True-crime entertainment at its best.



Veteran true-crime author Olsen (Hastened to the Grave, 1998, etc.) explores the crimes and motivations of a truck-stop murderer.

In an alternating first-person/third-person account, Olsen relates the story of Keith Hunter Jesperson, a.k.a. The Happy Face Killer, who murdered eight women in the early- to mid-1990s in the West and Pacific Northwest. The narrative flashes back and forth between a suspenseful chronicle of the murders and Jesperson’s dysfunctional childhood. The black sheep of his family, brutalized physically and psychologically by his father, he grew into a powerful six-and-a-half-foot galoot capable of volcanic rage and with a penchant for torturing small animals. He drifted into a career as an over-the-road trucker, which offered the perfect half-invisible lifestyle for an angry loner. At first indulging his taste for rough, domineering sex with truck-stop prostitutes, Jesperson began to have homicidal fantasies and ultimately started murdering them by slow strangulation. Women who sold their bodies deserved their fate, he believed. He successfully eluded detection or suspicion but began to be plagued by guilt because two innocent people were wrongly jailed for his first murder; he deliberately became careless so that he could be tracked down and caught. The author examines various possible reasons why Jesperson became a serial killer, but his conclusion seems to be that given the right combination of harsh life experiences, rage, opportunity, and lack of self-control, almost anyone could go that route. The pretense of exploring and understanding Jesperson’s psychology is a bit of a sham, as the real purpose here seems to be to serve up a titillating account of squalid murders and violent sex. But for the genre, this is crackerjack stuff. Olsen obviously had thorough access to Jesperson (who is currently doing life), his family, and friends. One unexpected reward is the fascinating insider’s glimpse of the world of long-haul truckers.

True-crime entertainment at its best.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-24198-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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