I could not put this book down. I read it in two sittings.
I’m not the kind of person who reads loads of true crime or serial killer stories, perhaps for the obvious reason that they are so tragic and sad, and also quite terrifying. So why is this book different?
Robert Graysmith was a political cartoonist who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 70’s when the serial killer who became known as the Zodiac started murdering people in the San Francisco and surrounding areas. As the killer wrote letters to the newspaper where he worked, he felt drawn into the mystery of who the killer was and that he must be found. That feeling became a drive which has led him to investigate the killer and all the murders, for several decades.
The attention to detail in this book is incredible. Perhaps being surrounded by journalists effected the authors writing style, making it very factual and concise, or perhaps his talks with the detectives and investigators on the case, reading all those reports influenced this. I’m not saying it’s dry, but there’s just so much here. An entire case. There’s no sensationalism, just an incredible detailed investigation by a “civilian”, a man who felt compelled to find out and keep finding out. His passion and dedication is what makes this book so compelling.
The Zodiac himself was never caught. (Graysmith makes a really credible case for who he thinks is the likely suspect) From 1968, a man killed 7 people, and may have killed up to 37. He never used the same weapon twice, he killed randomly, one of his victims may have known him, and he sent letters to the police and newspapers, taunting those who were trying to catch him, including cryptograms that he claimed gave his identity. The cryptograms were so complex that the US government agencies did not solve them, and one of them was solved by Graysmith himself.
The book starts with the first killing, moves through the victims and contains all the details, including Graysmith’s own investigative work. It’s a dark book, intense and tragic. Chilling. But it’s also written by a man who was there, who was in the area at the time of the killings, who knew the detectives and police, and who talks to everyone involved. He was there when letters arrived at the offices of the newspaper. Perhaps that’s why it feels so different, so much more personal, though it always remains objective. By the end of the book, I felt something not just for the victims, but for the man who wrote this book. Perhaps that why when David Fincher made his film Zodiac, it was more about Robert Graysmith and his investigation than it was about the killer.
Read It If: understandably, this is not a book for everyone. It’s about a violent, sadistic serial killer. But I think those of you who find mysteries, detective stories and true crime interesting will really enjoy this one.