Writers seem to think that by forming some sort of connection with a serial killer, they’ll get unprecedented insight into why these murders happen and why the killer is the way he is. But when they get that close, they lose the distance and perspective that would make the book actually insightful. And the issue with trusting a serial murderer is that they’re also usually compulsive liars and master manipulators. In this case, Sondra London fell in love with Danny Rolling and they got engaged, so there’s immediately the knowledge that this is a very biased narrative when you start reading.
This is a gross book to read. The narrative is told from Rolling’s perspective, with some omniscient narrator framing. Rolling claims to feel super super bad about his murders, but then he describes the rapes and sexual aspects of the killings in an erotic style that is very off-putting and makes the reader feel like they’re also re-victimizing these people. I didn’t feel that he actually was sorry at all. He claims that he was possessed by a demon, and that he can’t remember anything, and also that he had multiple personalities. But then he can magically remember all the sexual aspects of his crimes, but can’t remember any of worse parts of the murders. It seemed way too convenient as a way to absolve himself. The psychiatrists who examined him said he had some form of dissociative disorder, which I can definitely believe, but I also think that he is a very duplicitous person who always feels sorry for himself, so even the claim of a dissociative disorder didn’t excuse all the crimes that he does remember doing.
Also, he rambles and adds in a lot of superfluous information, love letters to Sondra, song lyrics, drawings, etc. None of them were insightful and it felt like she added them in to show people how much he loved her and that their love was real. I don’t really care and it also was gross to picture them having this great love when she knew that he murdered and raped people. Even if she thought he was possessed, I wouldn’t think he would be the ideal person to fall in love with. The first amendment issues and dealing with the Son of Sam law are interesting, but she only goes into them in the introduction, so I didn’t get any answers as to how they shook out. I also didn’t feel that this book made any effort to push Rolling or make him examine himself on a deep level.
I got this book for free so I don’t feel like I am morally complicit in anyone making money off these crimes, but I do feel mentally complicit in that I finished it. It didn’t make me feel great after reading it. I’ve read a lot of true crime/serial killer books, and I am interested in how the human mind goes awry and what factors lead into it, but I didn’t learn anything new here. Intense child abuse + LSD + head trauma + abuse from jail/authority figures + some sort of lack of empathy + desire to harm others = the potential for a violent person. I did think it was interesting that he never goes into why he was clearly so filled with rage at women, but I guess he’d just say he was possessed. It overall disgusted me as a book and I don’t think it’s a worthwhile read even if you’re interested in the Gainesville killings, because you don’t learn anything new about the case.
Warnings for: really vile murders told in a lot of detail, rapes, necrophilia, child abuse, shootings, robberies, voyeurism, abuse in jail, abuse in a mental hospital, an awful scene that I don’t even want to type out — basically, warnings for everything.