Chasing the Bogeyman by Richard Chizmar, realesed on 7th August, is a chimera of a novel. It is fiction, but fiction which is pretending to be true crime. Chizmar writes about a real time and a real place in his life, the months he spent in his home town after graduating college and before starting his married life. His fiancée, his mother, father, neighbours and friends all feature, but the part which isn’t real, is the killings.
Bogeyman follows the murders of several adolescent white women and the police search for the perpetrator. The layering of the real and the fictitious creates a read which feels like it has more depth and emotional resonance than crime fiction. There is a hint of Bundy here, (it’s truly annoying how pleased that man would be at being such a cultural touch stone), a little Texarkana Moonlight Murders there. However as a hybrid it is also beset by some of the problems of fiction, there is one jarring “As you know Bob,” and crucial information delivered to Chizmar by a wise neighbour who just knows that this straight out of college, little life experienced man/boy focusing most of his energy on setting up a small press the right person to tell an important piece of information to – rather than say, the police? I guess that’s what being a white middle class male character at the centre of a novel does for you.
Most puzzling (if you take this as fiction) is why Chizmar is the centre of the story, when in reality it is his friend Carly Albright, who actually does most of the investigating. Chizmar’s role is far more passive, basically reporting back to us what he’s seen on the evening news, awkwardly failing to ingratiate himself with the gossiping men of the town, and hearing the results of all the hardwork of pounding the streets, finessing contacts, and pouring over evidence that Carly does. Yes, Chizmar gives her credit a few times as well as musing on her ability to win a Pulitzer, but really the same book written by Carly would be a much less passive, far more pacey and possibly with a lot less of the sentimentality, which infuses the whole novel like tea that is just a bit too sweat. However maybe Chizmar has done this on purpose and the whole thing is a clever role reversal, and it’s here where the porous border between crime fiction and true crime becomes complicate.
By trying to inhabit both the best of true crime and crime fiction Chizmar displays an admirable amount of creative ambition and playfulness. Of course some of the best work in true crime is in the first person, and to truly inhabit that position he has to write as himself. There is the added bonus that this lends great authenticity to the time and place, but this is perhaps at the expense of the telling the story, and it feels to me that in most novels everything should be in greater service to the story. But then again, this is fiction masquerading as true crime, a genre in which narrative is highly important, but so are the fact – and the parts that are genuinely factual do come alive on it’s pages.
There have always been controversies in true crime, regarding just how “true” it is, going right back to what is considered the first true crime book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It feels like Chasing the Bogeyman was a natural next step for someone to experiment with. While I don’t feel it fully pulls off what it is trying to do, it is still a captivating, if puzzling, read and I am sure we’ll see it in the best seller charts soon.