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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.

“I don’t know how Rachel Monroe wrote a book so vivid and perceptive, but I couldn’t put it down. Savage Appetites is an original: at once a thoughtful, beautifully written treatise on why women are drawn to crime stories and a gripping read to satisfy any murder obsessive. I’m not exaggerating when I say Monroe has written a new true crime classic, one that both adds to and challenges the genre.”
—Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls

"A deeply intelligent, intensely gripping work of metacrime. Rachel Monroe is a brilliant new journalist with a sparkly goth heart."
—Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn

"No one writes about crime like Rachel Monroe, who brings to her subject a profound emotional acuity, a piercing grasp of fixation and frailty, and a precise sort of beauty that never glamorizes but always illuminates. In Savage Appetites, she shows crime obsession to be an equally idiosyncratic, irresistible subject—full of treachery and full of thrills."
—Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror