A New York media worker tries to comprehend a glamorous friend’s murder.
In her debut book, Murnick, an online editor at New York magazine, considers heady themes of sexuality, violence, and childhood loyalties. She writes in a breezy, flowing style that is observational yet inconsistent, at times parsing details with sharp terseness, elsewhere turning her consideration toward inward ruminations. She and Ashley, her best friend from suburban New Jersey, were already drifting apart when, in 2001, 21-year-old Murnick was shocked by news of Ashley’s murder in Los Angeles, particularly since Ashley had revealed to the author her dabblings in the sex-and-drugs underground of LA celebrity culture. “Eight months later she was dead,” writes Murnick, “and I was reading about it in the paper, trying to convince myself that it didn’t matter to me as much as it did. I knew that I had just about let her go in the months leading up to things, and it was impossible to know if we would have found our way back together.” The case was cold for years until the startling arrest of Michael Gargiulo, a neighbor and suspected serial killer. Linked by DNA evidence to at least two similar slayings, he’d ingratiated himself into Ashley’s social circle by offering conveniently timed home repairs (Murnick’s depiction of this provides an excellent guide to spotting sociopaths). The author attended the long pretrial hearings for the accused, meeting Ashley’s still-mourning LA friends and reconstructing a fuller portrait of Ashley’s “secret” life, which under scrutiny appeared both decadent and naïve: “Ashley didn’t deserve any of this. She had suddenly been made into a public figure for the worst possible reason.” There are powerful vignettes throughout, as the author describes her encounters with figures ranging from the meditative defense attorney to jaded reality TV journalists, but since Gargiulo’s trial has been delayed indefinitely, the narrative feels unresolved, with an increasing emphasis on inward observation.
An original and engaging, if uneven, fusion of memoir and true-crime.