The banality of evil, right next door.
Over the course of 30 years, Dennis Rader, a pinched, humorless Midwestern family man, terrorized the residents of Wichita, Kan., as the “BTK Killer,” a serial murderer and sexual sadist whose nom-de-crime derived from his predilection for binding, torturing and killing his victims. No criminal mastermind, Rader so embodied the archetypical Kansas man—self-effacing, pious, reliable, conservative (he served as a scout leader and was president of his Lutheran church)—that he was able, despite a sloppy m.o. and innumerable gaffes, to elude the concentrated efforts of the Wichita Police Department and the FBI to catch him. Crime journalist Singular (Presumed Guilty, 1999, etc.) limns Rader’s daily routine, stunted inner life and grisly crimes in unfussy prose that underscores the horror of the BTK slayings with brutal effectiveness; the dryly recounted quotidian details of the victims’ (and Rader’s) lives add an excruciating poignancy and immediacy to the accounts of the murders that a more lurid approach might have obscured. Singular includes many of Rader’s taunting letters to the police, full of tortured syntax, awful poetry and chilling solipsism, and they bring the killer uncomfortably close: an unimaginably lonely and emotionally stifled man whose fantasies of murder and domination coexisted with pathetic Walter Mitty–esque flights of fancy that cast the drab cipher as James Bond or John Wayne. The author wisely leavens the horror by widening the scope of the narrative to include the law enforcement personnel dedicated to the BTK case (whose eventual capture of Rader derived from an almost comically stupid blunder by the killer), and to the heroically eccentric pastor and shell-shocked congregation of Rader’s church, who had counted Rader among the most steadfast and pious of their number.
A compelling and clear-eyed portrait of a recognizable American community, devastated by the secret heart of a quintessential good neighbor—the sort of neighbor who makes one feel comfortable leaving the doors unlocked at night.