book review: Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson, out August 16

I was able to get an advance copy of Love in the Time of Serial Killers via NetGalley, so let’s start with the book summary:

Turns out that reading nothing but true crime isn’t exactly conducive to modern dating—and one woman is going to have to learn how to give love a chance when she’s used to suspecting the worst.
PhD candidate Phoebe Walsh has always been obsessed with true crime. She’s even analyzing the genre in her dissertation—if she can manage to finish writing it. It’s hard to find the time while she spends the summer in Florida, cleaning out her childhood home, dealing with her obnoxiously good-natured younger brother, and grappling with the complicated feelings of mourning a father she hadn’t had a relationship with for years.
It doesn’t help that she’s low-key convinced that her new neighbor, Sam Dennings, is a serial killer (he may dress business casual by day, but at night he’s clearly up to something). But it’s not long before Phoebe realizes that Sam might be something much scarier—a genuinely nice guy who can pierce her armor to reach her vulnerable heart.

And my official review:

I devoured this book in a single day because I just HAD to see how it all came out.

Phoebe Walsh has carefully bricked her heart in behind a wall of true crime facts and boy band lyrics, but they can’t save her from her current situation. She’s dealing with her estranged father’s death, her younger brother’s attempts to reconnect, and an intriguing new neighbor who might be a serial killer (see Phoebe’s wall of true crime facts).

I spent much of the book wanting to save Phoebe from her choices (and her insistence on relating every. single. thing. to a serial killer) but also rooting for her to figure it out herself. There were times I wanted to shake her and demand some more introspection, please, and not her usual avoidance, but Phoebe’s Phoebe. She’ll reference whatever she darn well pleases and avoid the rest, and if you experience second-hand embarrassment, maybe it’s because you recognize the tactic from personal experience.

This makes for some awkward interactions with others, including her younger brother and that possibly-a-serial-killer next-door neighbor, who’s not exactly a social butterfly himself. But Phoebe needs those difficult interactions to wear away some of her defenses and – hopefully – give her a second chance to look at so many people in her life with new eyes … if it isn’t too late.

… because there’s more to say than just “Pre-order Love in the Time of Serial Killers and follow Alicia on her socials!”

About a year and a half ago, I got an email from someone who asked if I’d be willing to talk about the process of writing a true crime dissertation, as background information for her character. See where this is going?

I was nervous about reading the book, both because Alicia and I have become internet friends and because I’m the one in the best position to read any of the background information about the dissertation and say uh, that’s not how this works.

Academia is its own world. So many things happen that just don’t make sense to people who haven’t been there, and it can be hard to explain what, exactly, the whole process feels like. How it works, or how it maybe doesn’t.

I ended up emailing Alicia back instead of taking her up on the offer for a phone call because I typed up this absolutely enormous document about my personal experience. It’s over 3,000 words, and yes, I saved it. If anyone else wants to know, I didn’t want to have to type it all up again.

I also figured that Alicia wouldn’t need or use anywhere near all of it, because she had a story she wanted to tell. If something didn’t fit, then she could ignore it. After all, it’s fiction, and she probably already had most, if not all, of the book drafted. There might not be much wiggle room. But, actually … wow. She used a lot.

Much of it is probably minor and nobody but me would catch it, but I spent a lot of the book nodding. At the true crime references, yes – I’m not sure if Alicia knew some of them before we chatted, but some of the ones I mentioned in that humungous word dump made it into the book – but also a number of Phoebe’s PhD experiences. And I definitely laughed out loud at one line that I’d sent her, which made it into the book as a piece of dialogue. No spoilers, but Alicia: I noticed.

Also, for the record, I’m not a romance reader. It’s not my usual genre. And I still read the whole book in one day and liked it, in spite of my initial concerns about … well, everything. The genre and the subject and the very specific experiences of the main character.

So I was a little surprised, and very relieved, to like the book as much as I did. You should pre-order it from your favorite indie bookstore. If you don’t have a favorite indie bookstore, you can borrow mine. And then, come August, we can talk some more about Phoebe.

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