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
So this is a review that has been a long time coming- and AGAIN, I have to apologize for it being late- since I was given this book free in exchange for a review.
Thank you James Renner and thank you to karen (no caps)- for providing it to me. This is a solid 4 star book!...but I did have a couple of reasons why I didn't add that extra star that I will touch on later...but first let me sum up what this book is about....
February 9, 2004- Maura Murray disappeared off the face of the earth.
Maura- a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst- left campus- packing her car, emailing her professors and work supervisor that she was taking a week off due to a family emergency.
There was no family emergency.
What there was, was a bunch of puzzles left behind to solve. On the surface a good student, a zest for life- with everything going for her- looks...smarts, a happy close knit family, a loving supportive fiance....a brilliant future ahead of her. The stuff people don't just leave behind...
...but the investigation of her disappearance- on a dark semi-isolated road uncovered- a drinking problem, possible family secrets, a pending court case, and maybe a not-so-perfect life.
Was she taken??? Or did she disappear by choice? This is something we will never know- unless she is found someday...dead...or alive.
So what did I have problems with?
I am not a fan of internet -couch potato- sleuths... and Mr. Renner is not one of those. He goes out of his bubble to try to track down the story- but he does seem to have a respect for those who don't- that I have to disagree with. I think they do more harm than good- and their judgments make me cringe most times. Without all the facts you cannot- judge the situation...period.
The other area I disagree with him on is even bigger...and concerns Maura Murray's family dynamics.
James Renner cannot fathom a world in which a family would not welcome his "help"...and I have to completely smash his views on this...
My family would not want you involved if I ever disappeared. I can guarantee it.
It doesn't mean they don't love me. It means they would not want their life spewed over the unforgivable internet. It doesn't mean they are odd...it doesn't mean that they are suspicious or responsible for my death somehow or that they helped me disappear. It means they are private. That I am private. It means that there are things I wouldn't want everyone to know (I have not always lived the perfect life)...it means that there are things that THEY wouldn't want everyone to know about them (they have also lived a life not so perfect). Just because you don't mind the world knowing all of your baggage and your flaws- it doesn't mean that everyone lives in that same head space.
Bravo!!!.... for letting the world into your secret (sometimes crazy) dark corners- James Renner...but don't judge those....or become suspicious of those who don't want that same scrutiny. It doesn't mean they are uncaring. It just means what it means....and that is- They don't want the world let into their drama. I know in this day and age that seems foreign...but really it is kind of normal.
One day, hopefully we will have all the answers- because Maura and her family deserve to have closure- and I for one think they alllllllllllllll deserve it...regardless of the fact of whether they cooperated with internet sleuths or people writing books.
...but even though I disagree with Mr. Renner on those two very BIG things. This was a book I can recommend wholeheartedly- regardless of our differences.
James Renner is a creep. This is a man who posts pictures of random women on his blog, plucked from social media and other sources, and encourages his internet troll army to speculate whether or not they are "really" Maura Murray. This is a man who has called Maura Murray a sociopath, a baseless accusation that in no way suggests Renner cares about the subject of his obsession. This is a guy who drove drunk to simulate Murray's possibly inebriated drive through New Hampshire. He could have killed someone. This is a guy who punches a cop and thinks he's the victim. According to a personality test, he tested as "similar to Ted Bundy." Hmmm.
Despite assuming a position of authority and asserting himself to be an important part of the investigation, Renner has no real press credentials. He's on the outside of this investigation, looking in, demanding answers he's not entitled to and making it up as he goes along.
A large portion of this book focuses on Renner himself-- his serial rapist grandfather, his almost-abduction as a child, his inner demons. I have to say, it's not a boring story. And it's honest. That's more than I can say about the portions about the Murray investigation. Those are less honest. There he relies on inane details fed to him from internet sleuths that he then sensationalizes and puffs up. He treats rumor and innuendo as fact.
Renner stalks Murray's family and friends, and when they won't talk to him he decides it's because they are hiding secrets-- secrets he makes up in his head. Renner hints that Maura's father won't talk to him because he's hiding sexual abuse. There's no evidence of that, at all. A friend won't talk to him because she's hiding that she helped Murray escape. There's no evidence of that, at all. Families of the missing are NOT public property. They don't have to answer questions from every Tom and Harry just because. They have no obligation to satisfy curiosities or entertain conspiracy theories. No one owes Renner an interview no matter how badly he wants one. The Murray family clearly does not believe talking to him will help find Maura. They are entitled to make that determination, and I don't disagree with it.
Renner speculates that Maura may have been pregnant. There was birth control pills found in her car at the time of her disappearance, a detail that's pushed aside in favor of veiled hints. Renner isn't shy of portraying Murray as a promiscuous woman with lots of secret men in the shadows. He insists Murray was followed to New Hampshire by a tandem driver. No one saw the headlights or saw the car or heard the car. His theory is that the driver "doubled back" once Murray crashed, very possibly drunk (wine spilled all over the car) and ushered her off to her new life in Canada. It doesn't make a lot of logical sense. If the second car had seen Maura crash, it would have been seen by the eyewitnesses. If it was too far ahead to see the crash, Maura would have needed to contact the driver-- but there is no cell service in that area. Plus, she left her car full of her possessions, things she must have felt were important enough to take to her new life. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's unlikely enough that a "journalist" like Renner should have the sense not to treat it as fact.
Maura Murray was not a perfect person. She was, however, by all accounts, a nice girl with flaws. She was in her early 20s and had her whole life ahead of her. Who knows what she could have achieved. James Renner has turned her disappearance into a cottage industry and is banking on it, big time. And goodness knows a tabloid-style story sells. I just feel sorry for the people caught up in the tidal wave of Renner's ego.
Please don't read this book.
”’How’d I do?’ I asked.
‘Your results were very similar to those of Ted Bundy, the serial killer.’
That’s one of those statements you just can’t unhear.
‘Don’t get too upset,’ said Roberta. ‘You may have the psychopathy of a dangerous man, but so do many cops. In fact, a lot of CEOs would have scored the same as you, or worse. Donald Trump is probably a sociopath. But it’s what makes him successful.’”
Ok, you have just been compared to Ted Bundy and Donald Trump within the space of a few seconds, but it is ok because your therapist has just reassured you that you are smart enough to control those compulsions.
Welcome to James Renner’s world.
To a normal person, this would be an unnerving revelation, but for a guy like James Renner this type of diagnosis is terrifying.
He knows things.
He knows things about his Grandfather Keith, predilections that were unchecked for decades, leaving a multitude of victims in his wake. Renner gets calls from the preschool regarding the out-of-control behavior of his son. The fear, of course, is that he has been a genetic conduit from his grandfather to his son.
That will screw with your head.
I make odd connections in my life all the time. Every time I read a book or watch a movie, I have increased the number of possibilities to experience a moment of serendipity or one of those peculiar tingling situations when I feel the dominos of the universe shuffling around for another play. Renner started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few days ago. He stops in a strip club for a diversion, to change the buzz in his head.
”She stood and, gyrating to the music, turned around. The bottom half of her back was covered by a beautiful, inky-black dragon.
‘Do you like it?’
I am no longer surprised by the weird coincidences that occur in my life. After writing about crime for some years, I came to believe that there was a kind of blueprint to the universe, a certain order to the shape of things. ‘Fearful symmetry’, I’ve called it.”
Renner becomes obsessed with missing information, with missing people, with crimes that refuse to be solved. For someone with his psychopathic tendencies, is he really just living vicariously through the actions of other psychopaths? To me the old adage “use a thief to catch a thief” is really relevant here. Who better to catch a psychopath than another psychopath?
The devil is in the details.
Maura Murray just disappears. It was as if the Earth just swallowed her up. She is a good girl, but there are cracks in the veneer of all that goodness. She is promiscuous. She drinks too much. She has been caught stealing. She is rebelling against the set arc of her life. She is a world class runner, and one thing runners do well....is run.
Did she run or did someone kill her? As Renner investigates, he keeps hitting walls. The family has closed around the father, and he is showing up like a bad penny whenever Renner tries to get someone from the family to talk. Maura’s father doesn’t trust his intentions, and half the time the writer isn’t sure he trusts his own intentions either.
What made this book really interesting to me was the fact that Renner is inviting me to go along for the ride. He shows how he painstakingly works his way through piles of information from which he gleans slender leads and a bunch of dead ends. We talk to people who provide new lines of inquiry, and when a door is slammed in Renner’s face, it is slammed in mine as well. I can understand how Renner becomes obsessed with these cases. The police have taken it as far as they can take it, but if a guy like Renner keeps digging, he might just find that nugget that breaks the whole case wide open.
The missing woman and his life start to blur together. The problems with the case bleed into his personal life. His personal life colors the aspects of the case. It is impossible for him not to think about the issues with his grandfather without thinking about the problems with his son. Maura was very close with her father, and their relationship is a flag in his brain whipping in the wind. What does her father know?
He can almost see her. He can almost fit the eyes and hooks together. The truth is there, just barely out of reach. He sees improvement in his son. He reaches a resolution with his feelings about his grandfather. Sometimes writing a book is better than therapy.
Compelling and honest, this is one not to miss.
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i interview james renner here:
in the opening pages of this book, the recently fired, mildly disgraced investigative journalist james renner goes to a gentleman's club where he manages to derail a perfectly good lapdance into a quiet reflective conversation with his stripper, whose sister's killer was about to go to trial for her murder.
that is what a true crime addict looks like - someone for whom boobies are not always the most interesting thing in the room.
throughout the course of this book, james renner will investigate crime, get himself incarcerated, be verbally and physically abused, follow false leads, learn that he scored "very similar to" ted bundy on his psychopathy test, spend the night in a room full of teddy bears, find a chilling surprise in a dirty magazine, drink and drive to put himself in the shoes of a missing woman, get into cars with strangers, take the advice of a psychic, explore his own family's legacy of violence, be internet-stalked and threatened by a creepy dude making targeted videos straight out of a low-budget slasher film, witness his autistic son predict the future with chilling accuracy, discover a modern-day underground railroad, and casually, but earnestly, drop in some theoretical physics bombshell about how there's a fairly good chance that the entire universe as we experience it is just a computer simulation in which it's possible to trigger glitches in reality.
this is not your typical true crime story.
this is a true crime story by james renner, whose fiction has never felt the need to confine itself to any single genre or any reader's expectation so there's no reason to have anticipated anything different from his nonfiction. however, this approach is much more difficult to adapt into nonfiction, even narrative nonfiction, without the story seeming scattered or lumpy or purposeless.
this book, whose focus is on the mysterious 2004 disappearance of maura murray, is not lumpy.
the recent popularity of nonbook sensations like Serial, The Jinx, Making a Murderer, and The People v. O.J. Simpson have helped to elevate the true crime genre out of its literary gutter, long sneered-at as being the pap of supermarket checkout lines - those garish and jaggedy-fonted mass markets in which violent crimes, usually against women, are exploited for some ghoulish frisson with no merit but shock value.
because while, yes - that is a large part of the true crime market, there are nobler and more meaningful reasons to examine the realities of a world, computer simulation or not, in which violent things happen: to explore causation, study historical context, identify cultural or socioeconomic factors of crime, predict patterns, dissect psychology - to figure out why these things happen, if they can be avoided, and what all of it says about us as a species.
but this book isn't quite that, either. it's somewhere in the middle. it's neither sensationalistic nor academic in its treatment and it lives in this space where memoir and true crime and metaphysics spin into a story of absence and obsession and the impossibility of inherent truth while acknowledging the eeriness of coincidences, recurrences, or as renner borrows the term: fearful symmetry.
this is, instead, a story of a man, suddenly rudderless, obsessed with finding the why and how of a woman's disappearance, and what the search for these answers did to him: Without the rigid structure of newspaper reporting, I was becoming increasingly manic. The only thing keeping me sane, really, was the mystery of Maura Murray's disappearance.
renner has the dogged spirit of a journalist with a novelist's flair for the dramatic, which brings a perfect balance to this kind of writing. he's a storyteller, with a tone chatty enough to draw the reader in, but his professional background allows for a more authoritative perspective than many - he knows the tricks of the trades of both the media and the police, he has contacts that can lend their expertise to special skill sets like statement analysis, he's familiar with procedure, jargon and shorthand; what it means when something is not being said, he can identify the anomalies in this case and extrapolate from that. and there are a lot of anomalies in this case, niggling discrepancies, outright contradictions, red herrings.
he also, with his bundy-grade sociopathy, has the kind of tenacious mind that not only sees anomalies, but must understand them and what they signify. he's obsessive, he won't back down, he's a little self-destructive, and isn't shy about crossing the line from investigation to invasion when he comes up against the reluctance or flat-out animosity of friends and family members who absolutely do not want him writing this book. as his psychologist tells him, claiming that true crime writing may benefit him: "Your mind works like the people you chase after. Like a good detective. You're a sociopath, too."
and he just goes balls to the wall, not only picking apart the case, but bringing so much more to the table in his asides and tangents, locating the echoes and odd synchronicities in the bigger picture: the violent history of early new england, the genocide of the abenaki (who believe our universe is a dream and that words have souls), the BTK killer, ariel castro, as well as those found within his personal sphere: a violent grandfather, his own near-abduction as a child, the stalking of his sister, the emerging violent tendencies in his son and his attempts to manage his own rage with prescription drugs and alcohol.
I knew him for what he was: a crazy man only pretending to be dangerous. And he had no idea who I really was: a dangerous man working really hard not to be crazy.
it's a messy case, but fascinating. during the course of his investigation, he will hear a wide and varied range of theories and suspects from his sources, each plausible to a degree, and maura murray's squeaky-clean and sympathetic façade will chip away to reveal the laura plamer-caliber mass of secrets underneath.
moral of the story - don't go missing, because that's the end of your privacy.
by the end you have a pretty convincing picture of what went down, but as he says right from the beginning: The first thing you learn as a reporter is that nothing you read in the newspaper is true…Every article you've ever read is a little untrue. I guarantee it.
or, more universally:
There's no real closure. This is an existential world, my friend.
i know i have grumbled before about authors of nonfiction who insert themselves too much into the story (*koff* The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City*koff*), but in this case, it feels more natural. a privileged white girl interviewing homeless people living underground, who have established a complicated society with its own rules and hierarchies and history - it's clear which of the two perspectives is the more interesting.
but here, with a case in which so much is unclear, the story of the frustrations of the investigative process and the strain of a distraction becoming an obsession; of what the helplessness of not-knowing does to a man, a marriage, a family, a mind - that story must hold as much appeal to a reader as the story of a woman who disappeared.
the only reason i gave this four instead of five stars is because full disclosure: i got to hang out with james renner before i read this, and when he was describing to book to me, the angle that most interested me was this idea of tracing a line from his grandfather's violent crimes, his own experience of abuse, the propensity for violence within himself, modulated with medication, the manifestations of violent tendencies in his son, the discomfort of studying violent men while worrying about his son becoming a violent man, and the fears of having another child: I didn't know what I was more afraid of: that it would be another boy, or that it would be a girl brought into a world full of dangerous men. i wish there had been more of that, because i think this immersion into the study of violence can have a desensitizing effect until it becomes personalized, and i could have read so much more about his own experiences navigating this psychological minefield.*
and i could have read an entire book about his son's spooky talents.
okay, there are two reasons for the four stars - also because i don't want my integrity questioned. these are my true and honest opinions of this book, and even though james renner did buy me a plate of berries, i cannot be bought by a plate of berries.
let's call it a 4.5 - they were very good berries.
* this is not a true spoiler; it just doesn't really fit up there, but i wanted to include it as an example illustrating what i'm talking about in terms of parallels and the personal :
come to my blog!
In 2011, the mysterious disappearance of Maura Murray caught the eye of freelance investigative journalist James Renner. But this wasn’t exactly new territory for Renner. Years before, he had dug into the disappearance of Amy Mihaljevic, a case that left Renner with PTSD. Why would he want to subject himself to this scenario again, you ask? As the title says, it’s an addiction. Renner has an undying thirst for the truth and True Crime Addict takes the reader inside the author’s quest to quench it.
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I thought this was a hell of a great read. While it did start a little on the slow side, it didn’t take long for Renner to push the pedal to the metal. Extremely short chapters (we’re talking three-to-four pages in length) help to speed up the book making you feel like you’re flying through the story. This is likely why I gulped down huge chunks of it in single sittings (“only one more chapter, then I’ll go to bed. OK, that was pretty short, only one more.. etc”).
Along with his frustrations in trying to break open the Murray case, Renner weaves in bits of his own history (one particular part of his past is not the easiest read), detailing both his childhood, career and current struggles with his son’s violent and strange tendencies. I thought this was an excellent choice. Not that I see anything wrong with an entire book delving into the case itself, I just felt that adding in these pieces of information kept things fresh and interesting – especially when you consider where the story ultimately ends up.
With True Crime Addict as well as his previous book about the disappearance of Amy Mihaljevic (Amy: My Search for Her Killer), Renner has proven to be an accomplished non-fiction writer. I’ve been hearing great things about his fiction work and if those novels are as gripping as True Crime Addict, I have no doubt I’ll enjoy them.