Reviewed: “The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia” by Emma Copley Eisenberg

Question: Why does it seem like true crime books are required to have at least 80% of their sentences be fewer than five words?

I like true crime stories, I do. True crime books and I do not, however, often get along. Maybe I’m too picky. It’s possible. I could be. Might be. Am.

(See what I did there? I wrote like a true crime writer. And it made my eye twitch from the effort of creating unnecessarily short, choppy sentences.)

Anyway, rants against the writing style of true crime stories aside, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia is a fine book.

It’s a better history of West Virginia than it is a story of double murder, but it’s a fine book.

My disclaimer here is that I am not from Appalachia or West Virginia, nor have I ever visited either place so I may be entirely wrong in saying that Emma Copley Eisenberg does a fantastic job of telling the history of the place. I think she does, based on the more general American history I know well from the times she talks about – it all makes sense. I could be wrong. She does, though, go back to the pre-Civil War era to build the character of the people who she met when she lived there and who are, in one way or another, satellites surrounding the double murder that happened in Pocahontas County in 1980. I learned a lot, and that’s always a plus.

I get why she did it, spent at least half the book on the history and the state and the bigger picture. I do. And it’s the strongest part of the book. I would have read the book if it were just that, not the murder story too.

What doesn’t seem to work so well is that it’s such a back-and-forth between the murders, Copley Eisenberg’s experiences, and the history of the state. It’s almost like the chapters take turns, which makes it a bit hard to follow when you have to think back to two or three chapters ago to find your bearings in a new one.

There is also a marked difference in tone and writing style between the three main topics. If you’re reading about the murders, be ready for short, choppy sentences and seemingly random quotes from locals about who liked to drink where. If you’re reading about the author’s time in West Virginia, be ready to read a diary of sorts that details her personal evolution and growth. And if you’re reading about the history and the state, be ready for lengthy discourses on philosophies like feminism and cultural relativity, with quotes from scholars and experts and giants of literature.

Each of these things would be absolutely fine on their own.

Put together, the effect is a bit jarring. The story of the murders and the people involved, even the victims, seems somehow dumbed down when compared to the grand, lofty ideals that led to this moment in time.

Those critiques aside, it’s a fine book with good content. If you like history, Appalachia, and true crime in your books… give this one a try.

(I received a copy of this book through NetGalley and Hachette Books in exchange for an honest and original review.)

Book #4: “Death Trap” by M. William Phelps

Death Trap is a true crime book based on the murders of Alan and Terra Bates. Alan’s ex-wife, Jessica McCord, and her husband, Jeff, were both arrested for and convicted of the murders. Jessica McCord was, in a word, evil in the most fascinating of ways. Alan Bates did nothing wrong, only trying to abide by the law and do the best that he could for the two daughters he had with Jessica.

The story itself is very interesting. There are people, real people, that deserve to have their stories told. You feel for the Bates family and the Klugh family and you can’t help but wonder what makes people like Jessica McCord do the things that she did.

I honestly wish there had been more to the story. The whole thing seems to have been told, but it could have been told better.

Phelps, someone I’ve seen on many crime shows on the ID: Investigation Discovery channel that I probably watch too much of, did not tell the story well. With sentences short in the extreme, some barely managing a noun and a verb, the book read more like he was writing a script for the narrator of one the aforementioned shows to read. The writing style was very distracting because of that. I could have dealt with him jumping from the early 1990s to the early 2000s and back again if what was in the chapters had been better; more fleshed out and thoughtful.

I never thought I’d complain that I book was too simplistic, but it really was.

All that being said, my thoughts are with the families of Alan and Terra Bates.

True Crime Novels

My mother and my sister swear by true crime books. They’ve read dozens, I think. So, when I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read last week, I borrowed some of their books. The one I started is called Death Trap and it’s written by M. William Phelps and I’ll be using that as a base for this post.

Have you ever watched the Investigation Discovery channel? I have. It’s sort of addicting.

The narrators of the shows, whether they’re original to ID or repeats of things on NBC or CBS, have a certain way of talking. In very short sentences. For dramatic effect.

It works too. You get interested to the real-life victims and criminals because of the conversational tone of the narration.

I’m realizing it doesn’t work as well in true crime books. Not at all. I feel like a kid. Reading a book. For the first time.

I’m going to read the rest of the book because it is interesting, I just feel a tad silly reading it. Maybe if I read it really fast, it’ll flow together better.