First published back in August of 1980, ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ formed true crime author Ann Rule’s first publication; uniquely written from both an autobiographical and biographical perspective.  This book alone is what undoubtedly propelled Rule forwards as a true crime writer, and remains her most successful and highly-revered offerings to date.  Over the years the book has undergone a number of revisions, as well as a film adaptation in 2003.

DLS Synopsis:
Born Theodore Robert Cowell on the 24th November 1946, when he was just five years of age, his mother married a young man named Johnny Bundy, and subsequently both her and Theodore adopted Bundy’s family name.  However, who could have possibly known that some twenty-seven years following his birth, this handsome young man would start killing and continue until his sadistic reign of terror is brought to an end.

On the night of 4th January 1974, Bundy, who is now a young law student studying at the University of Washington, breaks into the basement apartment of eighteen-year-old Karen Sparks and bludgeons the sleeping girl over the head with a metal pole.  Buzzing with the adrenaline rush from the violence, Bundy proceeds to sexually assault the young dancer with such a brutal and sadistic vigour that it leaves the young girl unconscious for ten days along with permanent brain damage.

Following this, just a month later Bundy breaks into another basement flat, this time that of the undergraduate Lynda Healy, who he proceeds to beat unconscious and then abduct.

From here on young and attractive female students began to disappear with a worrying regularity.  The Seattle Police Department were becoming increasingly concerned about the disappearances.  No useable forensic evidence seemed to be left at any of the crime scenes, and with the disappearances and attacks potentially spreading across several US states, connecting the incidents was proving to be an almost unmanageable task for the numerous local police forces involved.

Importantly, a brown-haired male wearing a sling, or on crutches with a leg cast, had been witnessed at the scene of a few of the abductions, along with his light-brown Volkswagen Beetle.

By now Bundy was working as a volunteer at the Seattle Crisis Clinic alongside his co-worker Ann Rule.  The two soon struck up a platonic friendship, with Ann somewhat taken by the handsome, intelligent and incredibly charismatic young Bundy.

Rule was also working as a mobile traffic police officer, however, she had begun to branch her career off into writing true crime.  And Rule had recently been hired to write a book on the increasing string of murders that had been occurring.  Murders that were no doubt down to one sole individual who worryingly was still at large.  Little did Rule know that the man who she worked beside, providing help and support over the phone, would one day be revealed as one of the most sadistic serial killers to ever walk the earth.

Little did she know that the man who she counted as a friend, was the same man who she had begun a career writing true crime about.  And the revelation that the charming and good-looking man she knew as Ted was in fact a serial killer, rapist, kidnapper and necrophilia, who had brutally murdered countless women across the US, would shock Rule to the very core.  But those very same looks and skill at deception that had fooled Rule so well were what made Bundy so successful as a killer.  What made him so deadly.  What helped him kill time and time again…

DLS Review:
The very basis for Rule’s book on the notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, is one of those strange twists of fate that creates something truly unique.  The fact that Rule was working on a book about a (at that time unidentified) killer who had been killing young women across the length and breadth of the US, the very same man who would later be revealed to be someone she had befriended, creates a very unusual situation.  And if you were to put emotions to one side for a second, then it could be said that it undeniably offers a situation absolutely ripe with potential.  And it’s this incredible opportunity for a truly unique insight into the killer, his actions and how it affected those involved in the case, that makes Rule’s book such an important, compelling and truly powerful read.

The book starts out with a detailed and well-researched background on Bundy, with Rule painting quite a thorough picture of what she knew of Bundy’s life and past.  With her position of having known Bundy himself at the time of the crimes, Rule is able to describe the man as he was from behind her own eyes – offering her own personal impressions about him, and fondly describing a man who she felt drawn to by his good-looks and charismatic charm.

As Rule begins to describe Bundy, it becomes increasingly clear that (at the time) Rule held some noticeably affectionate feelings for him.  However, as she continues to detail what she knew of Bundy’s life during the early stages of their friendship, it becomes apparent that their respective closeness possibly wasn’t quite how it’s being so carefully spun.  To be frank, Rule is undoubtedly milking her friendship with Bundy for all it’s worth.  Having this unique link with Bundy for the purpose of the book is a definite selling point and so it quickly becomes obvious that Rule is somewhat exaggerating this friendship (and her resulting emotional turmoil) for all its worth.

And to be fair…why the hell not?!  To be honest, this strong autobiographical element to the book is what makes it such a powerful and utterly compelling read.  It adds a whole new level of reality to it (whether 100% true or not, I for one am not going to dismiss such a compelling read).  And Rule’s done a darn good job in playing up the emotions, the doubt, the blind-denial, the whole shebang basically.  And credit where credit’s due – Rule pulls it off pretty much perfectly.

Following Rule’s building up of who Bundy was from both a biographical (‘these are the facts we know about Bundy’) and an autobiographical (‘this is who Bundy was to me’) perspective, she then moves on to describing (in a very well-researched depth) the long string of atrocious crimes that Bundy performed, interspersed with events that were taking place in her own life at the time.

And it’s really here, with the events leading up to Bundy’s eventual arrest, where the book really comes into its own.  Bursting with energy, tension, and that ever-present personal connection with the whole thing; the book has become an all-consuming read with everything spiralling towards a seemingly inevitable drama, whereby Bundy will finally be captured and revealed to Rule as the sadistic killer responsible.

But it doesn’t end there.  Not by a long shot my friend.  Instead there’s so much more of the incredible true story to be told.  Bundy’s capture is only fleeting before he’s on his toes and running from the authorities again.  However, when the law does finally manages to recapture Bundy for good (he actually manages to escape twice), the following court proceedings and time spent waiting on death row has enough story in it to secure another hundred or so pages.

With Bundy now firmly incarcerated and waiting the electric chair, Rule decides to get reacquainted with him; exchanging written correspondence and visiting him whilst in prison.  From here Rule falls into that all-too-often natural progression with the writing of a true crime book, whereby the author attempts to psycho-analyse the perpetrator, which (for this reviewer at least) doesn’t sit well.  Rule clearly has some emotional attachment towards Bundy (even if it has been exaggerated and milked somewhat for the book), and as such, her views on Bundy’s mental state is unavoidably compromised.  Furthermore, Rule has very little experience or training in this particular field, and as such, her conclusions are too assuming to hold any real weight.

Nevertheless, it has to be said that ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ is an incredible and compelling read.  Rule has the ability to be able to make her depiction of the true-to-life events read like a darn good piece of fiction.  The facts are all there, but the reader isn’t bombarded with the tiny intricate details, which all-too-often take away from the overall enjoyable readability of a true crime book.

The book is an important and truly unique perspective on Ted Bundy, his life, his crimes and his eventual trial and execution.  Although Rule’s psycho-analysing is a little off-putting, it still doesn’t detract enough from what is a very powerful and compelling read.

The book runs for a total of 548 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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