BookScapes: Review of WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS? by Beverly Lowry

For me, Beverly Lowry’s book about the Austin TX Yogurt Shop murders ranks right up there with Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood as among the very best of true crime. But you have to be patient, for the story world Lowry recreates is initially–and deliberately, artfully, confoundingly–as confusing as the real world she must represent. And every bit as ugly, too. So you’d better bring a strong stomach to this book, as well as patience. There is nothing pretty about it, on any level, in any dimension.

The brutal 1991 murders of four young girls remain unsolved to this day. In this book, begun in 2009 and published in 2016, Lowry takes us through the labyrinthine case, from the grisly discovery through the exhausting (and botched) investigations to the arrests of four young men, the convictions of two, and the reversals of those convictions. In the seven long years of research and writing, she grew intimate enough with the families to be able to show us the exhausting effects of decades of grief and uncertainty; close enough to the cops to see (and reveal) their compulsive need to “solve” this case; and near enough to the politics of the judicial system to show its existential and terrifying failures. This is the best we can do in this world, Lowry says. Live with it. We have no other choice.

Factual, objective yet compassionate, eloquently voiced, Who Killed These Girls offers us everything we can ask from true crime. It is tragedy in the truest, most classical sense, and masterful. It illuminates, reflects on, and requires us to think about the issues posed by the awful appeal of true crime as a genre: why we want it, why we need it, why it hurts.

At the same time–and in the same way as the crime itself and its investigation–the book is baffling, demanding, frustrating, and profoundly disheartening. Readers who want their true crimes solved by competent police, criminals brought to justice, and society restored to a moral balance will not enjoy this book. Readers who can tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity, ambivalence, and real-world disorder–and who are able to appreciate an author who can represent all of this chaos with grace and compassion–will be rewarded with new insights into our very human frailties.

19 comments on “BookScapes: Review of WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS? by Beverly Lowry

  1. Have you read Gary McAvoy’s “And Every Word Is True?” It doesn’t really supply an answer to the Clutter Family mystery, but it does pose a lot of thoughtful questions.

    • I have, Barbara, last March, when it first came out. I was impressed–have planned to review it but wanted to reread In Cold Blood again first and think about the two books together–and the two recent films, as well.

  2. We often drive past the spot where the yogurt shop had been. Each time we do I think about these girls and their families. Perhaps someday there will be answers. I will be sure to read this book.

    • When I read it, Leia, I thought about No Stone Unturned, which you brought to my attention. Some of the same issues (especially cop coercion) appear in both books, but the accused in the Yogurt case are innocent–and the story is darker. Still, the police in both cases are compelled, even beyond reason, to solve the murders, and the justice system becomes a willing accomplice.

    • It is an interesting book, Ellie–and such a fascinating contrast in worlds between THE GOWN and Lowry’s book. I enjoyed THE GOWN because the conclusion seemed so right and fair and reassuring. The world of WHO KILLED is an unfair world, and the outcome feels wrong and tragic. Nothing reassuring about it. But it’s real.

    • I remember trying to follow it in the Statesman, Sammie–but the story was so convoluted, it was impossible to keep track of events. Lowry’s book shows why that was so hard. At the same time, it demonstrates why we need books like this, even when they are difficult and painful to read.

    • It’s a hard book, Lorrie–because the world Lowry is writing about is hard, unyielding, baffling. No easy resolutions here.

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