Sunday, 12 June 2011

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

From The Week of April 03, 2011

To a civilized, lawful society, there are few creatures who engender more fear than the serial killer. His merciless, unfeeling code is so foreign, so fearsome, that he seems a superhuman predator, a demon who refuses to be bound by the social and moral strictures the rest of us cleave to. While most of these killers are inevitably uncaught, unmasked and demystified, others remain floating through the world, enigmas waiting to be solved. Of these, the Zodiac Killer stands alone.

In 1968, the Zodiac Killer began a cunning and cruel campaign against young lovers in the San Francisco Bay area. Though police have only attributed five kills to his name, Zodiac himself, in a series of letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, claims to have taken the lives of 39 people over a multi-year span of death and destruction. Since then, his legend has only grown. After all, he has not only remained at large in spite of a 40 year manhunt to locate him, he claims to have given police his identity in a series of ciphers imbedded in his famous letters. Only one of these ciphers has ever been decoded. Smart, clever, resourceful, murderous, patient and disciplined... In a world before the Internet, DNA analysis, and general forensics, the police needed to be both skillful and lucky to catch Zodiac. And while the former may have been in supply, the latter was nowhere to be seen.

Mr. Graysmith, who worked as a cartoonist at the Chronicle during the Zodiac Killings, has made it his mission to uncover the killer's identity. Pursuing the case for 17 years, prior to the publication of this book in 1985, he has interviewed dozens of cops and victims, suspects and experts in an effort to reveal the identity of one of America's most elusive killers. The result of his investigation is Zodiac, a thorough and disturbing reconstruction of the crimes, the letters, and their fallout. But while it is an excellent primer on the Zodiac case, Zodiac goes beyond typical true crime non-fiction, actually building cases against the likeliest suspects. Mr. Graysmith goes so far in this effort that it becomes necessary for him to use false names to avoid slandering and stigmatizing citizens who haven't been charged with any crimes, but this in no way hinders his effort to paint vivid portraits of the main suspects: their backgrounds, their interests, their alibis. One especially repugnant creature earns the status of chief suspect, with Mr. Graysmith going so far as to follow him in car and on foot, but until an arrest is made we won't know if the author was right about his Zodiac.

This is a thorough and gripping account of a frightening chapter in American history. Mr. Graysmith is an excellent guide into a frightening world, exposing us to the heartbreak, the horror and the vengeance. A well-rounded account with plenty for everyone, except, of course, the faint of heart. Ours may be a more jaded time, but even now these crimes stand out as frighteningly pathological. (4/5 Stars)

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