A murdered white supremacist sparks a remarkable investigation that is anything but straightforward.
It’s not often that the retelling of a brutal murder is full of laughs, but documentarian and debut author Safran is an entertaining writer. After becoming fascinated by the true-crime genre, in 2010, he heard about the murder of white supremacist Richard Barrett, whom he had once pranked for a TV series. Armed with some personal knowledge of the victim, Safran headed for Mississippi, where he expected to uncover a racially charged crime and a defendant deserving his sympathy. However, he discovered that Barrett’s black neighbors were mourning the victim, unaware that he was racist. That confusion was only the beginning. Whispers of homosexuality, possible schizophrenia and more continued to surface, with each new layer murkier than the last. Safran bounced among police and lawyers and families, neighbors, acquaintances and enemies of both the victim and perpetrator, and he documents every step, misstep, conspiracy theory and just plain weird encounter. While laughing at himself and the often absurd situations in which he was embroiled, Safran creates a rare animal: a true-crime account that provides no hard answers or even smoking guns but plenty of promised ones. The narrative moves in so many directions it feels like a carnival fun house—though it’s always a pleasurable reading experience. Safran never found a way to neatly wrap up the story. Instead, he presents all the layers and angles, portraying a world that is more than black and white, where sometimes the absolute truth is an impossible dream and the only option left is acceptance of a flawed mystery.
Weaving a tale that is simultaneously about race, failed systems, money, sex, family and simple rage, Safran truly did lose a year in Mississippi, and getting lost with him is a joy.