Series Reading Order •
When filming his TV series Race Relations, John Safran spent an uneasy couple of days with one of Mississippi's most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he heard that the man had been murdered – and what was more, the killer was black.
At first the murder seemed a twist on the old Deep South race crimes. But then more news rolled in. Maybe it was a dispute over money, or most intriguingly, over sex. Could the infamous racist actually have been secretly gay, with a thing for black men? Did Safran have the last footage of him alive? Could this be the story of a lifetime? Seizing his Truman Capote moment, he jumped on a plane to cover the trial.
Over six months, Safran got deeper and deeper into the South, becoming entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder – white separatists, black campaigners, lawyers, investigators, neighbours, even the killer himself. And the more he talked with them, the less simple the crime, and the world, seemed.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
A real life tale of a murder and a capital trial set in the Deep South. A self-proclaimed white supremacist who may or may not have been involved romantically with a black man, an Australian “gotcha” style journalist akin to Michael Moore, and a rogues gallery of slightly strange investigators, neighbors, lawyers, and on lookers.
The premise of the book caught my eye and I had to check it out. In the book the author compares his work to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and it is an accurate comparison. Or rather I can see that the author struck out to get the same kind of story when he stumbled upon a murder with a similarly interesting set of characters. The problem comes from people he has contact with. While they are almost always interesting these people feel like they were edited to fit a mold. The way they are are presented in comes off as only showing a limited portion of their true personalities. It feels like either these people were wholly and singularly focused on the one thing the author was interested in or parts of their personalities were edited out by the author to increase their readability as characters in his book. Of course I understand that John Berendt did some of this in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil also and this book was never sold as a biography or history. It was designed for entertainment and like any reality show good editing is what makes reality worth actually watching.
That might be my real complaint, this book reads like a literary reality show. The author holds up people for ridicule and a bit of shottenfroid. This has its place in entertainment but as a lover of mystery and history it seems to cheapen the book for me. This might be more personal preference then a actual critique of style or quality so I can’t knock Safran for his choices.
I do commend Safran on being an engaging writer. This style of book lives or dies by the author’s ability to spin an entertaining and enjoyable yarn, and Safran totally succeeds. The book is all in the first person which totally works. Safran is an engaging writer with a good sense of humor and whit which comes out when reading his writing. He does a good job of painting a picture and you do get a real feeling of being in the moment, something I would credit to his documentary and film experience.
Unfortunately I blame that same experience for the structure problems I had with the books. There are several places where he throws in emails or other media relating to the section he is talking about. I can see where this would work in a video production as a drop in but in a book it is distracting and at times confusing. It completely destroyed the pacing of the book and at times made me put it down for a while as my interest waned.
I enjoyed the voice this book had but not the way it was put together. I would definitely give a John Safran book another shot but with my fingers crossed for better editing next time.