Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Stranger Beside Me (by Ann Rule)

I don't know why I was suddenly compelled to read this book about Ted Bundy, but here we are. I guess I'd been hearing about it for years as a classic of the true crime genre, and was having a macabre day, and decided to go for it.

The hook of this book is that author Ann Rule was an ex-police officer and crime writer who was writing a book about a series of unsolved serial killings. She gradually realized that the main suspect was someone who happened to be her longtime friend from their days working together on a suicide prevention hotline, Ted Bundy. So as the investigation unfolds, she begins to wrestle with whether Bundy is guilty or innocent, and how to make sense of his actions, and to what extent to be loyal to her friend.

The edition I read has had several epilogues and updates; I gather the first edition of the book came out before Bundy was executed and before his infamy really hit its peak. It was also before he confessed to and gave details about some of the crimes. So this reads a little disjointedly, since it started out as one thing and then kept getting added to. But it's fascinating, almost impossible to put down.

Rule does use the word "coeds" a lot to describe female college students, and does get slightly victim-blamey at parts, talking about women who escaped from Bundy and how they fought and screamed and trusted their instincts, implying that his victims did none of those things. She also puts a lot of emphasis on the tragedy of the victims' beauty and promise. (This is just a minor undercurrent, but I feel compelled to point it out anyway, because I am me.)

It's also a little unclear whether she actually feels Bundy is guilty, or what she thinks of the evidence against him. (One of the "frequently asked questions" she addresses in one of the epilogues is "do you think he did it," so it wasn't just me.) She does clarify this in the epilogue, though. She is definitely a little way too sympathetic towards Bundy at various points, but I think this makes for an interesting read.

I really liked that this book explored both sides of Ted Bundy and her conflict in writing about him. She admittedly fell under the spell of his charisma to such an extent that she was still writing to him and sending him money in prison, out of friendship more than journalistic desire. After I finished it, I immediately went down the Wikipedia/YouTube rabbit hole to watch his confessions and read up on the more lurid details of his crimes.

I followed it up immediately with a chick lit book to cleanse the palate. But if true crime is your thing, check it out.



Blogger Beth said...

If you want another Bundy book (which you probably do not) I thought The Only Living Witness by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth was just chilling. They wrote it before his execution night confessions, but he basically confessed to them in hypothetical form. Ugh. I thought they were better writers than Rule although I think they also do the coed thing and focus a lot on how beautiful everybody was.

1:00 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

See, I kind of do want to read another one and then I kind of don't want to read another one. I'll look it up.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this book years ago, so probably it was either the first or second edition. I remember being incredibly freaked out by it, but intrigued enough to finish it. True crime really isn't my thing!

6:29 AM  

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