Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate

By Ginger Strand

killer-on-the-road-book-reviewAn unusual mix of murderous tales and a thesis on the development of American roadways, Killer on the Road could have been two separate books, one a thriller and the other a case study. Instead, two different genres catering to two very separate types of readers are merged into one, meaning the mystery fan will likely skip over much of the historical pages in the book, and vice versa. But that dilemma aside, this is an extremely well-researched and well-written book that explores the development of the American roadway simultaneously with the development of the American serial killer. The book suggests roadways have given birth to higher murder rates and a new kind of bogeyman, one who preys upon hitchhikers and abandoned motorists. While one might argue increased transportation doesn’t create killers, but merely gives them new tools to work with, the book reinforces the connection between mobility and murder by detailing historical and notorious murders that could have never happened if a network of highways weren’t so readily available. It’s easy to get lost in the analysis of things like the sociological implications of auto ads, but lines like, “He won twenty dollars at the demolition derby the day before he killed his first victm…” will always snap you back into the plot as will true-crime characters like Ed “The Chopper” Kemper, who hung out at the bar with cops when he wasn’t murdering and dismembering young women in California. Long Island’s master builder Robert Moses even gets a mention in the book for his role in creating these highways to hell, as do notorious killers known to have plagued them, like the I-5 Strangler, the Freeway Killer and the Beltway Sniper. But while mobility and increased crime obviously go hand in hand, such a targeted comparison of mobility and violence, specifically murder, can seem forced at times, especially when the violence most associated with highways—road rage—isn’t mentioned at all. Killer on the Road is part of the Discovering America Series, which aims to explore the history and culture of the nation by drawing unexpected connections. In this light, the book definitely succeeds, a little too well.The storytelling is gripping enough to stand on its own, and sometimes the most unexpected connections are made by simply cutting the pieces and letting the reader put the puzzle together. —Jaclyn Gallucci

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