A Voice Unheard: Why It’s Important to Remember the Victims of True Crime Stories

Read Courtney Summers's exclusive guest post about remembering the victims of true crime stories, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of Sadie!

At the heart of true crime narratives are its victims, voices (often) lost to brutal acts of violence. Their lives are hopefully painted in the recollections of their friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues while we, the audience, circle their bodies in search of truth and justice. If we’re lucky, we uncover both in what remains. But even then, the victim’s voice is absent, and in that absence, sometimes, a troubling distance can take shape.

I first considered this distance when the inaugural season of Serial came out. I thought of Hae Min Lee and everything she could no longer tell us. I thought of the way the podcast’s story expanded and contracted around her, the emotional distance that created within me, and how uncomfortable that made me with myself—and the questions it forced me to ask.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll always enjoy true crime and its commitment to the truth and dogged pursuit of justice. This emotional dissonance was not created by nor was it a failure of the brilliant and innovative Serial. I had just reached a point of desensitization, and exposure to this exciting new format of true crime—a podcast!—revealed that to me about myself.

From there, I became preoccupied with how well we’re serving the narratives of people no longer around to tell their own stories and what my responsibility to those people might be.

These questions largely drive my new novel, Sadie.

Sadie is about a girl who disappears on the hunt for her sister’s murderer and the blockbuster podcast that’s created with a dedication to finding her. Its reluctant host, West McCray, isn’t convinced another missing girl makes for a compelling show (after all, “girls go missing all the time”), but he soon finds himself at the center of a profoundly disturbing mystery he never anticipated.

Will he be able to find Sadie before it’s too late?

Sadie alternates between two different perspectives in two different times: Sadie’s, with her tight, first-person point of view as she drives across Colorado on her relentless pursuit of revenge; and West’s, which details the aftermath solely in podcast transcripts.

This format gave me the opportunity to explore the way true crime approaches the stories of its victims, the way we consume those stories as an audience, and where exactly the truth might lie—and what critical details might be lost in the process of uncovering it.

And who those missing details might hurt the most.

When Sadie finds herself in the darkest corners of big cities and small towns, sometimes interacting with people who pose an immediate threat to her life, readers can accept her recounting of those events at face value. After all, Sadie doesn’t know she’s telling her story to anyone. When West McCray arrives after the fact, he can only recreate those moments in what’s left behind, often via the recollections of others—people who might bend or omit what happened because they have reason to protect themselves. Sometimes, the conclusions he arrives at pushes West closer to finding Sadie—and sometimes, it’s at a cost to her that he can’t foresee. And the whole time this is happening, there’s an unwritten third point of view: that of an eager audience voraciously tuning in episode after episode.

Sadie is not a condemnation of true crime or the people who create or love it—I am, after all, one of those people! But I’m forever interested in the spaces in those stories that can’t ever truly be told, and fictionalizing the category gave me an opportunity to explore them. I got to take a good look at myself and ask those questions I mentioned at the start of this post: how well are we serving the narratives of victims, and what is our responsibility to them?

What I realized in writing Sadie is that the answer will vary depending on the story and who is telling it. Maybe it’s less about the answers than it is making sure those questions are asked.

For me, juxtaposing Sadie’s and West’s perspectives is meant to shine a light on the humanity of the girl at the center of her story, even as it’s commandeered and retold by someone else with the best of intentions. I think it’s important we don’t lose that humanity amid evidence, suspects, alibis, and the gruesome details of the unconscionable acts so readily available to us. It’s easy to get desensitized to a cruel world, as I found out—but when that comes at the expense of its victims, it can also come at the expense of ourselves.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Sadie by Courtney Summers!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Sadie Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/a-voice-unheard-why-its-important-to-remember-the-victims-of-true-crime-stories-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 26, 2018. Sweepstakes ends at 2:59 p.m. ET September 4, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Comments

  1. PinkAmy

    I tried for a Sadie ARC at NetGalley and sadly was turned down. Then they had 24 hour free download and I couldn’t get one because I has previously been turned down. While this doesn’t make me a true crime victim, I was really bummed.

  2. kevinjwangler

    I’ve entered every SADIE contest on Earth and also a few in outer space, so I’m hoping this will be the one!

  3. Sarah

    This book sounds fantastic, and I can’t wait to read it.

  4. Joyce

    I am so so so excited for Sadie. Courtney Summers has never disappointed me with her books and I am looking forward to finally read her next work!! I know this story will be one that will keep me up all night trying to finish it.

  5. becky kasper shemeley

    I have never read Courtney Summers~ I love the mystery thriller books! I will add her to my TBR.

  6. Kim

    So excited for Sadie! <3

  7. Gianne Braza

    I’m so excited to read SADIE! Even if I don’t win, I’m definitely going to purchase it. <3

  8. MARY PRIMORAC

    Looking forward to reading this book.

    • Shirley P.

      Me, too

  9. Joyce Benzing

    Everyone looks so excited to read this book, guess I should be too!

  10. Danielle Hammelef

    My bookish friends have all been raving about this book and I don’t want to miss out on this emotional journey either. Thanks for the chance.

  11. Deborah D

    I love this type of book. So intriguing.

  12. HESTER MAYO

    Sadie sounds like the perfect book to read while soaking up the sun’s rays here in Florida…

  13. downeaster

    Sounds fascinating

  14. Laurie Sweet

    Sadie sounds like an incredibly interesting book that will keep me on the edge of my seat while reading it. I love to read and Sadie is the type of book I truly enjoy.

  15. katevocke

    I keep hearing amazing things about Sadie!

  16. Rena

    This book looks so interesting. My teen daughter and I would love to read it.

  17. Deborah Dumm

    I love this genre of book. So intriguing!

  18. Sara M Lontcoski

    It will be interesting to try to see from yet another point of view.

  19. Chuck Aeschbacher Jr

    I’m just getting more into true crime, sounds like a book I want to read.

  20. Alyson Widen

    Your interview had me at the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to see how Sadie turns out.

  21. Anne

    AN intriguing novel which I would enjoy greatly. Interesting interview and feature.

  22. suekitty13

    I am a huge true crime fan too but I often feel guilty about it, like I’m exploiting someone’s pain for my own entertainment. It’s a tough issue and I can’t wait to see how Sadie deals with it!

  23. Ellie

    Sadie sounds captivating and compelling.

  24. Cara

    Wow! That sounds intense.

  25. Rachelle LeAnn Mallonee

    I am very excited to read this book! I have read many great reviews for it and it sounds very interesting.

  26. Kristen McClure

    I cannot wait to rrad this book!

  27. Kelly

    Looking forward to reading this one. Actually heard about it through Jay Kristoff’s posts. 🙂

  28. Cortney Sparks

    This looks so amazing. Would be my first read by her!

  29. Carole McKinney

    This sounds great. I would love to win a copy!

  30. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  31. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  32. Michelle Menninger
  33. lasvegasnv

    intriguing

  34. Jean Barber

    Sounds like one I’d love to read!

  35. Michelle Menninger

    Oops it pasted my email address.
    Can’t wait to read this and add to my collection!

  36. Nissa Evans

    Hello, thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of Sadie. I’ve been trying to win this book for months and I would be thrilled to win a copy!

  37. Lisa Altland

    This is the first I have heard of this book and it sounds intriguing. I would love to win a copy!

  38. Helen Allman

    Looking forward to it.

  39. Beth Talmage

    This sounds like a very nuanced book, and I would be interested in reading it–on many levels.

  40. Helen Allman

    Looking forward to it

  41. joel timmons

    Cant. Wait. To. Read. This. One

  42. Carolyn

    Sounds like it will be an interesting read!

  43. Sue Smith

    This one sounds awesome.

  44. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  45. Debra Patton

    As a fan of true crime, it would be interesting to see the unseen aspect.

  46. Amy Donahue

    Wow, this sounds really good!

  47. carloshmarlo

    We often do forget the victims in the excitement of getting inside the perpetrator’s head, don’t we? It’s not right. I’d love to win a copy of Sadie, thanks for the chance.

  48. Barbara

    I like the format — 2 different perspectives

  49. Louise Bernier

    Can never get enough well written mysteries! Please!

  50. Jackie Basnight

    Very intriguing. Now I want to know what happens in the end!

  51. Brianna

    Looking forward to Sadie! The #bookstagram community has been raving!

  52. Rose Jones

    I am an avid true crime fan. Sounds like an interesting book.

  53. vicki wurgler

    book sounds great thanks

  54. Jana

    Fascinating post. I like that the story goes back & forth.

  55. Sue H

    Interesting perspective, I’m wanting to read it soon.

  56. Sue Hooley

    I’m interested in reading Sadie.

  57. Michelle

    I’ve entered every contest I’ve found for Sadie. I’m very selective when it comes to true crime. Sadie hooked me from the 1st time a came across it!

  58. Valerie Wiesner

    This sounds like a very intriguing story.

  59. Linda Cosby

    Sounds like a great read.

  60. Lori P

    Great thing to infuse a compelling read with a few lessons in humanity.

  61. Janet Gould

    Great article. Book looks fascinating.

  62. Margit Curtright

    Thanks for the opportunity !

  63. Sally Schmidt

    Thought provoking. Sometimes we get too caught up in the gory details and forget it is a real person we are talking about. Would like to read this, thanks.

  64. Erika H

    I just read Saving Beck and it was so good! I really want to read Sadie!!

  65. L

    The book and premise sound great. I think it’s very important to tell the victim’s story, not just focus on the killer and the killing.

  66. Davima

    I love true crime stories!!! This book sounds amazing!!

  67. Peggy Russo

    Sadie sounds awesome. It will be on my TBR list win or lose. Thank you!

  68. Karen Terry

    Sounds like an interesting read.

  69. Gordon Bingham

    Looking forward to trying this one out!

  70. Nancy J Metzner

    This sounds very timely and fresh.

  71. Holly Bracy

    Sounds like a fascinating read.

  72. pepsiholic

    This book sounds sooo good cant wait to read it

  73. pepsiholic

    This book sounds soooo good cant wait to read it

  74. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    Find the missing! Yes!

  75. Cree Teasyatwho

    Looking forward to reading more from this author! Hope I win!

  76. Melinda Mcclellan

    I’ve been eyeing this book for a couple months now….can’t wait to read it!

  77. DebP

    Very excited to read this book. It’d be great if I won. Wish me luck!

  78. Laurent L

    I can’t wait to read it.

  79. Kimberly Dull

    This sounds like a really great read.

  80. Erica

    I think this book sounds wonderful!

  81. Kelsee Culver

    I would love to win this book!

  82. Julie Rogers

    Here’s hoping I win! Sounds like a great book.

  83. Kelly Rodriguez

    I would love to win this amazing book.

  84. Laurie Bartels

    The reviews of this book have been stellar. I am always on the lookout for a promising good book. Sadie seems to fit that bill!

  85. pablo101

    Looking forward to reading this one.

  86. April Gray

    this sounds like a book that would keep me up all night reading!

  87. SUSAN GANNON

    would love to read thanks

  88. kidmonster

    so excited to read this one!

  89. JoDee Brandon

    Love the cover!

  90. Flannery Crump

    I read this as an ARC and was blown away! I’d love to have my own copy so I can read it again and again.

  91. Terri Parsons

    It looks amazing!

  92. Sharon Zimmerman

    I think the novel presents an often forgotten part of any mystery As a Mystery Book Club member I would enjoy reading it.

  93. Pam Walrath

    Sounds like an intriguing concept.

  94. ViolinGeek

    Sounds like an intriguing and thought provoking read.

  95. patricia sopel

    Looks like an exciting book! Thanks :).

  96. Carolyn

    Looks very interesting!

  97. pat murphy

    Would love to read it .

  98. maborie12

    Sadie looks incredible, and this is a good piece!

  99. MPEREIRA78

    This sounds great~!

  100. MARY PRIMORAC

    looking forward to reading.

  101. Cara

    interesting!

  102. kasiakmr

    Sounds Great!

  103. crystalclearstheshelves

    Thanks for offering! I have been seeing this book online everywhere and I would love to read it.

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