Book review: Author’s obsession leads to ‘True Crime Addict’ – Florida Times

Posted by on Aug 13, 2016 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

If you’re an erstwhile true crime reader but think that books in the genre have been now eclipsed by podcasts and documentary film, “True Crime Addict” should bring you back between the covers. James Renner combines nuts-and-bolts-exposed mystery exploration with confessional memoir, with an alchemical touch that enhances both.

He doesn’t demonstrably solve his chosen mystery but does clarify the issues and come up with a reasonable theory to address a murky missing person conundrum. More important, his narrative voice and structure make a near-perfect vehicle for a true-crime tour. Imagine the world-weary voiceover of a ’40s-noir sleuth, except that he’s a married 21st-century man with children and life problems. That’s what Renner delivers, not as a tacky mishmash but as a skillful and layered spinning of an intriguing story.

The roots of Renner’s true crime addiction are apparent. During his Ohio early adolescence, televised news images of missing 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic, a girl his age from a nearby community, led to his first crush. She was soon revealed to have been the victim of an abduction and murder that remain unsolved to this day. Years later, pitching a story about her cold but well-remembered case to a local alt-weekly paper was the start of Renner’s career as a crime writer.

In the midst of professional, parenting and psychological issues, all detailed in “True Crime Addict,” Renner became interested in the disappearance of University of Massachusetts undergraduate Maura Murray, and made discovering her fate into an obsession (and book project) that consumed several years.

In February 2004, Murray, an intelligent, attractive and athletic young woman, disappeared in the span of a puzzling few minutes. After crashing her car into a snowbank in rural New Hampshire, she declined help from a man who lived near the crash site. Between their exchange and the time police arrived in response to the man’s call, she vanished. Her wine-spattered, air bag-deployed car interior led the police to guess that she was hiding out to avoid a DUI citation and would be around to claim her car, except that she never appeared, nor did any corpse, scattered clothes, or tracks in the snow. No electronic trail of work, banking or other identifiable activities emerged. Unlike many college-aged women who disappear without a trace for an extended time, there is no compelling reason to think Murray is dead or being held against her will, although those possibilities are open.

Renner chronicles his multi-faceted and in-depth investigation over several years and the issues in his personal and professional life that coincided with it. Maura Murray is or was a complex individual whose personality and family background are replete with twists and turns. So is James Renner.


Anne Payne organizes the Jax Freestyle Book Club for Real Readers at

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