Review: “The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder” by Claudia Rowe

Author: Claudia Rowe
Publication Date: January 24th 2017
Genre: True Crime, Nonfiction, Memoir
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads


Winner of the Washington State Book Award for Memoir

“Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching. . . . A must-read.”—Gillian Flynn, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl

In this superb work of literary true crime—a spellbinding combination of memoir and psychological suspense—a female journalist chronicles her unusual connection with a convicted serial killer and her search to understand the darkness inside us.

“Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I’ll have to give it to you, when confronted at least you’re honest, as honest as any reporter. . . . You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn’t it?”—Kendall Francois

In September 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe was working as a stringer for the New York Times in Poughkeepsie, New York, when local police discovered the bodies of eight women stashed in the attic and basement of the small colonial home that Kendall Francois, a painfully polite twenty-seven-year-old community college student, shared with his parents and sister.

Growing up amid the safe, bourgeois affluence of New York City, Rowe had always been secretly fascinated by the darkness, and soon became obsessed with the story and with Francois. She was consumed with the desire to understand just how a man could abduct and strangle eight women—and how a family could live for two years, seemingly unaware, in a house with the victims’ rotting corpses. She also hoped to uncover what humanity, if any, a murderer could maintain in the wake of such monstrous evil.

Reaching out after Francois was arrested, Rowe and the serial killer began a dizzying four-year conversation about cruelty, compassion, and control; an unusual and provocative relationship that would eventually lead her to the abyss, forcing her to clearly see herself and her own past—and why she was drawn to danger.

From Goodreads


TLDR; An unconventional true crime. Written memoir-style and centers around the author’s interactions with the killer in the aftermath of the crimes in a bid to better understand the darkness in all of us.

This book was one of a number I purchased for a great discount on Book Outlet, which I chose because of the genre, cover, and description. It ended up being a very non-traditional true crime book. Let me explain why. Typically in the genre I’d expect to either A. start by hearing the author’s investigation into the case then backtrack into the intensity of the murders or B. start at the killer’s origin story (wherever that begins), become immersed in the investigation, and wrap up at the trial. This book seemed like it was headed towards the first of these approaches but then never made it.

The author splits genres, centering somewhere around a memoir-true crime mix. While she certainly interviews Kendall diving into his case and motives, the focus almost seemed to be more on her own journey comprehending the killings and her interactions with the killer rather than on the killer himself. (In fact, I’m not even sure she really elicited adequate response from Kendall in regard to motive, etc, but I’ll let you judge that for yourself.) As readers we hear about her personal relationships, obsession with the case, and her struggles interacting with Kendall. Because of this, the book lacked much of the suspense I’d expect from a normal true crime novel and didn’t quite hit the mark on advertising. There were some bits that were surprising but more so in the author’s backstory and introspection.

This book has a unique balance I haven’t seen before, but I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it! I think many others would to, as long as you go in with the expectation that this will be an unusual ‘true crime’ read. (I.e. don’t go in expecting to hear all about his crooked past and intricate accounts of the murders. It has some of that but not in depth.) If you’re interested in the perspective of an interviewer-author recounting her experiences interviewing a killer this might be the perfect book for you!


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