Fatal Jealousy: The True Story of a Doomed Romance, a Singular Obsession, and a Quadruple Murder by Colin McEvoy and Lynn Olanoff explores a 2010 mass murder in Pennsylvania (available January 28, 2014).
Sometimes I wonder how true crime writers cope when they spend months (sometimes more) researching and interviewing and writing about violence. This book rekindled my curiosity about that. What must it be like to share your life with killers for the time it takes to write a book about their crimes? Because there’s no such thing as a true crime book that doesn’t have a point of view.
That’s not to say the authors have an axe to grind but they do have opinions and observations and they bring a sense of commitment to the writing here that makes the book visceral and memorable.
McEvoy and Olanoff let their readers know right away that this is not going to be a story about a simple crime. There will be emotion. There will be drama and madness and paranoia and pain.
And there will be blood.
Above all, there will be blood.
York’s eyes were immediately drawn to the blood. A trail of red droplets stained the porch floor in a tiny path leading from the front door toward the steps. It was a light drizzled pattern— almost like someone had flicked a line of red paint with a brush onto the floor— and it stopped before it reached the stairs, as if somebody had started to leave that way from the front door but doubled back inside. A screen door was closed but the front door was wide open and York, who had probable cause to enter the house due to the blood, opened the screen door and stepped inside.
The crime scene is gruesome, but the writers don’t dwell on the gory details. They apply a journalistic, factual focus to reporting what is there, and then make the moment come alive by mentioning the children’s toys lying on the blood-stained floor next to the victim.
Oh, dear God, we think, there are children in this charnel house? Where are the children?
Without getting graphic; without resorting to exploitation, the authors have hooked us as surely as any crime novelist and taken us on a ride-along into a very dark place. We can always close the book if it gets too intense, but the writers are in it to the end and we have to wonder how well they slept during the writing process, especially since everyone involved in the investigation seemed unnerved by it.
Lysek had been coroner since 1992. Before that he spent two years as deputy coroner and about seven years as a police officer in several nearby departments, including Lower Saucon Township, Fountain Hill, and Salisbury Township.
In those nearly thirty years of experience, Lysek had seen more than his fair share of grisly crime scenes. As coroner, he saw an average of between eight and fifteen homicides each year in Northampton County, and had long developed a required level of professional detachment when it came to the violence. Even so, like Morganelli, Lysek felt this particular crime scene was in its own category of atrocity.
This is horrific, Lysek thought as he surveyed the house.
Like the murder of the Clutter family in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, this is the story of a crime so shocking that it became a permanent part of the history of the tiny town in Pennsylvania where it took place. The writers’ meticulous reconstruction of the events that led up to the frenzied acts of killing (and subsequent actions and consequences) and their ability to take us inside the characters who played a part in the bloody drama make the material memorable and not just another true crime story that we might see re-purposed as a television episode.
You will be unsettled by this book, as the writers must have been, and you will be riveted.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction, but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the author of the upcoming novel Misbegotten.