Maynard revisits '80s serial-killer case
By Ann Levin
Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Joyce Maynard's latest novel, “After Her,” is loosely based on the 1980s Trailside Killer case, in which a serial killer targeted victims on hiking trails in Northern California, spreading terror through the region.
The story is narrated some 30 years after the murders by Rachel Torricelli, whose father, Anthony, was the lead homicide detective charged with investigating the slayings.
Most of the action takes place over the year or so when corpses of women start showing up with alarming frequency in parks in Marin County, north of San Francisco, where Rachel roams freely with her tomboy younger sister, Patty.
Rachel, meanwhile, is struggling with the attraction and terror of teenage sex. The killings, she says, “had begun right around the time all the other girls started talking about their periods, and in an unsettling way those two events — the murders of all those young women and my own anxious anticipation of blood — were linked for me.”
Both girls idolize their dad even though his chronic infidelity led their mom to throw him out. Rachel, who styles herself a keen observer like her dad, decides to help him crack the case.
As a detective thriller, the pacing is off. The narrative meanders until the last 30 pages, when the unresolved plot points hurtle to a clever but contrived conclusion.
As a character-driven story about the bonds between sisters, the story is equally unconvincing. The girls come off nearly as flat as the Betty and Veronica characters in the comics Patty adores.
The main problem is the narrator, who sucks up all the oxygen in the story. “I was good at making up stories,” she tells us. Later, we learn she has visions. We hear about her extraordinary storytelling gift over and over, until finally she becomes the semi-famous author she longs to be.
Patty, the nearly mute, loyal sidekick, has to die for plot reasons and is killed off in a terrorist attack in Somalia that has no organic relationship to the story. The depressed mom is virtually invisible. And although Maynard says in an afterword that the dad was based on the real detective who investigated the killings, the fictional character is largely an amalgam of genre conventions.
Maynard is a slick, commercial writer. An earlier novel, “To Die For,” was turned into a hit movie. Another novel, “Labor Day,” is being made into a film due out this fall. Perhaps “After Her” was always meant to be just a trial run for the Hollywood version.
Ann Levin is a staff writer for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Samsung introduces free streaming radio service
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- Fraud charges stand for Facebook claimant
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Kittanning’s Nolf 1 win away from 3rd PIAA title
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Pirates seek to tap Alvarez’s remaining upside
- Web of surveillance videos helps ensnare suspect in East Liberty slayings
- Keisel might be at end of Steelers career
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital