For most of its length, Robert Graysmith’s account of the hunt for Northern California’s most famous serial killer is a rather dry recitation of facts, a play by play of discovered corpses and police investigations. But near the end it turns into something more interesting, as Graysmith starts to involve himself more personally in the investigation, fitting himself into the crevices between the various local, state, and federal investigators, serving as a go-between and discovering new leads on his own.
Graysmith found himself in this position by being in the right place at the right time. As the political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, he was on hand when the Zodiac killer started mailing in his cryptic, boastful correspondence to the newspaper. He followed the case for 15 years while writing this book, and eventually his obsessive search for the Zodiac turns this account into a Moby-Dick tale and Graysmith a more benevolent Captain Ahab.
At the close of the book, Graysmith has settled on a suspect that the police have also had their eyes on. He spies on the man at work, furtively takes his picture, and tries desperately to collect samples of his handwriting. These scenes of Graysmith following a possible killer in his car are viscerally thrilling, and it’s easy to see how a great director like David Fincher would become interested in making this story into a film.
For fans of true crime stories, Zodiac is a worthwhile addition to your bookshelf.