I'd never read a true crime book before, and I settled on this one for two reasons. First, I wanted it to be an Ann Rule book, as she is the undisputed queen of the genre. She got her start writing for True Detective magazine, then worked her way up to a book deal about a series of killings in the Pacific Northwest. These murders were eventually linked to Ted Bundy who was, at the time Rule was researching the book, her co-worker at a suicide hotline. Now, I doubt that God routinely goes around telling people to become true crime writers. However, I think that having America's skeeviest serial killer buy you doughnuts is sort of equivalent to a burning bush or an angel who shows up in your bedroom.
Bundy was not Rule's only up close and creepy encounter with a murderer. In Green River, Running Red, Rule discovers that the Green River Killer came to her book signings on a fairly regular basis. I guess that's the downside of being a famous true crime writer. Every psychopath on the block wants you to write a book about them.
When I remembered the Neko Case song "Deep Red Bells" on Blacklisted, narrowing down which Ann Rule book to read was easy. Between 1982 and 1984, the Green River Killer committed most of the 48 murders for which he would eventually be convicted, and Case was a teenager living in Tacoma, Washington. In a recent interview with the A.V. Club, Case said:
"I remember I cried really hard when he got caught. It was opening up a chapter in my life. I grew up while he was killing women, and on the news, they never talked about them like they were women. They just called them 'prostitutes.' Myself and other little girls in my neighborhood didn't make that distinction; we thought the Green River Killer was going to kill us. We were scared of him. We'd go to school with steak knives in our pockets and stuff."
I think back to when I was a little kid, and we all lived in terror of the blue van that would surely pull up at our neighborhood playground and lure us into the windowless back with promises of candy if we were not unfailingly vigilant and watchful. Then I think about what growing up would have been like if my neighborhood had been stalked by a real menace instead of an urban legend. I can't imagine how scary that would have been.
Having now finished a true crime book, I don't think I'll be reading another one any time soon. They make me feel bad inside. Still Green River, Running Red is a well-written book and Rule pays careful attention to the victims' lives, depicting them as women, not prostitutes, and not bodies dumped in the woods. This is sort of dubious praise to give a book, but I realize it's not for everyone.
I also realize that I haven't said much about the book itself, but if you want to read it, Rule's narrative style actually works well if you're not familiar with how a case turns out. And if you want to know more about the Green River Killer without reading a depressing, scary book, here's a link to his Wikipedia entry.