These quiet moments, which will likely be cut out for the big screen adaptation, give readers a chance to breathe, to try and wrap their heads around the depths of Holmes’ cruelty. It’s a book that is impossible to put down, even as it drains your last drop of belief in humanity.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood was massively influential when it came to crime writing, and much of the work on America’s obsession with killers in the 90s, from Steven Avery to OJ Simpson and Timothy McVeigh, was Capote-inspired. Not until Capote had anyone taken the time to obsess over every single facet of the killers’ lives, creating a portrait of evil that was scary in its absolute humanity. Capote writes a book that speaks matter-of-factly about the brutal, unexpected murders of the Clutter family, while simultaneously building a sympathetic case for one of its orchestrators, Perry Smith. The book walks us through all phases of the murder: we start in the quiet town of Holcomb, watching the everyday lives of its unassuming victims, before things fall apart, and we’re left in an empty house, rebuilding lives from abandoned diaries and broken furniture. Chilling.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
In Making A Murderer, it’s easy to confuse familiarity with innocence. On screen, Avery seems like a gentle man who can grow beyond his troubled past. But does that suggest his innocence? By now, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are characters known well beyond their literature–they’re adapted in the Batman universe as Two-Face, and appear in the Sean Connery-lead League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Their legacy is maintained in their duality–this sense that man can be both man and monster. Too often, we condemn Mr. Hyde, an ugly caricature of humanity’s basest instincts, and sympathize with Dr. Jekyll, the apologetic, self-loathing man of medicine, but Stevenson stresses the viciousness of both sides. If anything, we should be more wary of the Jekylls among us, those men who would hide their true nature in order to strike again.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
“Surely, viciousness is driven by something. No one would commit a crime without reason!” That sort of causal logic drives Americans into a frenzy whenever serial killings occur. It’s the reason that, until Obama specifically banned the practice this year, the media fed readers with information about suspects as opposed to the victims. “Why did they do it? What led them to this crime?” In less than 100 pages, Camus’ The Stranger shows us why such an obsession can be pointless. We’re never going to know the exact motivations behind killing, because the killers themselves might not even know–any stated reasons fail to justify the action. The choice to do, or not do–that’s where the real dilemma lies. Does this sound a shade grim and impartial? Yep, that’s Camus.
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
To round out this list, we’ll finish with the book that most closely mirrors the events of Making a Murderer. Preston and Spezi’s nonfiction novel has a similar pacing to the show, recounting a series of crimes in the Florentine countryside before opening up into an absurd court drama. Once they smelled a lead, the Italian media, police, and courts rode it into the ground and then continued drilling for oil, crafting a wild account of events that included satanism, cults, and, eventually, implicated the authors of this very book. As exploitable as the U.S. Justice System may be, it is dwarfed in relation to the “would be funny if people’s lives weren’t at stake” theatrics of the Italian system. If you love all things grim and grand–which, since you’re this far in the article, you do–then this book is exactly what Doctor Jekyll ordered. Yeah?
Stay tuned to Milk for more bibliophilia.
Images courtesy of Amazon. Jekyll/Hyde cover concept via Tiffany Orbien.