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Publisher's Summary

In this superb work of literary true crime - a spellbinding combination of memoir and psychological suspense - a female journalist chronicles her unusual connection with a convicted serial killer and her search to understand the darkness inside us.

"Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I'll have to give it to you: When confronted, at least you're honest, as honest as any reporter.... You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn't it?" (Kendall Francois)

In September 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe was working as a stringer for The New York Times in Poughkeepsie, New York, when local police discovered the bodies of eight women stashed in the attic and basement of the small colonial home that Kendall Francois, a painfully polite 27-year-old community college student, shared with his parents and sister.

Growing up amid the safe, bourgeois affluence of New York City, Rowe had always been secretly fascinated by the darkness and soon became obsessed with the story and with Francois. She was consumed by the desire to understand just how a man could abduct and strangle eight women - and how a family could live for two years, seemingly unaware, in a house with the victims' rotting corpses. She also hoped to uncover what humanity, if any, a murderer could maintain in the wake of such monstrous evil.

Rowe reached out after Francois was arrested, and she and the serial killer began a dizzying four-year conversation about cruelty, compassion, and control, an unusual and provocative relationship that would eventually lead her to the abyss, forcing her to clearly see herself and her own past - and why she was drawn to danger.

©2017 Claudia Rowe (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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Desperately Boring

I found myself thinking about anything else while listening to this book. The title is misleading. The author focuses on the back and forth between she and a murderer but it's all very uneventful. There are spattering of her personal life during this time but each time it is about to get interesting, she moves on to another topic. It took me months of trying before giving up with hours left to go.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Annie R
  • South Salem, NY USA
  • 06-18-17

Interesting except for the white guilt

Rowe is a very skilled writer and it's a compelling book. But I could have done without her annoying insertions of her liberal white guilt. It's an uninteresting and unproductive way to discuss the racialized aspects of this story. Also the narrator does a terrible I guess...attempt at a black accent? When she's reading as Kendall. It's pretty cringe worthy. Overall, a good true crime type memoir with some faults.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Very intriguing

this story definitely left me wanting more. The acts of the guilty are disgusting. however, the attempt to peer into his mind and learn his plight were captivating. the reader and author did a great job. I couldn't give the story a 5 bcuz of the unanswered questions. 😔 But well worth the purchase

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Gut Wrenching Honestly, superb narration

When I purchased this book I thought it would be just another quick factual story about a serial murderer filled with a courtroom Drama and descriptions of the devastation caused to the family members left behind. Never did I expect it to be what it is, a woman’s journey to know herself through this serial killer. I was initially intrigued because I had read another book about this man years before and because I now lived close to the area, so it was more of a curiosity that wound up becoming a profound experience of honesty about not only Kendal but about the writer herself that touched on so many of my own raw nerves on so many levels. Not only could I identify with her but with every family of those young woman because at anytime in the last 18 years my daughter may have very well fallen victim to this man or one just like him via the lifestyle she was then living. This story touched many places deep within, with a fitful honesty and a soulful sadness the writer fills her pages with a very poignant story, well I guess about as poignant as we can be when it comes to the subject of Serial Murderers. She has also done something I’ve always wanted to do.. she got as close to the answers I’ve sought regarding this subject for many years. The narration of this book was also done with such beauty I guess is the only way that I can describe it..she made you feel each feeling whether disgust, fear, sadness or her own profound realizations about herself, about myself... I did not expect what I received from this book... the understanding as to why this subject has always intrigued me so much and the knowledge that there are others out there who have paralleled my life so closely... It was excellent. Keep writing you do it so beautifully.

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Boring, Problematic, & Lacks Depth

As a lover of true crime I was thoroughly disappointed. The author seemed intent on making the banal (communicating w a manipulative serial killer who never opens up) into something more profound. Mostly it was boring and repetitive. Everything in the book was about her, she compared herself to the serial killer, to the victims, and to the cops with little context or reason. Her treatment of the victims was at best surface level. She called them “broken” and said they were, “all damaged” and referred to them as, “prostitutes.” TREAT SEX WORKERS BETTER AND THAT INCLUDES YOU CLAUDIA. More than that she utterly failed to examine structural reasons for the poverty and other pressures that some of sex workers may have experienced. She came off as judgey when it came to addiction while also presuming to understand because she was addicted to talking to the killer (wow). In upstate New York having no critique of the flight of manufacturing jobs and safety nets for the working poor is lazy and irresponsible writing. She likewise has little analysis of why a mainly white school would have a failed a student, esp a Black student who was a minority. She claims the victims were attracted to the killer because they recognize something kindred, which is not only unsubstantiated but also an offensive assumption. Maybe she thinks it makes her sound profound to make such announcements? She does not discuss sexism or patriarchy in a case where women were murdered during rape. Her discussions of the serial killers’ race (he is Black) are even worse. She unselfconsciously discusses the killer’s big lips and mouth, refers to him as her “beast in the cage,” and was surprised that the killer (Kendall) did not listen to jazz. She refers to Attica as, “peaceful” and for someone who does so much bellybutton gazing seems to have no view of her own white privilege. As a white women writing about a Black serial killer who killed mainly white women, she needs to do better at examining race and racism (or she should stay in her lane). This author is so completely self involved her tone deafness is astounding. She seems to feel that her youthful angsty “anger” or “loneliness” is unique. It’s not. It’s all about her and she is boring. I don’t usually write such harsh reviews but this was a doozy and I recommend a HARD PASS.

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Alright

This book is alright. The killer and his crimes are pretty fascinating but this book is really only about the author. She seems like a sad, forlorn teenager in love with a bad boy. She reiterates quite a lot that she doesn't like him, doesn't love him, just wants the story but overall, the story was creepy. She became too involved in his story but yet doesn't really talk about anything but herself. The woman reading it has a nice voice so it gets an extra star for that. Just avoid at all costs.

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  • Dallas
  • Scottsdale, Az, United States
  • 04-07-18

Good read, actual words overwrought

Author is a great story teller. Good introspective deep dive but every sentence has one or two too many descriptive words for my particular taste. Your mileage may vary.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Annie
  • WEST DES MOINES, IA, United States
  • 11-01-17

Such an amazing story!!

Oh my gosh I can’t elaborate enough just how great of a book this is. It may have made me curious to post to some convicts though 👀

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • christina
  • Camano Island, WA, United States
  • 08-25-17

Not impressed

Boring, disjointed, left me wondering 'what's the point of all of this?'
I'm sure she's a great journalist and she should stick to that.

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A Meditation on Humanity

This book is not for the faint of heart, but I don't suppose that's a surprise given its subject matter. Rowe's correspondence with Francois is interwoven with stomach-turning descriptions of his crimes and painfully pathetic sketches of the women he murdered. Even more uncomfortable (if that's possible) are the moments Rowe spends teasing apart her own past and present, examining the things that simultaneously propel and tether her. Her blunt fascination with her penpal's crimes (and other disturbing stories she covers as a journalist) is never pretty, and she doesn't want it to be. She doesn't defend or explain it. She merely describes it, and in time, finds a way to be merciful with Francois, her family, her former lovers, and herself.