Rachel Monroe's "Savage Appetites" is a collection of profiles of women who have left distinctive marks in crime.
Obsessions with real-world whodunits seem endless, and Monroe capitalizes on this trend with close-up views that seek meaning beneath the mayhem. Looking at detectives, victims, defenders, and killers, writer and firefighter Monroe investigates the influences and insatiable hungers North American women seem to have for true crime, using four women’s stories as vehicles for understanding. The author’s view of Frances Glessner Lee's handcrafted miniatures contextualizes both her impact on police work and ambition as a woman seeking access and respect greater than what her generation was typically afforded. Lee is positioned at the forefront of the narrative as figurehead, harbinger and godmother to subsequent true-crime aficionados and the budding field of forensics. Monroe tackles victimhood through the blurred lens of public spectacle, considering the infamous Charles Manson murders. She examines the defender role via a death row courtship featuring Lorri Davis, who devoted herself to freeing a prosecuted outcast of the “satanic panic” era. Monroe ably dissects the hidden bias within notions of “victim” and “perpetrator,” looking at such issues as the implicit racism of the criminal justice system and the so-called war on drugs. She stumbles somewhat in blending these insights smoothly with the biographical information. Throughout the book, Monroe balances elements of biography, sociology and memoir, and she also examines participation and spectatorship, writing that murderous interests may derive from divergent impulses like justice-seeking, overcoming trauma or powerlessness, responding to objectification through knowledge-seeking and other notions. “As I got older,” she writes, “my appetite for murder stories seemed to depend on how much turbulence was in my own life. The more … lost or angry I felt, the more I craved crime.” This is a book sure to please fans of mystery and true crime.
"Savage Appetites" is an insightful invitation to consider the contexts and causes of a gritty cultural obsession.
(Monroe will speak and sign copies of her book at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at BookWoman, 5501 N. Lamar Blvd. A-105. Information: ebookwoman.com.)
Sorrow and support
A woman’s faith inspires her to help start a support group for grieving families of 9/11 victims in Pamela Koch's debut memoir, "For Goodness' Sake."
After experiencing the sudden losses of her father and sister in 1976 and 1978, Koch was overwhelmed by sorrow and heartache. She went on to endure intense health challenges of her own, including a cancer diagnosis and multiple surgeries. But through it all, her family’s support was unwavering. It quickly becomes clear to readers that Koch also drew strength from another source: her faith in God. During good times and bad, her religion helped her find the will to go on, which is part of the reason why, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she felt a powerful calling to help the victims’ surviving family members: “I had great confidence that the Spirit would guide me to walk alongside the families of 9/11.” Koch helped to organize the Saint James 9/11 Bereavement Support Group, in Basking Ridge, N.J., which quickly filled to capacity, and she drew on years of experience as a grief counselor to guide families through their darkest moments. Koch leaves out few details as she walks readers through her organizational strategies for the group, and the book’s diarylike format provides readers with a sense of progression through the healing process. There are also multiple references to Koch’s faith, including numerous biblical quotations. The author offers detailed and engaging insights into the psychology of mourning, as well. However, the real proof of the group’s transformative power comes at the end, in the form of personal testimonies by the members themselves. This is the most poignant section of the book, and certainly the most captivating, as people from all walks of life write candidly about their experiences of 9/11 and explain how Koch’s support group improved their lives during its two years of operation.
This debut is a heartfelt, emotionally stirring book about the resilience of the human spirit.