Strand (Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies, 2008, etc.) explores the connection between America’s sprawling highway system and the pathology of the murderers who have made them a killing ground.
Alternating case histories of notorious serial killers who exploited the mobility and anonymity made possible by the interstates with a history of the political and social forces that built them, the author strives to debunk popular notions of the resourceful, brilliant psychopath—most of the men profiled here were uncharismatic, not particularly bright and eerily ordinary in affect and appearance. She also tries to link the psychological effects of the lonely open road to the will to murder. Strand’s sociological assertions can seem a bit notional and flimsily argued, and the history of the politics behind the building of the interstates is unsurprisingly dry, but the case histories of the murderers and their crimes exert a queasy fascination. The author offers well-researched summations of the Charles Starkweather/Caril Fugate multi-state spree, the appalling history of the Atlanta child murders and the prostitute killings of trucker Bruce Mendenhall, among others. The chilling effect of these stories is difficult to shake. The Mendenhall material is particularly interesting in its look at truck-stop design and the trucking lifestyle and the ways in which they may actually precipitate violent behavior. The narrative is tedious for stretches, not unlike a long cross-country drive, but the grim stories of murder on the highway may do for road trips what Jaws did for surfing.
An interesting detour into a true-crime niche.