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Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

October 31, 2018


In 1968, Robert Graysmith was a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle when the serial killer who called himself Zodiac came to national attention. In an encrypted letter sent to multiple Bay Area newspapers, Zodiac claimed responsibility for three recent murders and one more near-murder (he’d eventually claim he’d killed 37 people, though most were unconfirmed). He demanded that the papers print his messages on their front pages or he’d kill again.

Graysmith became obsessed with Zodiac. He blurred the line between journalist and criminal investigator, and he brings us along his winding, frustrating search for the killer, with all its false clues and dead ends. But there’s also a sense of suspense, moments of palpable danger. We know that Graysmith made it out alive, but with a couple of the people he interviews, we get the sense that this person just might be…or is that just Graysmith’s paranoia we’re picking up?

This book is considered a classic of the genre, though it’s not a classically satisfying book. It’s sometimes slow, in the weeds, and there’s no good ending. The killer was never identified. I didn’t mind the obtuse plot. I think it’s an interesting character study of Graysmith—good crime stories are often more about the investigator than the criminal. The writing is solid, the story terrifying. Having lived in the Bay Area, I knew many of the areas. They are as normal as normal gets, which is why books like this keep you up at night.

Maybe we’ll learn the truth from DNA evidence someday, the way we did with the Golden State Killer earlier this year. But as for the scope of this book, the killer remains a mystery.


Related reads: 

I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Mind Hunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi


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