Sunday, November 13, 2022

REVIEW: Murder Book: A Graphic Memoir of a True Crime Obsession (graphic novel memoir) by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

Murder Book is a memoir in graphic novel form. I bought my copy new.


In this graphic novel, comedian and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell attempts to do several things:

  • Explore the roots of her true crime obsession (and why others, particularly women, share her obsession)
  • Provide overviews of some of the murder stories (Zodiac killer, Ted Bundy, etc.) that got her interested in true crime
  • Look at the history of the true crime genre, loosely organized by format, including books, movies, TV series, and podcasts. This also touches on true crime-adjacent stuff like crime dramas and police procedurals

One thing she isn't interested in spending much time on is addressing the problematic aspects of true crime obsession, in part because she seems to think that, if she recognizes it as problematic, she'd have to back off from it (page 294 - I'm aware she's at least partly joking, but still). Instead, she very briefly highlights the ways in which true crime storytelling has progressed in the way both victims and perpetrators are written about.

I've been drawn to a lot of nonfiction and autobiographical graphic novels lately. This one caught my eye because the person I supervise at work listens to a lot of true crime podcasts, and we've occasionally chatted about it. I told her a little about this graphic novel while I was reading it, and she'd said she'd like to give it a shot herself. I'm interested to hear what she thinks about it.

This graphic novel was at its most coherent when Campbell was writing about murders. As someone who reads murder mysteries and has watched a lot of police procedurals but who hasn't gotten into true crime (I listened to most of the Serial podcast and that's about it), I learned a bit, even though most of the killers Campbell wrote about were well-known. That said, the tone was a bit too light and flippant for me, and Campbell's efforts to humanize the victims generally boiled down to giving them each a slightly more realistically drawn portrait and listing two or three of their "likes." The one story that centered the victim more was the murder of Anne Marie Fahey, possibly because Campbell more closely identified with the victim.

When it came to writing about true crime as a genre and the roots of her own interest in it, this book was much more scattered - the author poked fun at herself several times for this, but it really was true. It was kind of a mess. In terms of its format, it also wasn't the easiest graphic novel to read, and I say that as a long-time reader of graphic novels. There are quite a few "wall of text" pages, but the worst were the pages with lots of text crammed into badly arranged panels. I couldn't always figure out the order in which I was expected to read the text.

I thought the exploration of why Campbell and others enjoy true crime stories was interesting, although I doubt her conclusions were earth-shattering, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were laid out and examined better in other works. Like I said, this graphic novel was pretty rough at times, both in terms of organization and physical readability.

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