Never having read a true crime book before, but having been a long term (albeit mostly casual) fan of John Safran's TV and radio work, I came to this book with a level of relative openness and skepticism, not exactly knowing what to expect of John's writing style. After a bit of time spent getting into the feel of the book (it took a while getting accustomed to his tone), I was very pleased to read this book, especially considering the complexity in the circumstances surrounding the crime. John Safran, as evidenced in his other media work, is very much a people person, although whilst we mainly know him being the director of the show or the main focus, he takes his everyman approach to the writing of this book, one where he engages with the various subjects in a thoughtful and well-researched manner, and expresses his encounters in a way that's accessible to newcomers to the genre like myself. He is not too afraid to ask difficult questions to various people - even the murderer - about topics surrounding race, sexuality, relationships, past history regarding crimes; all of which are very important from the perspective of somebody wanting to follow John on his journey to get as close as possible to the bottom of the story. It takes a little time for the book to establish its voice and tone, but it really is very good.
One thing worth mentioning is that John makes a point of describing the physical appearance of various individuals he either meets or simply notices, in terms of being "black" or "white" (for example, "black security guard"). I believe that he does this because as somebody who admits to being very interested in race, racism and nationalist groups and ideologies from an outsider's perspective (that is, a non-American), he is setting up the southern American social context for his readers, which presumably would be primarily Australian. Coming from the relative consiness from Melbourne's metro suburbs to a place such as Mississippi, where racism, politics, nationalism, and sores left over from the civil war are up front and centre (a mostly alien situation compared to what we experience down under), I can understand his choice to overtly describe people's appearance in terms of skin colour, because in a place like Mississippi, these things probably matter a lot more than other places. He writes his impressions of his time there with a relative innocence like that, which is helpful for gaining a perspective of the South, but with an intelligence and social awarness that allows him to get further into the story of what may-or-may-not have happened.
I've really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anybody who is a fan of John Safran's, especially those with an interest in social politics regarding race, sexuality and various other things that you generally find on his Triple J show. Richard Barrett was an insanely interesting character to read up on, very slimey, manipulative and sociopathic - but always behind the scenes and under the currents of his obsessions - and John sets out a great account of the man and the bizarre life he apparently lead.
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24 June 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a compelling read, and a somewhat surprising left turn for Safran. Like Jon Ronson in Them, Safran becomes intimately involved within the story, and the novel becomes as much about his relationships with the characters and his attempts to construct a genre true crime book as it does the events themselves.
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