Friday, October 30, 2015

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Title: Zodiac
Author: Robert Graysmith
Publisher: St. Martin's/Marek (1986)

As is usual for the last post of the year, we like to pick something appropriate to the month. Unusually, this month's title can't be found on the horror shelf but instead on the true crime shelf. You could argue that this makes it the scariest title Michael and I have reviewed.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Zodiac
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Robert Graysmith was a political cartoonist for the San Fransisco Chronicle when the Zodiac killings started in 1968. The murders were carried out in the bay area and the killer sent letters and ciphers to several local papers. Graysmith became obsessed with the case and with compiling all the disparate evidence and testimony from the various jurisdictions in which the crimes were committed. This book, the result of 10 years of work, is a comprehensive look at the killer who terrorized the region for over a decade.

Despite the horrific contents, Graysmith puts the events of 15 years together seamlessly. It's an odd statement to make but this book is very easy to read. Not content-wise obviously (and, of course, there will be readers who have personal connections to the events and for them these statements are probably spurious) but for pacing and information assimilation it's very well organized. And while it becomes abundantly clear that Graysmith becomes intimately connected with the case (so much so that he is the one to make a few key connections regarding evidence/ciphers), Zodiac never falls into the trap of being about Graysmith and the Zodiac killer. This is clearly one man's passion to bring all possible information to light in hopes of the case being solved.

I found that the book dates itself in an interesting way. At the time of publication, every other show on television wasn't a police procedural. There are pages spent explaining things that would probably go unremarked in a book written now. Just as the general population is much more science literate than ever before (ignoring anti-voxxers and climate change deniers) folks are much more informed regarding forensics and police procedure. Obviously not everything on TV is true (shocking, I know!) but there is a certain level of familiarity that people now have which probably makes certain non-fiction topics easier to communicate these days. 

...made certain that the seminar was a meeting of police professionals only. No psychics, mystics or astrologists were in attendance, as they sometimes were. 

On that note, though, I was personally stunned at some of the things detectives and departments would try in search of the murderer. They literally seemed stolen right out of bad TV plots. I can sympathize when I think they must not have wanted to let even one tiny chance pass by, no matter how ludicrous it might seem to an outsider, if it might close the case and stop a killer.

I also found myself extremely curious as to whether or not the psych profiles from the 70s would still hold true today. I won't go into detail (and obviously don't have the expertise to judge anyway) but if you should read the book and find yourself a little skeptical of the expert in chapter 17 you won't be alone. I assume profiling, as with any field of study, will change as more opportunities are found to scrutinize previous hypotheses.

For those seeking closure this book will not give it. The Zodiac killer has still not been identified. Graysmith ends with the suspect he is most convinced committed the crimes but out of 2500 suspects in the case many detectives associated with the investigation have their favorites. However, I do think he accomplished what he set out to do which was bring together as much information as possible in the hopes that it might one day help someone to finally bring this killer to justice. 

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click here for an index of the joint post series

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Socialization is a powerful thing

And we would do well to remember that. It's amazing to me how often people refuse to accept that most behaviors are learned.