Journal Opinion

June 1, 2016

Pages 1 & 15

Book Review

More than a crash and vanish book

By Elena A. Chevalier

HAVERHILL--Things are not always what they seem. If you offer a ravenous person stale crackers sprinkled with hot sauce, he'll probably want to eat them, but it doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the food offered. Such is the case with the book that some have called the definitive guide to the disappearance of Maura Murray.

That was this reviewer's first response to True Crime Addict by James Renner, released by St. Martin's Press last week. The intro formed in my mind after reading the end of the book first, my normal practice, and then the beginning.

I determined to give Renner the opportunity to prove himself more than just an opportunist sensationalizing the disappearance of the UMass nursing student following an accident on Roule 112 in Haverhill on the evening of Feb. 9, 2004.

In the first third of the book I struggled to get past some roadblocks set up by the fact that my home is just a few miles away from the scene of the accident; close enough to have been stopped by an actual police roadblock at that now infamous blue ribbon-festooned tree.

The book's roadblocks included my indignation toward an author admittedly driving drunk over our windy country roads in the dark on an anniversary of the crash. Was it worth it to endanger our lives in an attempt to create some glitch in the universe's computer simulation and expose some evidence by recreating Murray's final path?

Another roadblock was my disrespect for an investigator who apparently can't tell the difference between Mount Moosilauke and Mount Washington, mentioned frequently, and who allowed a map in his book that put Haverhill smack dab in the middle of Vermont. But then, Renner, a former journalist. did advise his readers that the first thing he learned as a reporter was that "nothing you read in the newspaper is true." Perhaps his journalistic training spilled over into this book?

For years, Renner devoted himself to researching, interviewing, analyzing and internalizing the convoluted case, despite resistance from Murray's family, some of Murray's friends and even some resistance from locals in the Journal Opinion's readership.

The 62-chapter book provides details of copious conversations. In fact, the book includes accounts of both cooperative interviewees and noncooperative subjects including some who levied threats against Renner.

There were other roadblocks. Renner didn't stop with digging into Murray's past, he also dug into the history of the geographical areas he visited and sprinkled his narrative with dirt. His ribald history of Woodsville, however, is tempered by the first line of the following paragraph. If he couldn't get those details straight, it was easier to dismiss his previous ignominious comments.

Not all roadblocks were personal. It was hard to get past any disdain for a father who repeatedly "exploited" his kindergarten-age son in the book. Was the self-proclaimed sociopath using his family's pain to propel profits?

By the time I trekked into the second third of the book, I needed to backtrack a bit. It was time for a reassessment of the facts; back to the beginning that is, the front cover.

TRUE CRIME ADDICT How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray.

Ah ha! Renner never claimed on the cover to directly address the disappearance. It was my assumption that skewed my perceptions.

Once I uncovered where be was coming from. I thought perhaps he might not be a scumbag after all.

Renner, it turns out, is well known in circles that devour every shred of minutiae, and chew on it as a cow chews her cud, through his blog My Search for Maura Murray. He is the author of several articles and books including The Serial Killer's Apprentice and The Man from Primrose Lane.

After several trips to New England from his home state of Ohio and amidst the seemingly endless array of interviews, the crime writer floated a few theories on what happened to Murray that night. Eventually, be presented his own evidence-based theory amidst more true confessions of his own.

Readers will appreciate the amount of detailed information provided about Murray and her possible whereabouts. but truly the story is about Renner himself.

Despite my initial negative response to True Crime Addict, by the last third of the book I was absolutely enthralled by the narrative crafted by a master storyteller.

When I finished the book I sat in awe contemplating the skill arrogant humility, brokenness and bridled turpitude that enabled the author to fuse the disappearance of a young woman with the disappearance of James Renner himself.

In spite of the roadblocks local readers may run into. I can't imagine a better way to portray Murray's' disappearance than through the heartbreaking story of two twisted lives entwined as Renner designed in this book.