We do women no favours if we discount their violence, their crimes or the great damage we can do and only see them as victims. More importantly we compound the damage they have done to their victims. We, however also do wrong if we don't take into account the fact that we live in a society where it is all to easy for impressionable, vulnerable women to be manipulated by older, more powerful men. My answer to the question that we should never be asking, if these women are victims or villian, is instead to let go of the pervasive "perfect victim," fallacy and accept that a great deal of the time, people can be both.
The Coombs case indeed throws up a mirror to our apparently more modern age, where we consider ourselves to have more understanding. The Wicked Boy however does not lead one to the satisfactory conclusion that we would react differently now-a-days because we are so much more knowledgeable and clever. Instead it shows us that despite the great advances we've made both socially and in technology, once you scratch the surface the human reaction to children committing murder is the same tumultuous mix of shock, horror, pity, and disbelief, accompanied by the kind of wild blame seeking and judgement that speaks more of calming anxiety than the search for true understanding.
In the content creating world which is bent towards crime, murder is always considered the worst. Most cultures and civilisations have always done so, although some may disagree with the concept of all murders being bad, given how throughout history there have always been some lives considered less. However, there is genearlly agreement that murder …
In Britain however the crimes that we are often most gripped by tends to be those that happen to ordinary people, who live quiet lives. Perhapse that is to do with the fact that despite seeing ourselves as a modern state, in the UK we still live with the hangovers of the feudal system, with such regressive concepts as the "deserving poor," and moralisitic phrases like "hard working people," still finidng currancy in our politics, which has been overrun recently with those for whom even their privilage comes gold plated. We've never admired our rich and powerful as much as tolerate them, and get on with our own lives.
This kind of elitism and snobbishness has always existed in the arts. However what the many who tightly cling to this sense of superiority do not realise is that it is only very recently that realism has crept into literature - think about Homer, Beowulf, Shakespeare with his Wyrd Sisters, Titania and Oberon. Human beings have always enjoyed a good dose of the mysterious, miraculous, mythological and the unexplainable in our stories.
What Russo firmly does is place the outcomes of the cult, within a cultural context of the crumbling American empire, and the death of the public service ideal. By doing this he makes the scared, isolated lives the cult members live much more a symptom of the modern worlds lack of connection, community and shared values, rather than the punchline of a joke.
By trying to inhabit both the best of true crime and crime fiction Chizman displays an admirable amount of creative ambition and playfulness. Of course some of the best work in true crime comes is in the first person, and to truely inhabit that position he has to write as himslef. There is the added bonus that this lends great authenticity to the time and place, but this is perhapse at the expense of the telling the story, and it feels to me that in this novel at least everything should be in greater service to the story.