Friday, December 20, 2013

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran

This book is a really difficult book to evaluate. I mean, it is a pretty unique true crime novel, but unique can be both a positive and negative term.

And to be honest, my first impression was not very good. When I read a true crime novel, I'd want to read more about the crime, not about the author and how he feels shut out of the crime (he does get to meet the murderer later, though he talks with him mostly through the phone). Of course, it doesn't help that at the start of the book, he plays a dirty trick on the victim (in order to prove a point about race relations), which left me a bit ambivalent about the author.

But as the novel went on and it slowly shifted focus to finding out reasons for why the crime happen, the book got better. Since this is a murder of a white supremacist (who, strangely, got along fairly well with black people) by a black person, there is the very obvious "race theory." Then when you throw in the possibility of a sexual advance by the white supremacist, and something about a wage quarrel and suddenly, everything gets a lot more complicated. There are many many conflicting scenarios, and the more information you know, the murkier the case gets. It actually gets to the point where there's not clear solution to this mystery - sure, we know who the killer is, but we don't know why.

Oh, and while the subtitle mentions "befriended his black killer", I'm not too sure if that is true. Sure, he talks with Vincent McGee (the black killer in question) and helps him and such, but their relationship seems to be more of a transactional nature - Vincent gets money, John gets information. I'm not sure if you can call this a friendship.

All in all, this is an interesting book. I was a bit annoyed at the beginning, but once the book shifted its focus to the murder, I enjoyed reading it a lot more. This is a complicated murder case, and if you want something that shows you how race-relations is not as simple as it seems, this is the book to read.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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