A “necessary and brilliant” (NPR) exploration of our cultural fascination with true crime told through four “enthralling” (The New York Times Book Review) narratives of 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.
“Enthralling ... Monroe zeroes in on the aftermath of murder, on the morbid curiosity that draws eager civilians toward the crime scene and catapults them into starring roles. She avoids the formulaic professional tropes of true crime…Monroe has a knack for nosing a new story out of an old one, like a detective casting fresh eyes on a cold case.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Monroe explores how a vicarious interest in violent crime transformed the lives of four women—and how our collective interest in such crimes has shaped American culture…The mysteries Monroe sets out to solve are as riveting as detective novels, but the angle is different. These are not whodunnits but whydunnits: Monroe points her magnifying glass at motive.”
—The Boston Globe
“Necessary and brilliant…Monroe treats each individual narrative with nuance, empathy and transparency, allowing both the protagonists and their supporting cast to remain complex. She delves into the social and political ramifications of each narrative, making accessible and visible what so often gets overlooked in these stories because it's too complicated to put into a headline or summary. Monroe's book is a pleasure to read because it is smart, well-researched and well-written…But more than that, Savage Appetites is important because it refuses to sit inside binaries of good vs. evil, victim vs. perpetrator, innocent victim vs. mastermind criminal. It doesn't give us easy answers for why women are the main consumers of true crime narratives, because there aren't any because women as a category are not monolith and because it's complicated and nuanced and different for everyone. The book is important also because I suspect there are more than a few of us who, like Monroe herself, feel conflicted about their desire to consume stories of murder and mayhem and wonder what it reflects about the world around us and ourselves.”
“By looking at women looking at violence, Monroe doesn’t quite answer the question of why women love true crime — as she points out, women are a diverse group with a wide variety of motivations. Instead, she ends up with something subtler and more useful, a call to action for crime-heads to consume the stories they want, but to do so critically. She delivers a defense of the genre that is also an indictment of its worst impulses…Most valuable is the moral nuance that Monroe brings to a genre that inspires fierce fandoms and disgusted dismissals but not enough scrutiny in between.”
—The Washington Post
"Lively and well-turned."
“Narrative is the real subject of journalist Rachel Monroe’s book…In four sections, she zooms in on characters who fall into those familiar narrative tropes. In doing so, she sketches an unconventional history of some of the 21st century’s most notable and horrific crimes, [holding] together disparate stories and [asking] readers, implicitly, to see how they are linked...Savage Appetites is an elegant dissection. It picks apart the stories we tell ourselves in order to make violence legible or to clean up its aftermath or simply for our entertainment. It’s a reminder that connecting the dots between events can obscure as much as it reveals.”
“Monroe resists the need to sweep all of her material into a single, tidy narrative. Her prose–consistently lyrical and probing–does a lot of the work towards making it feel cohesive…In allowing for messiness–narrative as well as moral–her book is a corrective to the genre it interrogates.”
—The New Statesman
“One of the most fascinating and intellectual approaches to true crime I’ve ever read.”
“Monroe’s keen observations and probing journalism keep us from the satisfying feeling of closure that a good mystery novel or a true-crime documentary can provide. Rather, we’re left with the feeling that virtually everything about how we contend with violent crime as a society is woefully misguided. No investigation is truly over, grief ripples forever and justice falters at every turn, scarring the innocent and doing little to rehabilitate the guilty. Monroe does what true obsessives do: show us what is unresolved, what is unending, what might never be possible — and how important it is to try to fix it anyway.”
“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