Book review: Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe⁠

Synopsis

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Attorney, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.

Review

I wanted love this book, and while I did enjoy it, there were elements that I felt a touch too slow. I also was expecting more of an explanation as to why so many of us are obsessed with true crime, but I didn’t really feel like that was explored very well despite this being one of it’s selling points.⁠

I loved that this explored 4 types of true crime obsessed women and didn’t just focus on women who had committed crimes. It outlined ‘the detective, the victim, the defender and the killer’. It was a nice change from the usual true crime media that we’re used to.⁠

It feels bad to say, but the section that I felt least excited about was that of The Victim. Now hear me out before you judge me too harshly… Monroe lightly outlines the Manson murders in this section and focuses on a woman who became obsessed with linking herself to Sharon Tate as a ‘family friend’ after the murders. While this story is really strange, it didn’t grab me as I had hoped. In this section, Monroe also outlines Sharon Tate’s mum and the work she did for Victim’s Rights after the murder of her daughter and I found this to be a far more interesting and enlightening story that I wish had been the stronger focus for this part of the book.⁠

Old habits die hard I suppose, as the section I was most intrigued by was that of the story of Lindsay Souvannarath, who was charged in connection to the failed Halifax mass shooting plot. Her story as told in the book was definitely well-done, but I actually listened to the Nighttime podcast series about Lindsay that Monore featured on, and I felt her insight into Lindsay on there had some more interesting points.⁠

Overall I thought this book did a great job of outlining 4 different women who became obsessed with crime in one way or another, and I felt I learnt a lot about how crime and criminal law has changed over the years. However, I think this was a good starting point to learn about these woman but I’d now want to go away and research them further.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Book Details:

Pages: 272
Edition Published:
2019
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Goodreads Av. Rating: 3.75

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