The true crime industry is something to behold. Whether that’s Serial-style podcasts that aim to explore unjust convictions, entire TV channels devoted to exploring women who snap, or Netflix all but releasing weekly documentary specials about pulled-from-the-headlines crime, there’s never been a better time to be interested in true crime.
There is a dark side to this all, however – the true cost of viewing and consuming real human misery as entertainment, something Daniel Sweren-Becker’s Kill Show seeks to explore. Kill Show follows a fictional documentary crew who attaches themselves to the disappearance of Sara Parcell and, for better and worse, change the course of the active investigation.
Told through oral-history-style interviews, Kill Show is a bleak mystery that slowly peels back the layers of what we might consider an ostensible whodunnit to examine the impact of the documentary crew has on their subjects. Sincere moments are re-done like takes on a film scene, breakthroughs are structured to act like episodic cliff-hangers, and no one in the book’s ensemble escapes the devastation wrought on a small town by such a monumental event.
Kill Show finds its closest thing to a lead character in Casey Hawthorne, the show’s producer and the entrancing black hole around which the show, and the book, orbits, inexorably drawn to her inevitable, wrenching pull. Casey is ruthless and calculated, turning her emotions on a dime to wring the best result of a worried parent, a grieving townsperson, or a lovelorn detective. Casey is Scream‘s Gale Weathers with the ambition dialled up to eleven and her humanity unplugged at the socket, a gloriously messy, hard, and mesmerising creation no doubt based on Sweren-Becker’s real-life history within the Hollywood entertainment industry.
As a mystery, Kill Show is nowhere near as strong, these elements of the story supported by a couple of narrative twists. Ultimately Sweren-Becker is more concerned with exploring the impact of televising trauma as light entertainment, both on its subjects and on the producers of such entertainment, none of whom truly escape the lingering pain of Sara’s disappearance.
A searing examination of the true-crime industry, Kill Show isn’t afraid to lets its sour-laced, satirical take on a missing-persons case dominate what could have been a more straightforward and rote mystery. Readers expecting a neat conclusion and likeable characters will be left wanting, but those seeking a peek into how the tragedies of fellow humans are commodified for entertainment will find the seeming extremes of Kill Show hauntingly relatable.
Kill Show is out on 5th October from Hodder & Stoughton.