UnSubs Central

Your stop for killer book and film reviews about the world's most notorious serial murderers

February 11, 2019

I started this journey on June 28, 2018. Since then, I’ve reviewed 7 books, 3 films, 1 documentary, and 1 short story about the serial killer known as the Zodiac. I provided some history about the Zodiac crimes and had a Contest Give Away for Michael Ferguson and Mike Morford’s fantastic book, “The Case of the Zodiac Killer.” Maybe most proudly, I focused on those killed and those who survived, with the hope of giving some insight into who they were beyond the label of “victim.”

There was so much I didn’t cover though. I could have reviewed the films Dirty Harry or Bullitt, both of which had a main character inspired by Dave Toschi, the San Francisco Police Detective who investigated the murder of Paul Stine. Or, “This is the Zodiac Speaking,” a quirky short story by Chuck Klosterman. Or, “Zodiac Code: Solved! The Confessions of the Zodiac,” by Michael D. Sechrest. Or, “This is the Zodiac Speaking: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer,” by Michael D. Kelleher and David Van Nuys. The amount of Zodiac related material is daunting. At least it felt that way as I first began planning my approach to this particular serial killer.

I cannot emphasize what a rewarding journey it has been so far. I’ve been moved by the tragic murders of innocent victims and the pain endured by their family and friends. I’ve been awed by the true crime community and thrilled to interact with genuinely like-minded people over social media (the amount of quality podcasts and blogs out there is staggering). In a very real way, I wish this blog did not exist, in that I wish serial killers did not exist and I wish true crime did not exist. Instead of looking away though, I have chosen to inform myself while shedding light on stories that need telling, evaluating criminals, their crimes, and the investigations, all the while as I dig deeper into the culture that has surrounded the true crime phenomenon.

Most importantly, I need to send a huge THANK YOU to all who have joined me!

In the following weeks, I’ll be providing some one-off blogs. I’ll be doing special book review for “A Serial Killer’s Daughter,” by Kerri Rawson, Dennis Rader’s (also known as BTK) daughter. I’ll be reviewing the cult film Peeping Tom as well as Michelle McNamara’s book, “I’ll Be Gone Before Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.” Lastly, I will be delving into my Scream obsession by reviewing all four films. All this, before a short break to start research on my next Serial Killer series…more information to come!

Until then, feel free to catch up on my other posts in the Zodiac series, or catch me on Instagram and Twitter!

Peace,
Michelle

January 31, 2019

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UNSUB
by Meg Gardiner
Dutton
New York, New York
2017

 

Caitlin Hendrix has it all. A loving boyfriend, a recent promotion to narcotics detective, daddy issues.

The unsub (Unknown Subject) known as The Prophet, originally terrorized the San Francisco area in the 1990s. Responsible for eleven murders over five years, the serial killer taunted authorities Zodiac style, sending letters signed with his self-proclaimed moniker, the ancient symbol for Mercury. Mack Hendrix, a former San Francisco Police Detective and Caitlain’s father, spent years chasing him. The toll it took left him angry, divorced, and alienated from his daughter. It’s twenty years later and The Prophet has returned to fulfill some unknown destiny. Caitlan, now a detective at the heart of the investigation, is faced with whether The Prophet will destroy her the same way he destroyed her father.

UNSUB is lawyer turned writer, Meg Gardiner’s thirteenth novel. Rave reviews have long followed Gardiner. She’s an Edgar-winning novelist, UNSUB was nominated for a Barry Award, and Stephen King called her Evan Delaney series, “the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.”⁠1 In 2017, CBS bought the rights to UNSUB and brought on Liz Friedman (Orange is the New Black, Jessica Jones, House, and Elementary) to write the pilot script and serve as showrunner. In light of all these accolades, it appears I’m in the minority because while UNSUB makes a fine beach book or a book to read on a noisy bus, it wasn’t the page turning, awe inspiring, groundbreaking novel that the reviews on the jacket cover led me to believe it would be.

Some issues may be solitary bits of distractions that bother me more than they should, such as:

  • Her use of awkward sayings that act like cliches – Regarding amateur sleuths: “They’ve been on us like bees pouring out of a hive” (p. 63) and about the substitute taking over class for the murdered trig teacher: he was “looking like a rabbit in headlights” (p. 69).
  • The subtle elements that are a little too reminiscent of other works: 1) Michele swears like Debra Morgan in Dexter who made swearing into an art form and whose unique uses of the word fuck was admirable 2) A serial killer fixated on the literary works of Dante’s “Inferno” sounds eerily like Joe Carroll and his obsession with Edgar Allen Poe in The Following 3) What about Detective Thomas Martinez with his bowling shirt and trilby hat, who had the nature of a beach bartender? Can you say Detective Angel Batista?
  • Her over use of adverbs, such as “Caitlan looked morosely at the phone.” (p. 107) What exactly did the phone do to her? Furthermore, it seems that when Stephen King praised her work he apparently forgot his own advice when he said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”⁠2
  • Her continued descriptions of the weather left me weary and convinced that Elmore Leonard is crying somewhere – “The sky hung, painted indigo.” (p. 122)
  • Those times when a literary style peaks through but seems misplaced, leaving me scrambling for a dictionary – “The barista glanced up from beneath his man bun with faux languor.” (p. 239)
  • When she works too hard to make us believe that most of the Bay Area police officers are so unnerved by the wrath The Prophet leaves behind, that they are unduly queasy at crime scenes. Sure.

A more important issue though, is as much as she tries, I found Gardiner’s characters flat and uninspiring. They are either too perfect or too damaged. I lacked empathy for them and was less than interested in their journey.

Clearly a true crime fan, Gardiner’s newest novel, Into the Black Nowhere, is inspired by serial killer Ted Bundy and is the second novel in the Caitlin Hendrix series. If CBS does move forward with UNSUB as a series, I’ll be anxious to see how they approach character development and plot reconstruction.⁠3 It’s a genre the network is familiar with. Who knows, maybe we’ll see Caitlin Hendrix cross over onto “Criminal Minds”? Now that, I would tune in to watch.

 

ENDNOTES

1 “Bestselling Thriller Writer Meg Gardiner Presents Program at Burnet Library,” Picayune News. January 7, 2019. https://www.101highlandlakes.com/news/meg-gardiner-herman-brown-free-library

Stephen King listed her novels Crosscut and The Dirty Secrets Club in  “…the best things I’ve read between 2001 and 2009” section of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, NY, 2010 edition, p. 290.

2 King, p. 125.

3 According to the The Hollywood Reporter, supposed showrunner Liz Friedman signed a development deal with Sony Pictures Television. In the same deal she became an Executive Producer for “The Good Doctor.” Goldberg, Lesley. “Liz Friedman Inks Overall Deal With Sony TV.” Hollywood Reporter, June 18, 2018.