I don’t know about you, but the amount of reading I have done recently has drastically decreased. I have been gravitating toward podcasts instead. Another librarian recommended The Less People Know About Usby Axton Betz-Hamilton as a true crime memoir that I would like and she was right! This book may be nonfiction, but it reads like fiction: a riveting tale of family drama and one person’s journey to rebuild their life from bare bones.
The Less People Know About Us by Axton Betz-Hamilton follows Axton from childhood to adulthood. Growing up in small-town Indiana in the early 1990s, Axton and her parents (and the occasional grandparent) found themselves struggling. Why? When she was 11, both of Axton’s parents had their identities stolen. Life changed forever for them after this happened: fights over money became more and more frequent and their credit ratings were tanked. Every time Axton mentioned going to the authorities or the banks to help, her mom said she would handle it, when in reality, there was nothing much they could do to help because identity theft was a somewhat new concept.
To hide from the identity thief, they moved to different addresses and changed all of their personal information. Going so far as to avoid answering the door and to try to live as quiet a life as possible, Axton and her parents completely cut off the outside world. Isolated from friends and family, Axton’s life became increasingly more lonely. She became more and more anxious and eventually developed an eating disorder, seemingly quarantined in her childhood home as the identity thief was always able to find them no matter where they moved.
Years later, Axton discovered that she also was a victim of identity theft. Unfortunately by the time she discovered this, she was already thousands of dollars in debt. Her credit was ruined. In order to dig herself out of this, Axton became an award-winning identity theft expert doing research into this topic and trying to figure out why people choose to steal the identities of others. It took her years to figure out who was responsible and that involved trying to untangle a massively intricate web of lies that formed before she was even born.
I spend a lot of time in the car either driving to work or driving to explore. This means that I have so many hours to fill that the music on the radio starts to repeat itself. I have learned to spend this time listening to podcasts and audiobooks instead. Looking at award-winning book lists, I found Sadie by Courtney Summers: a book that is presented like a true crime podcast. This sounded perfect to me.
Sadie by Courtney Summers highlights the story of Sadie and her sister Mattie. When thirteen-year-old Mattie goes missing from her small Colorado town and is eventually found murdered, her nineteen-year-old sister Sadie is devastated. Sadie has been raising Mattie by herself for years ever since their mother left. While she had some help from her surrogate grandma, Sadie took on the bulk of the responsibilities associated with her and Mattie’s welfare. When Sadie all of a sudden disappears about a year after Mattie is found, her surrogate grandma reaches out for help.
West McCray is a radio personality who has been slowly making his way across the country to work on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America. While stopped in one such town, he overhears a local talking about Sadie’s disappearance. Shortly after, West is contacted by Sadie’s surrogate grandma and finds himself drawn into the case. West decides to turn his examination into the disappearance of Sadie and the murder of Mattie into a true crime podcast called ‘The Girls’.
When Sadie runs away, rumors abound about why she left and where she’s going. Told in the alternating perspectives of both Sadie as she runs away and West’s podcast about her disappearance, readers are able to follow this story from both points of view. While Sadie has run away in order to track down her younger sister Mattie’s killer, West and the rest of her family don’t have access to that information and struggle to find out why she’s gone, where she is, and what has happened to her.
I enjoyed this book as it combines three of my favorite things: true crime, podcasts, and audiobooks. After looking at different reviews, flipping through the print book, and listening to the audiobook, I agree with others when they say that, if given the option, you should listen to the audiobook. By doing so, you are privy to the little audio clues present in the podcast sections that you would miss out on if you only read the book. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
This book is also available in the following format:
December 19, 2001. Waldport, Oregon. The body of a young boy was discovered floating in a pond. No one knew who the boy was and there were no missing persons reports for a child. Three days later, divers searched the pond, looking for clues on the boy’s identity. There was a highway bridge over the pond, and it was suspected that a car with the child’s family may be in the pond. Divers found the body of a girl with a rock tied around her ankle. The media ran the story asking for help finding the children’s parents. A babysitter stepped forward and identified the children. From there, the authorities searched the children’s residence. It was evident that someone had packed up the personal belongings. But the father, mother, and younger sister of the children were missing. Divers searched the water nearby and found two suitcases. Inside were the bodies of the mother and the baby girl. Four out of the five members of the Longo family were dead. Mary-Jane and her children Zachary, Sadie and Madison had been murdered. Christian Longo was no where to be found.
The story of the Longo family is truly horrific. Stories such as these remind us all that there are dangerous people in the world. Even a person that you love and trust could be the person that ends that your life. But True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa is not just about the murdered Longo family.
Michael Finkel lives in Montana and is a writer for the New York Times. He had recently written a story that was not entirely true and was terminated for it. So when he gets a call from a journalist at The Oregonian, Finkel expects the call to be about his disgrace. Instead, the newspaper writer asks him about his reaction to Christian Longo being arrested after claiming to be Michael Finkel from the New York Times.
And so begins the bizarre relationship between the accused murderer and the disgraced journalist. Longo calls Finkel from prison on a weekly basis. They exchange letters. Finkel even drives to Oregon to visit him a few times. And Michael Finkel is in the court room during Longo’s trial.
There is also a movie based off of the book. True Story was released in 2015. It stars James Franco as Christian Longo and Jonah Hill as Michael Finkel. True Story is available on DVD from the library.
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