BOOK: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

Many years ago, I saw a terrific miniseries about Ted Bundy starring Mark Harmon that was based on this true crime book by Seattle writer Ann Rule. I can’t remember what spurred my decision to get the book from the library recently and, in fact, I was surprised when it showed up in my pile of books on hold one day. But I took it home and read it anyway, and though I was kind of disappointed in it overall, I think that probably has more to do with the genre of true crime rather than the book itself.

Ann Rule actually knew Ted Bundy — they worked together at a crisis clinic in Seattle for years. And for years after the murders began, Ann sort of suspected her Ted might be “The Ted,” but couldn’t really bring herself to believe it might be true. That the author of the book actually knew Ted gave the story an interesting perspective, if only because Rule could recount conversations she’d had with him both before he was an actual known suspect and after he’d been arrested, conversations that demonstrated both the charisma that made it so easy for him to victimize women and stay unseen in plain sight for so long, and the struggles he had inside his own mind regarding his “urges” and fears.  His letters to Ann definitely changed after he got caught, even though he never confessed to her in any of them.  Crazy will out, I suppose.

That said, I confess what I found sort of a let-down about this book was that there was literally no attempt on Ann Rule’s part to theorize what made Ted do what he did (which, incidentally, I was sort of shocked to discover he did about three blocks from where I work — he actually lived more like two blocks from where I work, too, in a house I probably walk by every week). And sure, Rule is not a psychologist or a profiler, but she had amazing access to the man, and I kept wanting her to ask him questions she kept not asking. While I know some of that was because he was her friend and it was hard for her to believe what was going on, let alone pepper him with personal questions about his childhood and his anger towards women, I still wanted this book to go a bit deeper than it ever went. It’s all surface — descriptions of Ted, descriptions of his victims, detailed (ugh) descriptions of some of his attacks on those victims, details of his numerous escapes from custody, descriptions of his trials. But nothing deeper than that.

And maybe that’s the way the true crime genre works — I don’t typically read these kinds of things. Maybe if I want to get inside Bundy’s mind more, I need to read books written by abnormal psychology experts or something. In any case, this is a very well-written and gripping book and even though it’s a very disturbing tale, it’s also quite fascinating at the same time. I’m glad I read it, even if it did mostly just succeed in making me wish it could’ve told me more.


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2 Responses to “BOOK: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule”

  1. Lizzie Says:

    Yeah, that miniseries about Bundy, starring Mark Harmon, was excellent! I think they called it “The Deliberate Stranger.” That was the show that proved for me what a terrific actor Harmon is. I’m also with you about wanting to know more about WHY he did what he did. I always want to know why people do things, or why something is true, and when that gets ignored, or glossed over, I get annoyed. But your assessment of the book seemed very fair.

  2. Adrienne Says:

    The book may have glossed over the whys and the wherefors, but from all I’ve read and seen on tv, Bundy never really explained that to anyone, other than putting some of the blame on pornography. So maybe Anne Rule did ask those questions and just got stupid responses that she chose not to include? Anyway, I’m with y’all on Mark Harmon…and very grateful for NCIS because now when I see Mark Harmon it’s not “Ted Bundy”…its GIBBS!! LOL

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