The cover for True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik grabbed me by the eyes and dragged me to Amazon, where I quickly purchased the book. I loved the pulpy, noir feel to the layout, and the contrast between showing the female form while also covering it under the white sheet set up an interesting conversation in my head regarding how we view the female form in contrast/comparison to how we view female victims of violent crimes. Furthermore, as an avid reader of the True Crime genre, I was excited to dive into the text while also supporting Kolesnik’s debut novel and continuing to cheer on and champion female horror writers.
As I look at my Kindle notes—which upon reviewing adds up to over 30 highlights—what I loved most about True Crime is how Kolesnik tackled issues of gender, trauma, sexuality, and religion. Some of my favorite quotes/passages are:
“I made myself as still as a dead girl.”
“I had a strange desire to see all of her. I wanted to see her vocal cords and how they danced as she spoke. I wanted to see how blackened her lungs were. I wanted to reach up between her legs and shake her innards around. She was beautiful.”
“And then I thought of my body, of all the soft and feminine parts. And I wanted to cut myself open, too. I wanted to cut myself and leave those parts to rot in the sink.”
I feel like choosing to present Suzy as a serial killer was already a powerful choice because while female serial killers certainly exist, it’s not something that gets talked about a lot, and if it does it’s always within the archetype of The Black Widow or The Angel of Death. Here, however, we see real cut-throat violence and rage up against disgust and stillness, and it’s absolutely horrifying because Suzy’s body and her ability to retain agency or autonomy over herself is always in question and/or up for grabs. She’s almost never safe—or has no concept or understanding of the word “safe”—and as a result, readers can literally feel and witness her psyche break, which speaks volumes to themes of dysmorphia and blossoming psychopathy. However, the moments that truly shine in this book are when Suzy questions the world and how it operates: how does one define good and evil? Are there layers to loyalty? Do things like redemption and forgiveness truly exist? At what point are we responsible for our actions? Does a dead woman have more freedom than a living one? How does trauma shape who we are and do we have a say in ultimately shaping what rises from those ashes?
Truly, this is some chilling stuff, folks.
Something else I want to talk about is how this book confronts contemporary issues through horror, which I’m always a big advocate for because I think our genre gives us a platform for us to write and for readers to talk about difficult issues in a way that both provides some distance while at the same time brings us closer to the root of the problem in maybe a more accessible way because we’re theoretically talking about fiction rather than reality. For instance, there’s this recurrence in the text surrounding the unwritten rule that women should help other women, and the phrase there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women comes to mind. This is something that Suzy really struggles with because she doesn’t understand how something that’s never been applied to her existence can be--or should be--a rule, and as a female whose main source of trauma exists around her mother, it’s fascinating to see her navigate her emotions around female bonding and trust. This can also be witnessed in her relationship to Alice, whose name she takes later on in the book, and is brought up time and time again when she’s confronted with seeing the female body as anything other than a disgusting collection of flesh or as something that traps, confines, and further exploits women in the first place.
Now this book was intense, and it was intense in ways that challenged me, that pulled me out of my comfort zone, and that sent my stomach into a twisting matted ball of tangled knots. After working in the horror genre for nearly a decade, I like to think that I have a strong stomach, but this book put some things in perspective, and yeah, it turns out I don’t. For instance, I’m not particularly great with writing that tackles animal violence (like, I can’t leave my house in the morning without kissing my dog and telling him what time I’ll be home so he doesn’t worry) and I don’t handle crimes about/surrounding pregnancy in the horror genre particularly well. Does that mean these issues were handled poorly within the book? No. They just hit me in the feels harder than some of the other material throughout the novel, and after thinking about it and processing it for a week or so, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Kolesnik’s writing reminds me a lot of Jack Ketchum’s, and his work is one of the reasons I decided to get involved in this industry in the first place. Specifically, both The Girl Next Door and The Lost are coming to mind here, and those stories buried themselves inside of me and stayed there for years.
In fact, they’re still there now.
I suspect Kolesnik’s True Crime will remain next to them, too.
I give this book 4 out of 5 body bags.