I'll Be Watching You
It wasn't until after I'd passed the collection of black and white photos in the center of this book that I happened to glance at the back cover, where the publisher, who, for the sake of their reputation shall only be known as PINNACLE BOOKS of the KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP, shrieked, by way of advertisement, "Includes 16 Pages of Shocking Photos!!"Really? I didn't recall seeing anything "shocking", so I must have missed something. I flip back to the photos, curious. We see family photos, childhood photos, graduation photos, one mugshot, diagrams drawn by a medical examiner, houses, the outside of a Hartford tavern, a missing persons flyer, two aerial photos of a crime scene taken from such a height I'm convinced the space shuttle astronauts had nothing better to do with themselves that day, a rope, an automobile, a stapler, and the entire Rodriguez family of Connecticut. So unless the anglophiliac "Kensington" group is shocked by the appearance of a Latino family in waspy Connecticut, or is easily undone by office supplies, what on earth were they babbling about?This is not to imply I actually wanted to view any truly "shocking" photos - I didn't. I was perfectly content with the lot they printed. The point was that, like the contents, this true crime story is vastly over-hyped to the point of silliness, like the lie about the "shocking photos" and Vincent Bugliosi claiming the author "is one of America's finest true crime writers" on the front cover. This is another lie. No, he isn't. Bugliosi and Rule have turned out far better ones, and even Bugliosi had to have known that. (I can never figure out why authors allow themselves to be quoted on book covers saying rapturous things they couldn't possibly mean, unless they've completely lost their minds and need to turn in their Writers Guild membership cards).But in my own view, Phelps as a writer has a number of problems.Fist and foremost, he is unable to distance himself from the crime and the participants. He doesn't let the reader develop his or her own thoughts about it - he insists on dragging you over to his sneering distaste for the subject matter, whether you want to join him there or not. If the facts "speak for themselves", as he pointed out in some rather hysterical and rude letters to the imprisoned killer, then he should have allowed them to do so, without inserting himself and his own disgust for the killer into the mix. His prejudicial point of view became a little ridiculous: as the case came to trial, the daughter of one of the victims was otherwise occupied breaking the law and violating parole under the noses of the police, but Phelps only shrugs and blames the killer of the girl's mother for her disordered frame of mind. Since the law-breaker was needed at the trial, it is possible her stunt could have allowed the killer to walk free and murder more women if she hadn't been arrested for her parole violation. But Phelps has no problem with that: apparently, it's acceptable to break the law when you're a family member of a murder victim and feeds him material for his novel. Lovely point of view for a "true crime" writer. Like the killer, the author has a disturbing breast fixation, saying of one victim, "She was HUGE." One look at the "unshocking" photograph of the woman and you realize that she was perfectly normal in that regard, unless the author was privy to measurements the photographer wasn't. He drifts dreamily into lurid details that make the reader wonder uncomfortably which one of the two of them had the more disturbing obsession.He also doesn't trust readers to understand basic English. Here he describes the sister of a murder victim talking about their mother joining "Parents of Murdered Children".Barbara said, "It was her catharsis". At this point, Phelps decides you are perhaps unable to understand the meaning of the big, three-syllable word "catharsis". So he jumps in with synonyms and definitions. Lots and lots of them, one right after the other."A pacifier." (Yeah, OK, we got it)"A cause to help her bridge the gap between losing a child and understanding that there was nothing she could have done to protect her." (OK, bridging the gap - catharsis - pacifier - really, we heard you the first time)."That maternal instinct." (Alright already)"That bond." (Enough!)"The mother-daughter connection." (Arrrrgggh!)"Inseparable". (Reader briefly considers throwing book at the author's head and demanding a refund).Finally, as much as one hates to admit this, the killer isn't even all that terrifying. He's narcissistic, yes. Psychopathic, certainly. Needs to remain locked up, absolutely. Obsessed with Ted Bundy, but unable to even sink to Bundy's depths of depravity - although goodness knows he tried. But basically no different than all of the other psycho-sexual sadistic serial killers this country overproduces like an unholy gross national product - just (thankfully) not as prolific as some others. Still, at least two women died horrible deaths at his hands, and one other barely escaped with her life, and he's not going to be set free to do it again any time soon. That at least was the only bright spot of this unfortunate account.Equally as disturbing are the people in this story who are as callous and evil as the killer: the landlady who refused to open her door while a victim, covered in blood from numerous stab wounds, nearly bled to death in the hallway (and then tossed her out of the apartment when she suvived); a victim's "christian" mother who considered her brutal assault just punishment for the "sin" of divorcing a violent and absuive husband; a priest - and the victim's own brother! - who also blamed her for meeting the killer at a "sinful" dance. If the killer was a candidate for "evil", these people were in line right behind him.Oh yes. If you're a woman and meet a normal-looking, outgoing, charming guy from Rutgers in a bar, or in a church dance and the thought goes through your head that your mother would approve of him - especially because all of his Hewlett-Packard co-workers think he's a swell guy who wouldn't harm a fly? Put down your drink ... back up slowly ... and run like hell.