What if we look at crime in a new way?

A mystery is only as good as its villain. Have you ever heard that quote? I think it’s really good advice. Except… Recently I’ve read several books that turned that notion on its head by focusing on the victim. Not the villain. Which has made me think about how women are often portrayed in crime stories, (since women are most often the victims in crime stories.) By shifting our focus, we may shift the entire story. Here are three examples.

1. Bright Young Woman by Jessica Knoll

This book is about Ted Bundy, but his name isn’t mentioned at all. Instead Knoll focuses on Pamela Schumaker, one of the survivors of his attack on a sorority house and how she fights to get justice during a time when the victims were considered at fault for being vulnerable. While the serial killer is mythologized, the young women grapple with guilt and anxiety. It’s infuriating and fascinating and has been nominated for all sorts of awards.

2. The Five: The Untold Story of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Probably the first thing you learn when you hear the Jack the Ripper story is that he preyed on prostitutes. But not only is this untrue, it’s also prevented the victims as being seen as the women and mothers they were. This is a dark portrait of what it was like to be a woman in Victorian England. It’s powerful and upsetting. These women were people with stories of their own, and it’s important that their identities not be taken from them.

3. The Long And Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

This is one of my favorite books and the last pages are staggering. But most importantly, for the purposes of this blog, this is the story of two people who are swept up in horrifying crimes. One survives a mass shooting at a movie theater. The other loses her sister at the state fair. Neither crime is solved, leaving both these characters to navigate their grief for more than twenty-five years. It’s a reminder that people are haunted by crimes in ways we can’t begin to imagine. A beautiful book.

Have you read any of these books? What do you think?


  1. Susan, that is such an interesting thought. Thanks for the book recommendations. They each sound fascinating.
    I’ve also considered the suspects who aren’t guilty. If the crime is never solved, they live the rest of the lives with a cloud over their heads. JonBenet Ramsey is case-in-point. Who really did kill her? Her parents died with that suspicion. Her brother still lives with it. Murder isn’t only about the killer and the victim. It can change a neighbor, a city…

  2. I’ve added these to my TBR list. Thank you.
    The victim is the biggest difference between a traditional mystery and a thriller. With the former being someone who 3 or 4 people have reason to kill, or at least wouldn’t cry in their beer if he died. In thrillers it’s random, and that’s terrifying, right?
    Indeed, Connie, murder changes the fabric of our communities. Someone recently recommended CALL ME GOD about the DC sniper. A very dark time in our past for those of us in DC, MD and VA.

  3. Oh my god, these look great. I’ve heard of the first one, but have been hesitant to pick it up. I will now. The Five sounds really good too.

    1. I’m interested to know what you think. I definitely agree that Bundy benefitted from a lot of positive attention. But I read Stranger Beside Me and he does seem charismatic. Gave me a lot to think about.

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