The Death List by Thomas R. Clark, Narrated by Cheryl May

In The Death List, Thomas R. Clark takes the baton carried by John Skipp and Craig Spector through the 1980s and runs with it as if he’s being pursued by some entity from one of their novels. Rock ‘n’ roll and exquisitely perverse horror come together with Clark’s guidance and wry humor to produce a thrilling experience from the shocking beginning through the blood-soaked conclusion.
Ronnie Dark had it all, but those years were behind him, and it was beginning to look like he was about to lose everything. Bitter and driven by cruel impulses, Ronnie sets his mind on a path he’s sure will display all of his spite and condemnation of those he perceives as having wronged him. Unfortunately, Ronnie’s plans didn’t factor in the previous resident of his mansion making his way back home.
Patrick Dermotty, nurtured on a diet of television game shows and influenced by the dark goddess who inspired the graphic and horrifying murders that earned him the title of the Balloon Boy Killer, has escaped from the institution where he’s been all but catatonic for the previous three decades. Dermotty’s bloody, violent rampage is far from over, and he’s on a collision course with Ronnie Dark, a man with nothing left to lose.
The Death List is heavy metal Halloween, with one of the eeriest and most unsettling killers ever described on page or screen.
The narration provided by Cheryl May is spectacular, especially her delivery of Dermotty’s unnerving dialogue following his escape from the asylum. She captures the creep factor of Clark’s novella and brings it to an awful but entertaining life.

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Come With Me by Ronald Malfi, Narrated by Joe Hempel

When Allison Decker is shot and killed in a senseless act of violence, her husband’s life is irrevocably changed. But the true extent of his life’s transformations doesn’t begin until he discovers something seemingly innocuous in a box of his wife’s belongings from work. A receipt from a motel in a small town he’d never heard of, from a trip he didn’t know Allison had taken, is all it takes to send Aaron down a path he’d never have imagined possible.
Worried that his wife might have been cheating on him, Aaron begins unraveling the threads of a double-life Allison was leading, and infidelity might have been a relief. Instead, Aaron finds himself stumbling along in the footsteps of the woman he’d married but hardly knew. The truth of Allison’s activities will uncover lies and horrors Aaron could never be prepared to face as he stubbornly and desperately struggles to understand the woman he loved and lost. In the end, we’re forced–along with Aaron–to acknowledge that we might indeed be guilty of haunting ourselves.
Malfi crafts a well-orchestrated mystery that leaves the reader guessing right up until the conclusion. As we join Aaron Decker on his journey of discovery, we’re left reeling with each new revelation alongside the protagonist, forced to question how well we ever know someone and how dark the depths of one’s character might be.
Joe Hempel’s narration of the audiobook is superb, and he captures the confusion, fear, and frustration Aaron feels as he persists in his fool’s quest to solve a mystery Allison may have already solved before she was tragically unable to fulfill her life’s mission.

Your Move by Nat Whiston and Ash Ericmore

A little competition can be a good thing.
Whether it’s your hobby or occupation, rivalry can be a healthy motivator to push yourself to excel. It’s perhaps a bit less healthy when talking about two serial murderers leapfrogging over one another to produce a more gruesome and intricate tableau, but who are we to judge?
The night can be dangerous, but it’s so much worse if you happen to be a secondary character concocted by the combined imaginations of Whiston and Ericmore. Whether we’re talking about power tools, sex toys, or construction equipment, these two will find a way to utilize it in the most gruesome manner possible.
Am I talking about the characters or the authors?
Is there a line that separates them?
Much as their respective characters seek to outdo one another within the narrative, the authors of this deliciously violent story compete the perpetrate increasingly cruel and vicious acts on the page. It must be said that these two work well together in that respect, as any reader will be delighted to discover.
But is it possible that one of these killers is more than they seem?
Is there a grand design of malevolent intent taking shape before our eyes?
You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.

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The Brick Slayer by Harold Schechter, Narrated by Steven Weber

The Brick Slayer provides us with an in-depth study of a series of home invasions and killings that transpired in Los Angeles and Chicago in the late 1930s. The title comes from the killer, Robert Nixon, using bricks to incapacitate the victims.
As interesting as the crime details might be, the vastly more interesting component of this particular narrative is the focus on the trial and the socioeconomic elements that contributed to the conditions of Robert Nixon’s life. It’s fascinating to think that Richard Wright’s Native Son was largely inspired by the circumstances surrounding Robert Nixon’s admittedly reprehensible acts and the reaction of those in law enforcement and the media to such horrific crimes committed by a young African American man. The barely suppressed racism of 1930s America seemed to be on full display throughout the investigation and subsequent trial, but it’s the more subtle and insidious racism of American culture that may very well have set Nixon down the path he ultimately found himself traveling.
Schechter’s insightful case studies are always profoundly interesting, but this one perhaps more so than many others, simply because of the tangential aspects of the society and culture at large during the years when these things took place.
Steven Weber’s narration is superb and well-suited to the Style of Schechter’s writing.

The Pied Piper by Harold Schechter, Narrated by Steven Weber

Harold Schechter’s The Pied Piper tells the sordid tale of Charles ‘Smitty’ Schmid, Jr., The Pied Piper of Tuscon. A strange, diminutive man, Schmid developed a carefully crafted bad boy image and a demeanor reminiscent of Elvis Presley that aided him in drawing attention and devotion from other loners and outcasts.
With the assistance of two of these friends circling in his orbit, Schmid committed his first murder in 1964. He didn’t stop there, murdering two sisters only a little over a year later. Bragging about these killings whenever the occasion arose, he displayed neither shame nor remorse over what he’d done.
Schechter’s portrayal of Schmid and his friends is less than flattering, though much of what he shares seems to be descriptions of these people from either Schmid himself or others in his circle or involved with the case. It’s interesting to see so much detail packed into such a short narrative, and it was fascinating to learn more about one of the lesser-known serial killers from the annals of American criminal history.
Steven Weber provides terrific narration, proving again to be articulate and eloquent in his delivery of the story.

The Ripper (2020)

After disappointing documentaries focused on Richard Ramirez and the Elisa Lam disappearance at the Cecil Hotel, I was hesitant to sit down for another Netflix true-crime documentary.
I’m pleased to say The Ripper more than makes up for the frustration of those other two recent documentary series from the streaming service. Gone is the transparent, painful hero-worship of the police involved in the investigation I found so agonizing to sit through during the Ramirez documentary. Similarly missing is the fixation on incompetent, repeatedly detrimental “contributions” from amateur sleuths in the Cecil Hotel documentary. What we’re left with is a straightforward documentary about the crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, the appropriately named Yorkshire Ripper, and the difficulties plaguing those attempting to investigate the crimes (difficulties often produced or amplified by the investigators involved).
The most interesting aspect of this documentary is that it showcases just how awful the people leading the investigation were at their jobs. The Yorkshire Ripper title applied to the unknown killer seemed to have intensified a series of biases held by these men, nudging them down dead ends and imaginary lines of inquiry. In the minds of those in charge, this man was simply another prostitute killer like the Whitechapel ripper of a century before…even though there was little to no evidence supporting numerous early victims being associated with prostitution at all…beyond the assertions of the investigators speaking to the press.
Latent and widespread misogyny, refusal to look beyond anything that fit a pet theory, and fixation on letters and tapes supplied by someone wasting their time directly and unambiguously led to more murders being committed by Sutcliffe than he would have successfully committed if they’d simply worked with the facts they had in front of them rather than distorting their perception of the facts to fit the preconceived notion of who the killer was and why he was committing these terrible atrocities.
It’s fascinating to see this investigation from the outside, in retrospect, because there’s no reason the case couldn’t have been closed years earlier than it ultimately was. Sutcliffe had been interviewed by investigators a total of nine times during the investigation and one of the cops involved was concerned at just how well Sutcliffe matched a sketch of the assailant from one of the attempted murders. Instead, his superiors ignored his report because there was a single-minded fixation on a certain accent the killer was expected to speak with.
Where the Ramirez documentary spent so much time praising the superstar detectives involved in bringing The Night Stalker to justice, The Ripper spends a lot of time following the case only to finally display just how botched and bungled the investigation was when they finally had their man in custody. It was a matter of a good cop acting on a hunch–a cop who was not associated with the investigation–that brought Sutcliffe to justice.
This one is worth watching.
It delves into the lifestyles and living conditions of post-industrial England and the underlying conditions that made it not only possible but perhaps even easy, for Sutcliffe to perpetrate the crimes he committed. Similarly, it provides a fantastic argument against linkage-blindness and confirmation bias in these sorts of investigations.

Sons of Cain by Peter Vronsky narrated by Mikael Naramore

Normally, when I’m reviewing an audiobook, I wait until the end to comment on the quality of the narration. I have to make an exception here. Mikael Naramore’s narration of Vronsky’s fantastic history of serial killing is perhaps the most perfect match-up I’ve ever witnessed in an audiobook. The most important element is that he so perfectly captures the wry, often sardonic humor of the author. I was disappointed to see that Naramore didn’t further narrate other titles from Vronsky, because there’s no chance in my mind of another narrator embracing and conveying the strange blend of casual discourse and in-depth history lesson to be found in all of Vronsky’s texts. I’ll surely give the other audiobooks a chance, as my significant other and I listen to these while we’re out adventuring, but I feel a sense of disenchantment in advance that is unfair to the other narrators who’ve worked on Vronsky’s books.
Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present is a mouthful of a title, to be sure, but it’s a fitting title for such a densely packed deep dive into the history of serial killers throughout recorded civilization.
Spending a period focusing on the development of the triune brain, as proposed by evolutionary neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean in the 1960s (which, while oversimplified based on our current knowledge, is still a rather useful tool for understanding the way our brains work and how they sometimes malfunction), Vronsky discusses the four Fs that defined the existence of early man (and still define the existence of most life as we know it). Feeding, Fucking, Fighting, and Fleeing are still the core behavioral motivators underlying our daily lives, but with trappings of civility and leisure tossed into the mix.
There’s some analysis of why and how homo sapien became the dominant hominid and the potential role of necrophobia in that success. There’s surely some strong argument in opposition to his theories and hypotheses regarding how and why early man survived while other competing branches of the same evolutionary tree did not, but none of them are any more likely to be valid or accurate. It’s all conjecture and educated guesswork when we’re talking about things like that.
From there, we move on to the meat of the book, detailing early records of “lycanthrope” lust murders from early history, evaluating these past instances through the lens of the present, and applying our current understanding to these things. It’s truly fascinating and well worth the time, reading or (in my case) listening to Vronsky’s meticulous considerations of mass murder cases from centuries ago.
Arguably, the most rewarding aspect of this book is the author’s discussion of Diabolus In Cultura, the combination of cultural factors and arrangements that contributed to the growing numbers of serial killers and the periods wherein we’ve experienced surges of what we would classify as modern serial killers. It’s never one thing, isolated from other elements, but rather a concatenation of sorts that produces a surge of individuals prone to that sort of behavior.
Fair warning, as the end of the book approaches, and Vronsky is discussing the “Golden Age of Serial Killers” here in America, spanning from the mid-1960s through the 1990s, there are some rather long lists involved. They can become more than a little tedious but are essential to capturing a full understanding of what he’s trying to convey. That was the one section of this book where I’d have preferred to be reading rather than listening to the narration.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

With the title being what it is, I should have expected more of a focus on the investigations that led to the ultimate arrest and conviction of Richard Ramirez. They say it right there in the title, “The Hunt for a Serial Killer.” It was still disappointing to see what the documentary turned out to be.

Ramirez is one of the more fascinating characters from the annals of American serial killers, so it stood to reason they might have spent a bit more time focusing on who Ramirez was and what he did. Instead, I ended up sitting through three hours of police hero worship. Strangely, I would have preferred if it had been three hours of that bizarre hero worship that some people devote to serial killers…it would have been far more interesting, at the very least…also a touch more disturbing.

Some elements of the investigation were interesting enough, but certainly not sufficiently captivating to keep me from wanting to stop wasting my time at various points. The crime scene photos were largely things I’d been familiar with from various books and other documentaries over the years, as were many of the first-hand accounts from surviving victims and those who were close to the victims who were not so lucky. There wasn’t much by way of new material being covered with respect to Ramirez himself or the things he did.

There was one point in this circle jerk of police aggrandizement when a detective admits to punching a known acquaintance of Ramirez in the face, being mocked for the weakness of the blow, and when the officer threatens to punch the individual again he cowers and gives up what he knows. I don’t believe that account from the officer. I suspect what really happened is far more sinister and far less in accordance with proper behavior of police officers. My assumption is that the detective withdrew his sidearm and threatened to shoot Ramirez’s acquaintance after learning that he–as Robert De Niro in Raging Bull might have put it–throws a punch like he takes it up the ass and that his machismo and badge simply weren’t enough to get his way. That is, of course, just my impression of the segment in question. I could be wrong, but the story told by the detective simply wasn’t internally consistent and didn’t ring true at all.

The one thing I can say about Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is that it does reaffirm my contempt for Dianne Feinstein. How she handled things as Mayor of San Francisco was short-sighted and counterproductive. Her actions may have directly led to Ramirez avoiding capture long enough to ruin more lives. How she continued being voted for after that boggles my mind.

I can’t say that I’d ever be able to recommend this documentary to anyone. It’s tedious, sometimes mind-numbingly boring, and nowhere near as shocking or graphic as I was led to believe. It’s heavy handed in its overwhelmingly favorable depiction of law enforcement and largely neglects to tread any new ground.

https://www.netflix.com/title/81025701