Friederick Nietzsche is famous for his observation, ďÖif you gaze long enough into the chasm, the chasm will gaze back at you.Ē Certainly those who fight the monsters our society produces should be wary of the impact that duel might have on them. However, Iíve often wondered if those who write about these same fiends should also be on guard. So many crime writers come off as shrill magpies making a living off the tragedies of others. Rather than an analysis of what happened and why, too many of these books seem like an endless volley of vitriolic personal criticisms that have nothing to do with the case. For example, the author of a book about the dog mauling case spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the physical appearance of the accused as though being overweight somehow made the crime more horrendous.
Ann Rule is the exception to that rule -- no pun intended. Iíve been a fan since I first read The Stranger Beside Me many long years ago. Although she allows herself to be a character in her own books, she comes off as fair-minded, reasonable and compassionate. Kiss Me, Kill Me is the latest volume of her "Crime Files" series, and itís a doozie. Focusing on disappearances and murders -- mostly of women, Rule covers stories from the 1950s through 2004 -- however, most seem to have occurred in the late '60s and early '70s. Throughout, she relates these older crimes to the Laci Petersen and Lori Hacking cases and notes how sad it is that these types of things happen over and over again.
Although Iíd read about the Harvey Glatman murders before, Ruleís telling brought home the horror these young women must have experienced. She also took some time to explore Glatmanís psychopathy -- itís not enough to say a man is evil or that heís sick. What is endlessly fascinating about any crime is what led ordinary folks to such horrid deeds. As a reader, when I hear that a man hoodwinks a woman, kidnaps her, takes her to the desert, ties her up, rapes her and kills her -- I want to know WHY. Apparently, Rule wants to know why too -- and she goes out of her way to present all the available information that she can. In the Harvey Glatman case, the answers died with him and his victims. Maybe there never was an answer.
What makes Ms. Ruleís books so fascinating is her status as police insider combined with her incredible power as a researcher and writer. Whether itís rape, betrayal, kidnapping or murder, she provides a look at human nature that is intimate and puzzling at the same time.
For example, one of the most frightening stories is the case where a seemingly ordinary person, the director of a drug rehab service, visits two young acquaintances and attacks them with a filleting knife -- killing one, mutilating the other. As the investigation unfolds, we learn that this man had long fantasized about being gutted. After the grisly attack on the two women, police learn that he wanted one of his victims to kill him or heíd kill her. As horrifying as this event was -- and as hard as it is for an ordinary person to understand -- the police did make an arrest and the man was imprisoned for life. However, at that time, life in prison meant less than two decades. He was paroled long ago and is now married and living somewhere in America with a wife and family. One can only hope he doesnít live next door -- and if he does, that he no longer fantasizes about a knife in either his own or anyone elseís flesh.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is described as a man born to do our dirty work for us. Perhaps that is Ann Ruleís role, too. She tackles unfathomable events and serves them up with gentility and grace that promises that, even though ugliness happens, so does beauty. I hope thatís true. Hang in there, Ann.