Pretty Little Killers by Daleen Berry

Genre: nonfiction crime
Secondary genre: contemporary history
Format: audio
CW: violence, drug use
Rating: planchet-4

What drives two teenage girls to commit murder?

Even more shocking, what would drive them to stab their best friend over a dozen times?

This book delves into the disturbing case of Skylar Neese, a teen girl who vanished in 2012. She was missing for five months before one of her best friends finally confessed: Skylar was murdered the same night she went missing.

Starting with the background of how the girls met and the society they grew up in, the story tracks the three girls as they finish middle school and start high school, and the complex and warped turns their relationships take. Could the crime have been prevented? If people had been more willing to come forward, or paid more attention, would Skylar still be alive? If the police had been more careful, would her killers have been caught sooner?

It sounds strange to say I “enjoyed” this book, but it was a very compelling read, and extremely thorough.

90 Church by Dean Unkefer

Genre: memoir
Secondary genre: true crime/investigation, history
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: sexual assault
Rating: DNF

Wrapping up my nonfiction crime reading spree was 90 Church, a memoir about the start of the FBI’s first drug task force in the 1960s.

I was expecting something in the vein of Erik Larsen’s work, but that wasn’t what I got. Unkefer’s story is tawdry, gritty, and dark. It follows a dedicated, patriotic family man as he descends into the chaos of a corrupt department, doing drugs, drinking himself into a stupor, fighting with his wife and ignoring his son. It reads more like an HBO crime drama than anything else.

I was about halfway through when I reached the part that made my put the book down for good (CW): After picking up a woman at a bar and going back to her place, he’s so enraged when she doesn’t want to sleep with him that he beats and rapes her.

No. Hard pass. After spending five hours listening to him justify drug use, binge drinking, his mistreatment of his family, and falsified reports, I didn’t want to hear how he justified rape and assault. This isn’t a record of the early days of law enforcement, it’s a self-aggrandizing account of narcissist.

Pick something else if you want to read about true crime and criminal investigation.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Genre: Mystery
Format read: hard copy
Content warnings: alcohol abuse, implied child abuse, sexual assault (off page)
Positive rep: LGBTQIA, addiction recovery
Rating: planchet-4

***This review contains minor spoilers***

Roxane Weary, PI, has always had a contentious relationship with her father.

It might be even worse, now that he’s dead.

Frank Weary was a stubborn, work-a-holic alcoholic detective, and his daughter is no different. To top it off, Roxane is still trying to cope (or possibly avoid) the fact that her father was killed suddenly in the line of duty six months earlier.

Scraping along rock bottom and still denying she has a problem, Roxane’s newest case lands on her desk courtesy of her condescending older brother. She takes it mostly to get him off her back–and also to make sure she can keep a roof over hear head and whiskey in her glass for another month or so.

There’s just one problem: Her new client, Danielle, wants to find someone who’s practically a ghost. Someone who has been missing for years–and the only person who can get her brother off death row before his execution in two months.

Reluctantly, Roxane agrees to make some initial inquiries. The case against Danielle’s brother Brad seems questionable. Accused of killing his girlfriend’s parents while in high school, his girlfriend, Sarah, has never been found. Unfortunately, the knife that did the deed was in his car, for reasons he can’t explain.

While Sarah remains elusive, it quickly becomes clear that something is up with the local cops, who question Roxane every time she shows up in town to work, threatening her with arrest if she doesn’t leave.

That in itself is enough to make suborn, contrary Roxane dig in her heels.

Her investigation turns up a string of similar crimes, including one her father was the lead detective on.

The revelation sends Roxane into a passionate downward spiral, clouding her judgement. But the clock isn’t just ticking for Brad–when another girl goes missing, Roxane only has a matter of hours to solve the case before another teenage girl ends up dead.

With an alcoholic in my own family, this book was difficult for me to read in places. But despite her flaws, Roxane has many redeeming qualities, my favorite one being her relationship with Shelby, the daughter of one of the earlier victims. Shelby has an obvious but silent crush on her best friend, which bisexual Roxane can relate to. She provides a willing ear and a big-sister type role for the teen. I really hope Shelby shows up in later books.

My one complaint with this book is that some of the physical descriptions of characters were lacking, so it was occasionally difficult to keep some of them straight, or know who would be familiar with what based on their age. This meant that for me, the culprit came out of nowhere, but a better description might have put him on my suspect list sooner.

This book was full of twists that still felt completely natural, and I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the series.