I’m late in terms of The Jinx. I was deep into a first draft of the third Pete Fernandez book (just finished!), plus Day Job Stuff, Secret Comic Book Writing and Life. Still, we managed to mainline the six-episode HBO documentary shortly after the finale, which was preceded by the actual arrest of Robert Durst in New Orleans on first-degree murder charges stemming from the death of his friend Susan Berman.
Durst, as you would know from the show or previous coverage, was long suspected of being involved in the disappearance of his wife Kathie and later brought to trial for the murder of a neighbor while hiding out from police in Galveston, TX. It is believed that Durst went on the run after taking the life of Berman, who “knew his secrets” and served as his pseudo-spokesperson during the initial flurry of press coverage that surrounded his wife’s disappearance. The early episodes of the show also spend a lot of time dissecting Durst’s own childhood trauma, creating echoes of what was to come and trying to show how those things – including the mysterious death of his mother – influenced his current state of mind.
If you haven’t watched, I’d scroll down or save this for when you’re done. I’d also suggest you read this week’s installment of Sarah Weinman’s excellent The Crime Lady newsletter. Heck, read them all and subscribe. It’s worth it.
Anyway – my scattered thoughts on the series:
- The show was creepy and compelling. None of the six episodes felt like filler and they all fit together well at the end, despite the tonal change of the last episode, where the directors turned the cameras on themselves. While I didn’t really doubt Durst’s guilt, they did a nice job of humanizing him to the point where you almost felt sorry for the guy. The reenactments didn’t do much for me at first. They reminded me too much of Jinx director Andrew Jarecki’s painfully mediocre film about Durst, All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. But by the middle of it, I was fine with them – they had an Erroll Morris vibe that I appreciated and didn’t distract the way those things sometimes can. Now that the show is done, though, it seems that the questiondu jour is how The Jinx ranks against/compares to stuff like Serial or The Staircase. That didn’t really cross my mind until I heard it discussed on theCrime Writers On… podcast, but I can’t really compare them. Even something like The Staircase, which is the closest thing to The Jinx structurally is vastly different in execution and style. So, I don’t have an answer to that. I find all three to be interesting for their own reasons. I’m more inclined to discuss the perceived trend of true crime reporting (be it via podcast or documentary or whatever) directly “affecting” the investigative process due to “public curiosity,” as NPR puts it.
- Jarecki’s timeline is fishy, and I take issue with how it was presented in the finale: namely, that Durst’s arrest for breaking the restraining order his brother had on him actually happened a good while after the “Second Robert Durst Interview” was conducted. You had no way of knowing on first viewing, though. That’s disingenuous, and tips the scale more toward entertainment, not journalism. I get that Jarecki is a Hollywood director, not a reporter or documentary filmmaker. But I think I would have been more impressed had he found a way to show the proper timeline and still made it compelling over the easy out that fudging things offered. Also, Jarecki’s post-NYT interview press evasiveness – including cancelling a major late night appearance – probably has more to do with the faulty timeline and the questions it’s raised than the director’s desire to not affect Durst’s trial.
- The prosecution is going to need a lot more evidence against Durst than what we saw on The Jinx to convict. Durst will hire the best attorneys available, including Dick Deguerin (hired at the behest of his mysterious second wife last time), who got him off on murder charges in Galveston. The “handwriting expert” we saw in the finale could easily be parried by another “expert,” if not toppled completely by the growing belief that handwriting analysis doesn’t hold much weight in court anymore. As for his muttered comments at the end – if you think that’ll appear in front of a jury, much less stand as a confession, I have some land I’d like to sell you in the Everglades. This isn’t to say that evidence doesn’t exist – we just haven’t seen it yet. I do think Durst killed Berman. But if we’re basing it only on what was shared on the show, prosecutors are going into this very light.
- I did not enjoy the theme music at first, but it grew on me.
A few links of note:
Bosch will return for a second season on Amazon. I liked the first season well enough, so this is good news. First learned of the pickup via this nice interview of Michael Connelly by Neely Tucker, whose great debut crime novel, The Ways of the Dead, is worth your time.
We’ll be hosting a third “Noir at the Bar Queens” event next Thursday at Odradeks Coffeehouse. I’m very humbled by the lineup of authors participating. Please swing by if you can make it. Poster above.
Shocker: the lives of private detectives aren’t as exciting in reality.
We’re launching a horror-centric imprint at Archie, including a third title to join the existing Afterlife with Archie and Sabrina series. We also announced the fourth title under the Dark Circle Comics banner (which I’m editing): The Hangman.
I talk a little bit about daily word counts at Do Some Damage and my mixed feelings about the “Church of 1,000 Words” phrase (SPOILER: I don’t like it. Sorry, Kristi!). I do like it in theory, though. That’s enough, right?
Speaking of shows I’m late to: Broad City. Wow. Hilarious. Thanks, Andrea.
Just finished Rob Hart’s New Yorked, which I enjoyed. I am biased, I know, being a fellow Polis Books author. But I’m still very impressed by the stable of crime writers Jason Pinter has collected. Not long before I dove into New Yorked, I finished Dave White’s most recent Jackson Donne novel, Not Even Past – which I also really dug. White explores the P.I. genre in a fresh and unexpected way, which I can appreciate.
I’ve hopped back to Ghettoside by Jill Leovy. I put it down a few weeks ago because it was just depressing the hell out of me. Not because it was bad – it’s a stunning work of nonfiction and manages to sustain a level of drama that is doubly hard to achieve when you’re writing about real events. No, I was just bummed out by the subject matter. Ghettoside focuses on the murders of black men by black men – or “ghettoside” killings, which are routinely ignored by police and media. Here’s one of the most jaw-dropping facts Leovy shares in the book: African-American males are “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.” Leovy smartly focuses on a few Los Angeles detectives to show how the facts play in the real world while still zooming out to paint a bigger picture for the reader. An important piece of reporting.
This newsletter is out a bit early, as I’ll be in transit Saturday morning. See you next week!