Posts Tagged ‘true crime’

I’ve never reviewed a true crime book on my blog before. As you well know, I tend to specialize in horror of the fictional variety. But for a while now, since first hearing of the Cecil Hotel (which made one of my lists of haunted places to visit) and the death of Elisa Lam there in 2013, I’ve wanted to learn more than what I could glean from a ten minute YouTube video or from reading the Wikipedia page. And earlier this year, someone finally released a book about the case. Despite mixed reviews, I decided to buy a copy, and read it over the course of my vacation.

Here are my thoughts.

Gone at Midnight focuses on the case of Elisa Lam, a Chinese-Canadian student who disappeared in early 2013 in Los Angeles. Several days after her disappearance is reported, she is found dead in one of the water tanks of the infamous Cecil Hotel, a location known as “The Suicide” for its history of violent deaths and even having serial killers as residents at certain points. The incident is only made weirder by the release of footage from a hotel elevator showing Elisa acting strangely on the night she disappeared. Author Jake Anderson traces Elisa’s path over the last two years of her life, as well as how the case took a viral life of its own with websleuths on the Internet and the many problems with the police conclusion on the case.

I have to say, Anderson does a very good job of writing a convincing narrative. The book could easily have gone into the deep end a la The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, with talk of synchronicity, paranormal happenings at the hotel, and theoretical physics, among other subjects. However, he keeps the narrative on track, only bringing up the weirder aspects as they relate to the case of Lam’s death and his own investigation into the case as a journalist. Anderson also does a terrific job of laying out the various problems with the police’s conclusion, and offers several alternative possibilities about what may have happened.

His reconstructions of what Lam may have been thinking during her final years (something I’ve found in a lot of true crime I’ve read), based on her many blog posts, also has an eerie authenticity to it. And his examination of the websleuth community, the pros and cons of the movement and how it all relates to Lam, is quite interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is used later for a sociological study into websleuthing.

There is one major criticism I have, and it’s one I share with a lot of other critics of the book: Anderson spends a lot of time on his own mental health. And while in some places it’s relevant to what we’re reading about, at other times it’s distracting. I understand why he did it: like Lam, the author has his own mental disorders, and his struggles strengthened the kinship he felt with Lam, despite having never met her. I too feel a strange kinship with Lam: not only was she a little older than me when she died, I also have my share of mental struggles, and enjoy writing and blogging like she did, among other things.

However, as I said, it’s distracting at times, and I feel like Anderson’s struggle with his mental state, while relevant, should have been kept in a foreward or afterward to the book, or maybe even in an essay published separately from the book.

All told, Gone at MIdnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam┬áby Jake Anderson is as of this moment the definitive book on the Lam case, and deserves to be so. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the book a 4.3. After reading this, I’m going to be doing a bit more research into the case, but Anderson might have me convinced on his take on the Lam case.

Grab a copy, take a deep breath, and jump right in. You’ll find yourself on a roller coaster that may, as it did for me, hit close to home.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m finally back from my trip, so I’ll be posting quite a bit over the next two weeks (especially since I’m quarantining myself to make sure I didn’t catch anything). Keep an eye out for more reviews, breakdowns of the paranormal activity I encountered, the places I visited, updates on my writing, and so much more.

Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

Good morning folks, I’m posting from Washington DC today, where I’m again hanging out for a few days for work. But just because I’m working, that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. So let’s get started on Day Six of the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew.

Now before we go any further, I have to go over the rules of this thing again:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the scariest book I’ve ever read, which I came across last year and have been shaking ever since. What book could that be, you ask? The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, that’s what.

I didn’t know much about this novel going in. I’d just seen it recommended to me as an audio book on Audible. It was too short an audio book for me to download (as I listen to these mainly at work and have to make them last throughout the month, I have a rule not to get any shorter than twelve hours long), I was intrigued enough to get it as a paperback. The novel follows David, a twelve-year-old living in the 1950s whose next door neighbor Ruth and her sons take in their cousins, the beautiful teen Meg and the sweet disabled Susan, after they’ve lost their parents. However, Ruth is anything but loving to her new charges, and especially targets Meg to vent her anger at them and at life. But because Ruth is so popular with the kids, who see this awful abuse, many don’t do anything to stop it. In fact, some help out with it. And David will have to make a decision about what to do about this as the level of abuse intensifies.

This novel is terrifying. For one thing, the level of brutality isn’t glossed over, but exposed in terms that leave nothing to the imagination. You see every injury, every attack, every bit of indifference to the suffering of others. It was so horrifying and tragic, there were times I had to put the book down just to process it and keep my equilibrium. It’s even scarier when you find out that it was based on a real story. Yeah, that’s true: there was something similar that happened in the 1960s, and it’s just as scary just reading the details about it.

This makes me wonder, was this novel an attempt by Ketchum to make sense of a tragedy he likely read about in the newspaper or on TV while in his late teens? Or did he already understand, and was trying to make us ask and understand too?

I’m going to caution anyone who wants to read this novel. It is intense, it is terrifying, and it is world-shaking. If you do decide to read it, I hope you have the stomach for it.

Next up, I’m tagging my friend Dellani Oakes. Have fun, Dellani! I can’t wait to see what you post.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got to be somewhere soon, so hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work I go. Yeah, I made that reference, and I proudly stand by it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!