A fascinating fictionalized re-telling of the horrors of serial killer Ted Bundy, with a key difference. This story is told not in terms of the protagonist Bundy himself, (who is so small and undeserving of our focus in every way that he is not in fact, even granted a name here, but is referred to simply as the ‘Defendant’), but rather from the first person point-of-view of two key women, each of whom had the terrible misfortune to cross paths with the killer.
Sticking close to the broad-strokes parameters of the real-life crimes, with composite characterizations and new names, the author tells the story of Pamela Schumacher, a University of Florida sorority-house leader, who lives through the attack that will see two of her housemates murdered and an additional two severely disfigured. Pam is pre-law, a conscientious and observant student, and an essential eyewitness, whose life will be forever plagued with her tormented need to resolve the terrors of what (and whom) she witnessed, and do her part to see the assailant captured and convicted.
The second main protagonist’s story, that of twenty-five-year old Ruth Wachowski, is perhaps even more chilling, as, unbeknownst to her amidst the ongoing details of the dramas unfolding in her young life, we the reader are keenly aware that Ruth is to become the Defendant’s next-to-last victim.
This ambitious read is dark and compelling, complex and meandering, and will definitely get under your skin in a way that’s hard to shake off. Crossing time periods between the University of Florida attacks in 1978; the Lake Sammamish abductions in 1974; the Defendant’s trial; and a closure of sorts achieved forty-three years later in 2021, this is a dense and disturbing ride, whose overarching (and strangely hopeful) message gradually becomes crystal clear.
“Things grow differently when they’re damaged, and it is within us to make use of strange new ground to bloom red instead of green. We carry on, brighter than before.”
A great big thank you to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.