A staff writer for the Los Angeles Times presents a collection of swift-flowing pieces about outliers, liars, victims, and victimizers.
Goffard (You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya, 2011, etc.), whose work now appears on a podcast and in a new Bravo series (both called Dirty John), is a talented storyteller who eliminates most barriers to his work by employing basic vocabulary, lots of dialogue, short paragraphs, many textual divisions, and other reader-friendly techniques. And the tales themselves are gripping. Ranging in length from a handful of pages to more than 60 (the title story), Goffard’s pieces include, among others, the cases of a man mistakenly jailed for rape and torture, an injured Iraq veteran, youthful runaways hopping trains, a young lawyer on the rise, a PTA president framed for drug possession by a couple of rich, vindictive lawyers, a former Black Panther living and teaching in Tanzania, and, the wildest story of all, “Dirty John,” the tale of a talented and vicious con man who insinuated himself into the lives of lonely women, took their money, and grew violent when truths about him emerged. Although each of the pieces stands on a firm foundation of research, Goffard is able to keep the action and tension so prominent that his research seems almost invisible at times—invisible but nonetheless essential. He ends the collection with a couple of heart-wringers: the story of a Vietnamese woman coming to the U.S. in search of her suddenly silent son and the tale of an elderly man building a boat that he hopes will one day carry him to a death at sea.
Although Goffard’s style remains virtually the same in all of his stories, his characters and their often bizarre lives and predicaments accelerate the heart and animate a variety of emotions.