This is a unique take on the true crime genre. In 1998 Kendal Francois confessed to the serial rape and murder of eight women. He had strangled them, then drowned them in his bathtub. To dispose of the bodies, he simply carried them up to the attic of the home he shared with his mother, father, and siblings. No one in the house noticed anything odd, even while living amidst eight rotting corpses.
But The Spider and the Fly isn’t about that, not really. This book hovers between a memoir and a nonfiction crime novel. Claudia Rowe was working as a freelance reporter with the New York Times when Francois confessed. She became obsessed not with the crimes themselves, but with the murderer. She began a correspondence with him that lasted for four years. During that time, Francois and Rowe would each constantly test each others boundaries, he looking for intimacy, she wanting to know exactly what made him tick. Their correspondence would also make her look into her own troubled past, and confront her own inner demons.
While this book is certainly not what I had expected from one billed as “true crime,” I did wind up enjoying the book. There are countless books, some more sensational than others, that detail the crimes of our more infamous killers, but the focus on this book, looking into the nature of the killer, and his relationship with Rowe, is a new spin, and, ultimately, refreshing. This book doesn’t linger on the gory details of Kendall Francois’ crimes, instead we see an awkward and overly large black man, raised in the overwhelmingly white town of Poughkeepsie, New York. We see his social and mental isolation, and the home life that helped shape him into the person he would become. At no point does Rowe excuse or try to mitigate the crimes Francois committed, but she does try to bring a picture to her reader of the damaged man who lived alongside the monster.
I would recommend this book for true crime readers who know what they are getting into. If you’re looking for blood, gore, and sensationalism, you won’t find it here. If you’re okay with a quieter kind of thriller, if you want a (sometimes frustrating) look inside the mind of a serial killer, this book is just the ticket.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Spider and the Fly will be available for purchase on January 24th, 2017.