True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murrayby Published 24 May 2016
|True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray.pdf|
|Publisher||Thomas Dunne Books|
When an eleven-year-old James Renner fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic, the missing girl seen on posters all over his neighborhood, it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with true crime. That obsession led Renner to a successful career as an investigative journalist. It also gave him post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2011, Renner began researching the strange disappearance of Maura Murray, a University of Massachusetts student who went missing after wrecking her car in rural New Hampshire in 2004. Over the course of his investigation, he uncovered numerous important and shocking new clues about what may have happened to Murray but also found himself in increasingly dangerous situations with little regard for his own well-being. As his quest to find Murray deepened, the case started taking a toll on his personal life, which began to spiral out of control. The result is an absorbing dual investigation of the complicated story of the All-American girl who went missing and Renner's own equally complicated true-crime addiction.
True Crime Addict is the story of Renner's spellbinding investigation, which has taken on a life of its own for armchair sleuths across the web. In the spirit of David Fincher's Zodiac, it's a fascinating look at a case that has eluded authorities and one man's obsessive quest for the answers.
"True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray" Reviews
When I was offered the chance to read this memoir, I was pretty excited. I read a few of the previous reviews and it seemed like something I would enjoy reading.
There are times when I will go on a true crime binge. Books, documentaries, TV shows etc. It guts me when cases are not resolved and the families and friends of these missing people are left waiting for news of their loved ones.
I enjoyed reading this memoir, although at times it was very emotional. You could really feel how much James Renner wanted to find out what happened to Maura Murray. He became obsessed with it. His interest in missing people and true crime didn't start with Maura Murray's case. When James was only eleven a local girl named Amy Mihaljevic went missing. Seeing her posters plastered all over his neighborhood got to James and from there his obsession only grew. He also wrote a book about the Amy Mihaljevic case.
In this book, James is investigating the case of Maura Murray. Maura was a UMass student who went missing in 2004 after wrecking her car in New Hampshire. To be honest I had not heard of this case myself but while reading this book did some google searches etc. and learned a lot about it. I can see how someone who is already interested in these cases could become immersed in it and want to know what happened. Unsolved cases are always toughest on everyone involved.
I visited the writers blog and while there is a lot of information from the blog in the book, it was still a very interesting read. There are a frenzy of theories about what happened to Maura everywhere on the internet. There also seems to be a lot of difference in opinion when it comes to Renner's intentions, especially online.
A lot of the book is about James Renner himself. It is understandable that after so many years of immersing himself in all the aspects of crime and especially missing person cases it would definitely start to take its toll. This was quite a personal journey for James Renner. We can see how deeply it affects him both professionally and personally. The word "addict" as used in the title is apt in this case for sure. From what I read, I felt that he was honest and open about all parts of his life and that made the read even more enjoyable. He wasn't trying to look perfect, he showed his true self..flaws and all. The reader learns a lot about Renner's family too. His young son's struggles as well as his own.
In the end I thought this was a really interesting and engrossing read and I look forward to reading more by James Renner.
Thank you to Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press and James Renner for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
Edit 12/15/17 This just in from Deadline: http://deadline.com/2017/06/true-crim...
It would seem our dear Mr. Renner stands a very good chance of becoming the seductive anti-hero he's always longed to be. I may throw up.
When you first see James Renner a few things become clear right off the bat. He’s a tense guy. His forehead seems almost permanently wrinkled and his eyes fairly radiate with a gaze that’s halfway between a puppy that just peed on the carpet and a guy who knows the girl he just asked to the prom is going to say no. He seems like a guy who bites his lip a lot and has a tendency to ask if you’re mad at him in that annoying way that eventually makes you mad at him because he won’t stop asking.
Mind you I’ve never met the guy but since it doesn’t stop Renner I’m not sure why it should stop me. I’ve got plenty of photos of the guy and I’ve read tons of stories from other people on the internet who’ve had friends who talked to him or were like in the same zip code he was in one time. I mean hot damn that practically makes us related!
That's basically the entire basis of the colossal trash heap of a book True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, Renner sitting at a computer making one insane leap of "logic" after another and judging everyone he encounters often solely on the basis of whether or not they’ll consent to be interviewed.
Sounds pretty bad even for me doesn’t it? But you guys remember my rules right? I’ll try my damndest to stick to the book and not vilify the author unless I seriously believe he or she is a dangerous person doing dangerous things that can or already are really hurting people.
Then all bets are off.
James Renner wants to be special. You can almost see the things he must dream about at night. He’s the first one the news outlets call when there’s a missing person’s case to consult on. He’s the first one the shocked and grieving family calls for counsel when their child vanishes like a puff of smoke. He’s the one who makes that fateful connection no one else could ever see and makes the collar. There are pictures of him with his fingers wrapped around some sleaze bag’s shirt collar as he shoves the guy up against a wall and the headlines read “Pulitzer Prize winning journalist nabs serial murdering pedophile single handedly!” and “Scotland Yard and FBI in bidding war to make Renner head of elite missing person’s task force!”
Or he’s moving through the shadows of some dim back alley. He is not the law. He is above the law. The rules do not apply to someone like him, someone who moves through the world, among everyday, normal people with a secret rage the likes of which the world has never known. If they did, well, let’s just say Renner wouldn’t blame them for crossing the street when they see him coming. He stalks the worst, most devious sinners and he brings them to justice. His brand of justice. And sure it’s grisly and stories have to be made up and things need to be brushed under the carpet when the people in charge see what he’s done to yet another deserving child rapist. But he gets the job done.
James Renner wants so very badly to be special.
But he just isn’t.
True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, his latest book, is not “an absorbing dual investigation” into the disappearance of this poor girl and a look at the equally mysterious and incredibly deep mind of the reporter determined to solve her case.
It’s a lot of insane sounding drivel written by a very sad, abusive, semi functioning alcoholic drug addict who wants you to notice him.
To give the uninitiated some background Maura Murray was a college student at the University of Massachusetts who, in the winter of November 2003 got into a car accident in the wilds of New Hampshire and simply vanished into thin air.
She’s since become a bit of a siren’s song for true crime buffs. Arm chairs sleuths around the globe debate what may have happened to her on blogs and Reddit threads the same way they talk about D.B. Cooper and the Zodiac Killer. They come up with theories and float ideas and sometimes someone finds a weird email or makes a connection. It’s harmless because 95% of these people understand that while Maura might be a bit of an urban myth she’s also a very real young woman with a group of very real family and friends who miss her desperately.
And then James Renner enters stage left with all of the theatrical, over dramatic grandstanding he can muster. According to this self styled reporter who’s not actually reporting for anyone but himself he became obsessed (his word not mine) with Maura’s case while getting a lap dance from a stripper who tells him about the time someone murdered her sister.
Let's let that one sit a minute shall we?
That’s not a joke and nor is the first time Renner has felt what he'd probably call divine intervention and I would call the voices in his head directing him to "help" a missing girl. The very first line in the book jacket describes an 11 year old Renner “falling in love” with 10 year old Amy Mihaljevic when he saw her missing poster. Amy would eventually be found horribly murdered and her killer remains at large to this day though Renner totally knows who did it of course. It’s all in his book Amy: My Search for Her Killer: Secrets & Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic.
Please don't read that either.
So, where were we? He gets a lap dance from a magical muse disguised as a stripper and decides he’s going to find Maura. Obviously the first thing he should do is stand around outside her old dorm like the creepy stalker he is and following that "plan" through to its logical conclusion he should then get blithering drunk (like Maura may have been the night she vanished) and retrace her route in his car because he once read an article where a guy said there’s a 20% chance we’re living in a computer simulation and this “plan” will obviously cause a glitch in the Matrix wherein he will “see” what happened to Maura.
That is, I am not kidding, how his "investigation" begins.
Like he did with Amy he starts a blog about Maura and for awhile it becomes a magnet for tips, theories and discussion about Maura’s disappearance. People are impressed with him. He’s keeping Maura in the public eye. He’s helping. Like I'm serious here, he is legitimately helping, I'm acknowledging that.
And then it all starts to go horribly wrong.
Renner’s biggest problem is he can’t bear not to be a part of the story he’s supposed to be objectively reporting. He cannot bear the thought that he isn’t part of the narrative. He has to make Amy and Maura about him.
The roller coaster starts to fall when no one actually connected with Maura wants anything to do with him. This can’t possibly be because of his interview style (showing up unannounced at their homes and places of business and saying things like “maybe the police would like to know you wouldn’t talk to an investigator about Maura’s disappearance” or his remarked upon tendency to come off as an obsessive asshole when he’s questioning people). Clearly it’s because they all have something to hiiiidddde from this master of deductive reasoning and seer into the souls of the guilty.
We're treated to Renner's "reporting" on Fred, Maura’s father, who was clearly carrying on a secret incestuous relationship with his daughter. Her sister Kathleen is a drug addict and an alcoholic who won’t talk to him because of her brushes with the law. Her friends are all being warned off and threatened to stay away from Renner because obviously he’s getting too close to the answers. Oh and Maura? She's a "sociopath."
And so a pattern emerges. If you don’t want to talk to Renner you must have had something to do with Maura's disappearance or some other heinous (totally made up) crime which is clearly connected to Maura somehow. He defames so many of Maura’s friends and relations based on nothing but his own insane theories and third and fourth party accounts from people who didn’t even know Maura I don’t know how this book even gets by being classified as non-fiction let alone "true crime."
Renner doesn’t report. He makes up stories. Ridiculous, hurtful stories with not one spot of evidence to support them. He’d argue that of course. He’d argue that he has plenty of “proof” of the utter inanities he spouts as they occur to him. Proof like;
“Some guy on the internet told me.”
Seriously that’s his “proof.”Some random person on the internet tells him that the crash as it’s been recorded by the authorities couldn’t possibly have happened the way they say it happened and suddenly the only answer is that clearly Maura was being followed by a second car that spirited her away to a new life in Canada.
Totally infallible right?
Chapter after chapter is devoted to similarly logical “theories” intermixed with Renner’s own life which is going so far off the rails I’m surprised he’s not sitting in either prison or a mental ward right now.
We’re treated to lovely stories about his adventures abusing his four year old because they’re all out of ideas of how to correct his behavior problems and the hours he spends self medicating his perfectly normal depression and anxiety with drugs and alcohol. Then there’s the chapter where he assaults a police officer and goes to jail. Then he goes to visit his grandfather who sexually abused all the women in his family. He has what he calls frightening encounters with his various suspects where he more or less just like flies somewhere and tracks some poor person down just so he can “look them in the eye.”
I think all of this is supposed to be amazingly insightful and like a window into his soul or something. I was supposed to marvel at his amazingly fucked up life and ponder how no one has ever had a more dysfunctional family or a more tragic childhood.
It’s like he’s yelling “See how similar it is to Maura and Amy? See!? Don’t you see!?”
About halfway through this thingdisguised as a true crime book Maura’s family has had about enough of Fred being called an incestuous child molester and Maura herself being called a “sociopath” and an all around terrible person and makes a public statement on their Facebook page basically begging Renner to stop.
This hurts his feelings guys. It really, really does. Why don’t they understand he’s the only one who can save her!? Why!? What has he done that’s so terrible?
But you know? Up until the very last pages of this book I was gonna give him a pass. Yes, he’s a mediocre writer and an even worse investigator. By his own account he’s a terrible father and a worse husband who has no business judging anyone else’s drug, alcohol, or family problems. But up until those last few pages that’s all he was. Just another asshole who wants his 15 minutes of fame.
Then he did something that I don’t think any decent person can reasonably forgive. I’m going to quote it directly because I think anyone even considering reading this book should know what kind of man this guy really is. This comes from page 268 literally 2 pages from the epilogue. He’s remarking (yet again) about how the family won’t talk to him;
“But I am at a loss to explain their behavior. They do not want this book written. It is clear to me that they are no longer actively looking for Maura.”
Let that sit a minute.
Because these poor people who have lost their daughter, their sister, their friend, this person they loved, this person they have to spend every day of their lives wondering if she’s being tortured or raped or if she met some grisly end they’ll never know about, because they don’t want to talk to this parasite well that must mean they don’t want to find her. They don't care and they're not looking anymore. Because they won't talk to this utter douchebag of a person.
I hope to god none of them read this book. I hope to god some day they find some kind of peace with the terrible tragedy that is surely part of every second of every day of their lives. But as long as people like Renner exist I have little hope they’ll ever find anything like closure.
Renner compares himself to a lot of smarter, better people in this book. But I think the best comparison is one I know without a doubt he’d hate.
To me he most closely resembles poor old Willy Loman. Arthur Miller’s tragic salesman who remembers better days that probably never were when he was a big deal and people knew his name and the mayor shook his hand! He’s the guy who wakes up in the garage with a hose passed through the window of his car but can’t remember how he got there.
And just like Mr. Loman attention must be paid. Attention must be paid and he does not care what he has to do to get it.
*did a little editing on 3/19/18, no real changes to the content I swear.
I received a free copy from the publisher for review.
A reporter who had been fired for his refusal to kill a story about a politician’s sex scandal goes into a strip club and during a lap dance he strikes up a conversation that helps reignite his passion for writing true crime stories. So he decides to look into the disappearance of a college student that sends him down a self-destructive path as he copes with some ugly family history as well as fears about his own nature.
This sounds like the setup for a pretty good fiction thriller with a flawed protagonist becoming obsessed with a mystery to avoid dealing with his own problems, but it’s one of those cases where the facts are probably stranger than any fiction a crime writer could dream up.
On February 9, 2004, nursing student Maura Murray vanished under puzzling circumstances after suddenly leaving the University of Massachusetts Amherst and driving over two hours north. She was last seen following a minor car accident on a rural road but refused help from a passing school bus driver who went to his nearby home and called the police. Even though only minutes passed from the time that Maura spoke to the bus driver until the first police officer arrived there was no sign of her.
In 2009 James Renner had just settled a lawsuit related to his wrongful termination as a newspaper reporter when he decided to dig into the disappearance of Maura. He’d find the family surprisingly uncooperative because usually the loved ones of missing people are anxious for publicity to keep the case in the public mind. With limited information and a belief that journalism today requires total transparency Renner decided to take an open approach to his research of posting information and updates on a blog, and this attracted a group of internet armchair detectives anxious to help who would provide information and tips related to the case. It also took a dark turn when someone began posting creepy YouTube clips that seem to be hinting towards knowledge of what happened to Maura as well as eventually making Renner’s family the subject of unsettling videos.
This is one of those books that I find myself of two minds about. As a non-fiction tale of a writer getting unhealthily obsessed with a missing woman as a way of coping with and/or avoiding his own issues it’s an extremely interesting page turner. It’s also got an intriguing mystery at the heart of it because the more Renner digs into Maura Murray’s life the more evident it becomes that this was a young woman with problems, and there’s a lot of things to question and speculate about including the odd behavior of her father and her history of petty crime.
However, I always find myself extremely wary when the public gets interested in unsolved cases. It’s really easy for cable news, schlock documentaries, and click-bait websites to exploit these. Even when a story is done well with a painstakingly researched and unbiased look at a case like the Serial podcast’s first season it makes me uneasy because it seems to inspire the interwebs to unleash the worst kind of speculative nonsense without regard to facts or the realization that most crime is depressingly mundane and that it’s almost never the result of a flashy serial killer or a conspiracy of some kind.
(I’m not immune to this either. I spent more time than I like to admit poring over the cell phone logs and tower maps posted on the Serial website coming up with my own theory. So I totally understand the allure of a true crime mystery. I just don’t trust the average interwebs user’s ability to solve one. That includes me.)
People are prone to indulging our inherent biases when we try to figure out what happened during some mysterious event, and we are remarkably stubborn about not letting facts get in the way of what we want to believe. We also like to turn anything unexplained into a larger story that follows our own internal sense of logic and will incorporate any random scrap of knowledge that seems to support a pet theory. All of these things tend to combine to turn any case that catches the public eye into a clusterfuck of any wild theories the human mind can concoct, and it seems like the result is often a murky swamp of rumors, half-truths, misunderstandings, and outright lies that make it nigh on impossible to separate fact from fiction. If you send a bunch of hounds into the woods baying after a fox it’s impossible to track the fox later because its paw prints will have been obliterated by the dogs.
I’m not saying that Renner exploited Maura’s disappearance or was irresponsible in his reporting here. He’s got a variety of reasons for becoming obsessed with the case, and as he points out he probably would have made more money by simply writing another novel. For the most part he does do what seems to be a reliable job of research, discounting crackpot notions, and sticking to the facts. However, he also isn’t above thinking that coincidences are the universe's way of telling you something, visiting a psychic, tossing in the idea that the world as we know it is really just a computer simulation, and describing a couple of weird incidents that make his son sound like a character in a Stephen King novel.
At the end of the day Renner has got his own theory about what happened to Maura. His idea isn’t outlandish and there is evidence to support it, but I do question if he didn’t fall into the rabbit hole of looking for a reason Maura disappeared when the answer might be a lot more meaningless and random than what he believes. I suspect that if ever do learn of Maura’s fate that the answer will turn out to be surprisingly simple.
While this digging into an on-going mystery hit on some personal pet peeves of mine with the true crime genre, I still found Renner’s story and writing compelling overall. He also seems like a decent guy who was struggling with a lot, and the book made me hope that things got better for him after he wrote it. Maura Murray’s story almost certainly doesn’t have a happy ending, but there’s still hope for James Renner.
This book is such a good read!
True Crime Addict blends several of my favorite things: gonzo journalism, a real-life mystery, and it's all mixed up with some personal drama. The whole story is bonkers, and I gobbled it up in two days.
James Renner is a writer and reporter who became obsessed with the disappearance of Maura Murray. Maura was a 21-year-old nursing student who went missing in February 2004 after crashing her car in New Hampshire. What actually happened that night? What was she doing there? Where was she headed? Who was helping her? What was the deal with her boyfriend? Why did her father act so weird?
Renner sets out to try and answer those questions. He tracks down witnesses and old friends of Maura, he tries to talk to her family (some of them refused), and he tries to recreate the events of the night she disappeared. He comes up with several theories of what happened, but if you're new to the case, I won't spoil anything here.
Meanwhile, Renner is dealing with his own personal mess, including losing his newspaper job because he mouthed off to his publisher for refusing to print a political story, losing his temper and getting arrested when he felt his family was being stalked, dealing with his child's special needs and abilities, etc., etc. It's fascinating stuff.
There's a lot more in this book, but I'll let you discover it. True Crime Addict was so engrossing that once I finished it, I wished I could have read it again for the first time. Highly recommended!
"The first thing you learn as a reporter is that nothing you read in the newspaper is true."
"We forget how dangerous nature can be. We want to forget, I think. We don't want to be reminded that nature is more deadly than man. Man can be cruel, but nature is indifferent. It is the unrivaled psychopath."
"Some families are magnets for tragedy. It's been my experience the those who have suffered the most are usually the first ones to suffer again."
True crime writer James Renner researches the disappearance of Maura Murray as his personal life goes up in flames.
I got ARCs of this from Netgalley and from Random House.
On the heels of reading The Man from Primrose Lane, I just had to read more James Renner. When two opportunities to read this fell into my lap, I had to take advantage.
Maura Murray went missing after wrecking her car one snowy night. She was never seen again. True crime writer James Renner picked up the scent and dug into Maura's past while embarking on an unintentional journey of self-discover, finding himself in jail, dealing with substance abuse issues, and discovering he may, in fact, be as damaged as the guys he's chasing.
True Crime Addict is written in a style very much resembling the crime fiction I've come to know and love, making for one gripping read. I read most of the book in one sitting, neglecting both household chores and my girlfriend until I was finished. The ending irked me a little until I remembered I wasn't reading fiction. I was cool with it after that.
The case were very serpentine, as real life usually is. Again, I forgot I wasn't reading fiction for most of the book. As I said, the style was very engaging, the opposite of the other true crime book I've read, The Monster of Florence.
I really want to gush over all the details of the book but it's best if you go into it unspoiled. It was one phenomenal read. James Renner is my new George Pelecanos in that I will now track down and devour his books one by one until there is a James Renner-shaped void in my life. Five out of five stars.