Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Man in the Monster

Title:  The Man in the Monster
Author:  Martha Elliott
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  159420490X / 978-1594204906

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No one in her right mind invites a serial killer into her life."

Favorite Quote:  "To better understand the darkness, we have to see it clearly."

Dzung Ngoc Tu. Age 25. Murdered May 12, 1981.
Tammy Williams. Age 17. Murdered January 5, 1982.
Paula Perrera. Age 16. Murdered March 1, 1982.
Debra Smith Taylor. Age 23. Murdered June 15, 1982.
Robin Dawn Stavinsky. Age 19. Murdered October 23, 1983.
April Brunais. Age 14. Murdered April 22, 1984.
Leslie Shelley. Age 14. Murdered April 22, 1984.
Wendy Baribeault. Age 17. Murdered June 13, 1984.

These were the victims. Average age - only about 18. The criminal - Michel Bruce Ross. Serial rapist. Serial killer. Age 55. Executed May 13, 2005 for his crimes - the first execution to take place in New England since 1960.

This is the horrific subject of this book. Why, you might ask, would I or anyone read such a book? The author at one point says, "To better understand the darkness, we have to see it clearly." This is why. I expected to read some description, perhaps some neuroscience, perhaps some psychology, perhaps some insight into why. Why would a human being commit such horrible crimes? Maybe, just maybe, understanding why may one day prevent such crimes from occurring.

Unfortunately, that is not what the book delivers. The book becomes about the stated friendship between author - long-time, experienced journalist Martha Elliot - and Michael Ross - a relationship that lasted from their first phone conversation to his eventual execution about a decade later. This book also becomes about Ross's prosecution and about Martha Elliot's decided views against the death penalty.

The bias is clear throughout the book. The cover copy of the book suggests a look inside a monster and what motivates and compels him to commit such abominable crimes. However, throughout the book, the author draws the distinction between the "monster" who committed the crimes and the man that Ross was. The distinction is a fictitious one. Even if you ascribe his crimes to mental illness, he is still Michael Ross, serial rapist and killer - one man.

The bias is also clear in the descriptions of the due process Ross received. Descriptions such as:

  • "Michael's first trial was a travesty"
  • "the victim of a sinister and  unpredictable prosecutor"
  • "deliberately distorted evidence"
  • "staff at ... the maximum security prison ... was cold and unsympathetic"
  • "guards at Northern were intimidating and surly"

A focus on the processing of his case becomes a condemnation of the system, not an insight into his mindset and not "an intimate portrait of a serial killer" as the title suggests. Mind you, Ross was convicted at his first trial and at a second trial. Twenty four people - two independent juries - judged him guilty.

Oddly, for a book asking readers to look at the man beyond the crimes, the first half of the book spends a lot of time describing the details of the crimes themselves - each and every one of these eight victims as well as others who survived. Yes, there were others! Why include such details as to how exactly he raped and murdered? Why not focus on more on why and develop that understanding? The details serve only to highlight his monstrous deeds.

The most heartbreaking part of the book is the interviews with some of the victims' families. Only a few people agreed to speak with the author, among them Leslie Shelley's family. Their words bring into greater focus the fact that Ross not only took the lives of these young women but destroyed the lives of their families. Again, the descriptions further reinforce the horror of his crimes rather than an understanding of the workings of his mind.

The story of Michael Ross leaves me not with a greater understanding of how a man becomes a serial killer but with a fear - a fear of anyone encountering him or anyone like him in the dark, in a secluded place, anywhere.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Heck they lost my comment..... I basically agreed with you .. but there was a lot more

    1. Richard, I am so sorry your comment is lost in cyberspace, but I am glad to hear you agree with me. I would love to hear more of what you thought. This book was so different from what I thought based on the description. I got no further in my understanding and walked away with a dose of fear and horror.