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Murder By the Book
Court TV

Court TV puts what it calls some of America's "best" crime writers on camera to talk about real-life cases that either got them started in crime fiction or inspired them throughout their careers.

Their list includes James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, and Lisa Scottoline. As for America's "best", there are some noticeable gaps there, but I guess not everyone who writes murder mysteries has an interest in self-promotion.

The show itself is wildly uneven. The series opener, repeated last night, starred James Ellroy, who is riveting as he narrated his own life story and the murder of his own mother in a suburb of Los Angeles when he was ten years old. Ellroy himself comes across as troubled and enigmatic. He and a retired cop criss-cross the area, follow up every lead in the long-cold case, and ultimately realize that nearly everybody on the witness and suspect list has long since died. But Ellroy, who has hated his mother all his life, comes to realize that the point of his search for her killer isn't the real point. He simply has to "find" his mother, and come to terms with who she was. He wrote about the story in his book My Dark Places and claims that the Court TV segment is the last time he'll ever speak of it.

Episode two should have been drivingly compelling, as Michael Connelly "hosts" the story of Christopher Wilder, a wealthy Miami playboy who went on a killing spree in the mid-Eighties, abducting, raping, torturing, and killing thirteen girls in twenty-eight days, all while driving cross-country, always staying one step ahead of Johnny Law.

Connelly was a beat reporter for a paper in Fort Lauderdale at the time, and was assigned to follow the story, but instead of narrating the episode, he is relegated to making occasional comments about his memories from an armchair, while a professional narrator does all the real work. Connelly seems about as interested in recounting this gripping story as he would be in picking his teeth, and his comments are almost formulaic. The story itself if creepy and nightmarish - Connelly obviously hadn't had his coffee the day of filming.

The third segment runs this Monday night at 9 p.m., and features Jonathan Kellerman covering a bizarre murder/identity theft case that happened a few blocks from where he was living. Let's hope it's more in the Ellroy vein - the idea here isn't a bad one, but the series' success all hinges on execution.


Posted on December 1, 2006

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