One of our greatest writers, Calvin Trillin, has compiled a group of his true crime essays dating back to 1969, originally written for The New Yorker, into the book KILLINGS. The essays are about victims of untimely deaths, and while each story is about murder, there is nothing scary about this book. It is a fascinating read. Each story packs a certain punch because he wrote them to capture the sense of place and not necessarily to solve the crime. They are insightful, eerie, and the people involved in the murders as well as the towns are what draw you in.
Once you finish one story, you are transfixed and on to the next, but don’t feel like you are a ghoul, it’s Trillin’s investigative work that lures. That and his writing. Ok, and the fact that human beings can commit such heinous acts.
There were some subjects, namely the criminals, that left me flabbergasted. People you would never suspect would take another person’s life. That is the beauty of how Trillin selects stories of people who have been going about their business for generations, who have not been exposed to gangs, drugs, extreme violence and such, sleepy rural towns where people keep to themselves, farmers whose daily lives have not been modernized other than going from working mules to heavy earth-moving equipment.
One character in an essay really amused me, this was Edna Buchanan, a crime reporter for the Miami Herald. She was known for her classic ‘Edna’ to-the-point, hold nothing back leads. She had the police in Dade County a bit afraid. Often, she knew more about a case than they did. If Shonda Rhimes got a hold of Edna, surely a highly rated TV drama series would be developed around her life and the writers would never be short of story lines. The essay featuring Edna alone is worth the entire book.
If you could forget for a minute the subject matter of the book, Trillin deserves his usual praise for well-honed study of his subjects as, rather than attacking their crimes, he fully grabs your attention with such detail, making KILLINGS as much of a treasure, in its own way, as some of his other gems.