Liza, along with her younger sister, grew up spending Summers in Provincetown, where their mother would go to work and hope to catch the eye of a wealthy man. Liza’s father was almost totally absent, and her mother was most likely a narcissist, but definitely abusive. Because of this, Liza was drawn to a woman called Cecelia and her handsome son Tony, both of whom were kind and allowed her to hang around with them. Tony would take her and her sister along on drives and buy them ice creams. Liza’s mother was really happy for any stranger to watch her children, and for Liza, Tony filled the space that her mother’s neglect had left.
Years later, Liza started having nightmares. Were these some weird, uncomfortable memory surfacing? She reached out to her mother, who told her, casually, yes, her old pal Tony was actually Tony Costa. A serial killer.
The book alternates between Liza’s memoir of her time with Tony and surviving life with her mother, and Tony’s life, who he was and what he was really up to. It’s both of their lives in parallel and it’s chilling.
This book is such a page turner. I could not put it down! Liza Rodman paints a picture of her childhood so vividly, and you can really see how easily she fell under the spell of a person who was nice to her when it felt like almost no one else really was. Liza’s mother is a monster, and an all too familiar one to those who have read about or dealt with a narcissist, and yet Liza shows us this parent through the eyes of a little girl who just wants her mother to love her. I feel like Liza also is really honest about herself, which is part of what makes it so engrossing. She tells us how jealous she was of her little sister Louisa (if you are familiar, Louisa is a classic Golden Child and Liza the Scapegoat) and how she sometimes gave her a hard time. I sometimes felt sorry for Louisa getting some weird mixed messages, and I wonder who she became and how this life effected her too. It’s very raw and honest. And I just wanted to hug both of those poor girls.
The chapters on Tony show a great deal of research and a great attention to detail. The authors have researched the background and circumstances of Tony Costa’s life and crimes well, and as he was someone I hadn’t heard of, this was super interesting. I really liked the way the child Liza saw things and had limited understanding, juxtaposed with what Tony was really doing. His story is also really well told, and interesting.
I think the power of this book is that it shows us how we normalise people around us, especially odd but nice people, and that serial killers and sociopaths use this to hide in plain site. Tony? That charming guy? Sure he’s a bit odd, but no way he kills women… right? It also shows us how a sociopath functions, from the poor impulse control and grandiosity to the way that they instinctively know who will be vulnerable to their charm. The way Liza just hangs out with him, because her mother and father are either emotionally or physically absent, is chilling and you can see how she’s so drawn to needing some kindness and simplicity in her life that anyone could be taken in. Before we’re a victim of the really bad people in the world, we’re often the victim of our families or neglect first.
I devoured this book and then had trouble sleeping. An absolute page turning read.
Read It If: true crime fans, serial killer readers are the obvious demographic for this one, but I think those of you who has a narcissistic parent might see themselves in this one too.
Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for honest review. All opinions are my own. The Babysitter is out March 2 2021.