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Elusive search
by Alasdair Lees March 09, 2018
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“The race was yours to win,” true-crime writer Michelle McNamara confesses to her nemesis at the end of her extraordinary investigation into one of the most relentless human slaughterers in US history — for the man she called the Golden State Killer, who with impunity waged an implacable 10-year siege on the California suburbs from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, was never caught.

In the final chapter, Letter to an Old Man, she imagines this terrifying ski-masked phantom savouring his victory in his twilight years. She fantasises about the net she helped build finally closing around him, but nearly two years after her death he remains at large.

McNamara died at the age of 46 from the effects of prescription drugs and a heart condition after spending five years writing through each night in the hope of helping to catch the man responsible for 45 rapes and 12 murders.

McNamara fascinatingly evokes the development of post-war Californian suburbia. The Golden State Killer, according to McNamara, was driven by a consuming hatred of the nuclear family, hanging out at open-house days for prey, bludgeoning victims with heirlooms and splintering marriages by grotesquely forcing women to re-enact the intimate acts he’d watched couples engaging in through their expensive windows.

As McNamara evocatively describes, this was an era of hope, where the suburbs offered a way to “shed your past and debut a new life,” but it was also a period where dark truths were beginning to emerge, such as childhood trauma in books like Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. McNamara tentatively posits that the killer, described by many victims as a hyperventilating, under-endowed man-child who cries for his mother, was abused.

McNamara, who studied for an MFA in fiction writing, has a novelist’s eye for what emerges as her true theme: the illusion of the Californian dream. Under the suburban carapace lurks a terrible alienation, where the killer becomes the “only thread” connecting neighbours and families as “they fail to look out for each other.” As McNamara reminds us, this was also the era of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a film that encapsulated the dire rates of violent crime at the time, even in California.

“Janelle roved in her monochrome tract in kind of fitful, searching haze. The jolt she sought, the love, never came,” she writes of one of his younger victims. A brilliant, shattering work of art.

The Independent

TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET HOME: THE EVOLUTION AND TRIUMPH OF FEMALE FRIENDSHIP
by Kayleen Schaefer

Women of my generation especially understand what it means when a friend says, “Text me when you get home.” In six small words she is speaking volumes. She wants to make sure you are home safe, but she also wants to make sure you know the memories, witty banter and love don’t stop when you walk out the door. This is not something men typically do after a night out with their bros. Why they don’t eludes me and my X-chromosomes, but I am glad my female friends are part of the text-me sisterhood. Text Me When You Get Home offers an in-depth examination of female friendships, how we model them after our mothers,’ why the “mean girl” myth persists and why you can feel more intimately connected to a lifelong best friend than a romantic partner.

SUNBURN
by Laura Lippman

Consider the femme fatale. Deadly, beautiful, world-weary, she evokes a bygone world of swirling cigarette smoke, moody lighting, shimmering neon seen through a rain-washed windshield. Seldom does she take form as memorably, though, as she does in the guise of Polly Costello, the dark heroine of Sunburn, the new book by Laura Lippman. Polly is about 16 different kinds of bad news, and her arrival in sleepy Belleville, Delaware, is the first step in what becomes an intricately plotted spiral of betrayal, corruption and death. What makes the book so lethally seductive is Lippman’s utter control over the narrative, which ticks away with relentless fatalism. The forces of lust and death, the great twin obsessions of American noir, thrum just beneath the surface. Most important, Lippman has complete mastery over the slow drip of a sinister past coming into focus. Like all thriller writers, Lippman is a canny student of human psychology, and she knows that a secret half-glimpsed can be far more potent to an active imagination than a secret laid out in capital letters.

THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY: HOW A FORBIDDEN RELIGION SWEPT THE WORLD
by Bart D. Ehrman

After the violent death of its messiah, Christianity must have seemed destined for obscurity. But instead of disappearing, it grew — from a few thousand souls to about 30 million in just 300 years. How in heaven’s name did it happen? That’s the big question behind biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman’s erudite and engaging new book. As an academic historian, he won’t accept appeals to divine providence. At the same time, he’s also sceptical about common secular answers, such as the idea that the Roman Empire became Christian as a direct result of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in AD 312. In this contest for religious market share, the pagans didn’t advertise; the Christians did. Early Christians “used their everyday social networks and converted people simply by word of mouth.” Could word of mouth really spread Christianity across the Roman Empire? Ehrman believes that the answer is yes. Ehrman’s conclusions are debatable, as he knows perfectly well. Like a good college lecture class, his book offers both a wealth of historical information and, to make sense of it all, a few plausible theories — including his own. He doesn’t tell us what to think. He gives us a lot to think about.
 

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