reviewed by Warner Holme
Daniel Sweren-Becker’s “Kill Show: A True Crime Novel” is an interesting title. The fact that the novel is fiction makes one of the words in that title slightly suspect. However, the book’s overall commentary on the True Crime genre somewhat justifies this.
A young woman, 16 years old, named Sarah Purcell has disappeared. Her family, already on shaky financial ground, wondered how they would nurture her musical gifts. A morally dubious Hollywood producer named Casey decides to create a near real-time true crime series about the search for her, promising the family a significant sum of money. But, as is often the case, things are not always as they appear. Both neighborhood and family secrets are slowly unveiled throughout the investigation and the book.
The structure comprises a series of interviews with all major and some minor players in the story. This ranges from suspects and family members to local business owners and teachers. Some character voices differentiate more noticeably than others. There’s a comprehensive and useful list of characters at the beginning, but it’s somewhat deceptive. It mentions one character as being in prison, which spoils a particular plot development. Conversely, it conceals the status of another character being in prison, trying to preserve a twist. Either skipping the character list or omitting their prison statuses would have rendered this section more honest, making the twist feel genuinely earned rather than slightly deceptive. An in-universe explanation does come later, but the twist feels like an unnecessary sleight of hand.
A significant issue arises when an individual, who accurately guesses certain details early on, is portrayed as deplorable. A right-wing conspiracy theorist, he even uses the term “crisis actors” and commits crimes during the story. While the narrative overtly highlights right-wing politicians’ connections to him, the fact that his guesses are so accurate can inadvertently validate his other baseless beliefs.
The commentary on the true crime genre is more nuanced than in other works, right down to a final twist that cleverly critiques the genre. Not every statement aligns with an individual’s perception of the genre, but the diverse viewpoints presented justify this. The police, if not depicted as paragons, are shown as honest, consistently striving to do their best. This representation feels a bit uneven at times, especially when higher-ups are portrayed as corrupt. It can be problematic for those who’ve experienced corruption among rank-and-file officers. However, the story does address its setting within a smaller police force, suggesting that problems endemic to larger forces might not be as prevalent. Like any crime and community, no two are identical, and this understanding greatly benefits the book.
This novel is a quality, concise read. It boasts intriguing characters and a consistently engaging mystery. Unlike many other works that delve into the true crime genre through fiction, this book stands out as a more cohesive piece, without the typical inclusion of podcast excerpts or the like. It’s evident that the author did extensive research, understanding the genre’s deep roots
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