A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Defender, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.
In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a frustrated heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.
Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.
Monroe's first book, blending personal narrative with sociological analysis, offers an engrossing look at a counterintuitive yet well-established phenomenon: many women's fascination with true crime. Monroe (who counts herself among the crime obsessed) focuses on four women whose true crime obsessions have significantly altered the course of their lives. Frances Glessner Lee created the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death crime scene dioramas. Alisa Statman became deeply enmeshed in the lore of the Manson murders while living in the house where Sharon Tate was slain. Lori Davis, a landscape architect, fell in love with and set out to prove the innocence of a convicted murderer, and Lindsay Souvannarath was a young woman with a dangerous fixation on the Columbine shooters. Writing in incisive, lyrical prose, Monroe takes a deep dive into possible reasons why women are drawn to tales of violence: do they seek murder stories in order to fine-tune their own survival instincts, lest they become the next victims? Or, as Monroe bravely and refreshingly acknowledges, maybe women respond to tales of human darkness because it mirrors their own ("perhaps we liked creepy stories because something creepy was in us"). Readers who have pondered their own interest in true crime stories will welcome Monroe's incisive approach to the topic.