Kill Show by Daniel Sweren-Becker
Published by William Morrow & Company
Publication date: October 3, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense, Pop culture
Sara Parcell is a teenager and gifted violinist who disappears on what seems to be an ordinary day. Within days her case goes national, coming to the attention of an ambitious reality TV show producer desperate to do something bigger than dating competition shows. To that end she reaches out to Sara’s parents to follow her abduction in real-time as a TV documentary. This is the background for Kill Show, a slow burn novel centered around our macabre fascination with true crime.
It’s been 10 years since the Parcell case and in Kill Show the key protagonists from a myriad of angles around the story have agreed to be interviewed about what happened. These conversations are from the birds’ eye view of TV network executives, local newscasters, and psychologists narrowing down to the microcosm of Sara’s parents, friends, and neighbors.
The novel’s oral history format makes for fast reading and yet excels on so many levels. Events unfold in short, terse chapters with the feel of a documentary as viewpoints collide and contradict. Family dynamics, greed, and professional ethics are all a part of the toxic brew surrounding a missing teenager. But where Kill Show really shines is in how author Daniel Sweren-Becker lasers in on the novel’s critical subtext: the role of the media in stoking the fire that is America’s current appetite for true crime viewing.
I often partake of true crime ‘entertainment’ so I’m part of the problem, but I admire how skillfully Sweren-Becker pursues the topic to its increasingly worrying conclusion. Whether it’s pop culture critics extrapolating on the rise in white masculine fragility or conspiracy theorists who claim 99% of child abductions are faked, Kill Show is a well-paced, engrossing novel on how the American drive for more more more can go horribly wrong.
For nonfiction reading on this topic I recommend In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping
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