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The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder

The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder

3.5 2
by Claudia Rowe

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“Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching. . . . A must-read.”Gillian Flynn, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl

In this superb work of literary true crime—a spellbinding combination of memoir and psychological suspense—a female


“Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching. . . . A must-read.”Gillian Flynn, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Gone Girl

In this superb work of literary true crime—a spellbinding combination of memoir and psychological suspense—a female journalist chronicles her unusual connection with a convicted serial killer and her search to understand the darkness inside us.

"Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I’ll have to give it to you, when confronted at least you’re honest, as honest as any reporter. . . . You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn’t it?"—Kendall Francois

In September 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe was working as a stringer for the New York Times in Poughkeepsie, New York, when local police discovered the bodies of eight women stashed in the attic and basement of the small colonial home that Kendall Francois, a painfully polite twenty-seven-year-old community college student, shared with his parents and sister.

Growing up amid the safe, bourgeois affluence of New York City, Rowe had always been secretly fascinated by the darkness, and soon became obsessed with the story and with Francois. She was consumed with the desire to understand just how a man could abduct and strangle eight women—and how a family could live for two years, seemingly unaware, in a house with the victims’ rotting corpses. She also hoped to uncover what humanity, if any, a murderer could maintain in the wake of such monstrous evil.

Reaching out after Francois was arrested, Rowe and the serial killer began a dizzying four-year conversation about cruelty, compassion, and control; an unusual and provocative relationship that would eventually lead her to the abyss, forcing her to clearly see herself and her own past—and why she was drawn to danger.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With reporter-like descriptions of small town life and strong storytelling skills, Rowe, a Seattles Times staff writer, unflinchingly depicts her decades-long obsession with Kendall Francois, a convicted serial killer, whom she first encountered in the 1990s while working as a reporter for a local paper in upstate New York. What begins as an investigation into how a person can commit cold-blooded murder became Rowe’s albatross, ultimately leading her to examine her own life. Although she admits her personal stakes from the outset, the focus on her own story in the context of Francois’s situation leads her to draw to comparisons that don’t always measure up: for example, she attempts to relate her childhood experiences growing up in an white, upper-middle-class family in New York City to Francois’s experience as the child of an extreme hoarder, in one of the few black families in a predominantly white part of Dutchess County. Though she skewers Kendall for trivialities such as liking “white pop” and speaking with an affected tone, she rarely turns that harsh lens on herself. It is only toward the end of the book, when Rowe admits her bias, that her story begins to strike a chord. (Jan.)
Library Journal
There are a multitude of ways to have an unhappy childhood. Journalist Rowe (staff writer, Seattle Times) explores two of them in this book: her own, and that of serial killer Kendall Francois. Uncertain about her career and future and caught in a crumbling and emotionally abusive relationship, Rowe became fascinated with a series of local murders in Poughkeepsie, NY. Her notions of being the one to understand the killer were quickly dispelled—she is neither spider nor fly. Unlike both Francois and his victims, the author's unhappiness as a child and young adult was buffered by affluence. While Rowe works to acknowledge that privilege, readers may find the stark contrast between her childhood and Francois's merits more attention. A shared interest in the worst of humanity is not enough to forge a bond, and Francois generally keeps Rowe at arm's length, while his impact on her life is much greater. VERDICT Readers who wonder what draws writers to grisly crimes will find insight here. The interwoven stories of author and subject will appeal to both true crime and memoir readers.—Kate Sheehan, C.H. Booth Lib., Newtown, CT
Kirkus Reviews
What happens when a reporter has the willpower and tenacity to try to overcome a serial killer's refusal to communicate?Seattle Times staff writer Rowe chronicles her dogged search to learn about convicted serial killer Kendall Francois, who killed eight female prostitutes in Poughkeepsie, New York, and stashed their bodies in the home he shared with his parents and sister. Francois, it seems, communicated with Rowe, via letters and a few face-to-face meetings, simply in an attempt to draw her into a relationship of some sort. For a while, it worked. Rowe sought a greater understanding of what separates a killer from the rest of us and, specifically, from herself. Francois' refusal to discuss the murders he committed means the book is light on the meat of the crimes it covers, but it becomes obvious as the story progresses that at some point Rowe became as interested in investigating her own passage into adulthood as her subject's interior life. Her childhood and difficult relationship with her mother and boyfriend become increasingly important narrative fodder, while her communications with Francois fade into the background. It is unclear whether Rowe sees herself as the spider or the fly in this strange, tense relationship, but the hunt was ineffectual in either case. The author never got her exclusive story, and Francois never achieved the deep, meaningful relationship he tried to force. Rowe's engaging prose means the pages practically turn themselves, regardless of the disappointing end to the exchange. However, some readers may be frustrated with how to view the book: as a twisted coming-of-age memoir or the chronicle of a determined hunt for a killer's motive.Uneven but capably written. Rowe leaves readers wishing for a more satisfying solution to one puzzle while feeling relief in the resolution of the other.
Gillian Flynn
“Extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching, The Spider and the Fly is not just a superb true-crime story but an insightful investigation of the nature of evil, the fragility of good, and the crooked road that can turn human beings into monsters. A must-read.”
“Part psychological thriller and part gut-wrenching memoir, The Spider and the Fly crosses boundaries on nearly every page. It is chilling, self-revelatory, and unforgettable.”
Alan Cumming
“Claudia Rowe catalogues her obsession with a serial killer so mesmerizingly that before I knew it, I too was obsessed...But this is not merely a recounting of a descent, it is equally a memoir of discovery through the lens of potential evil. I literally could not put it down.”
“Readers seeking a literary look at the psychology of a criminal will find much to hold them rapt.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Claudia Rowe is an award-winning journalist who has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Woman’s Day, Yes! and Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger. Currently, Claudia is a staff writer at the Seattle Times. Her coverage of social issues, race, and violence has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, and the Journalism Center on Children & Families, which awarded her a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

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The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 2 days ago
This book is very interesting as long as you have a good head on your shoulders and can see through Claudia Rowe's liberal bias.
Queenbethanny 30 days ago
I received this ARC from Harper Collins/Dey Street Books. It is labelled as true crime. I guess that could be true as it centered on a real crime, real reporter and a real serial killer. However, this book is mostly about correspondence between reporter, Claudia Rowe and the serial killer, Kendall Francois. The book is heavy and hard to get through. After I realized that she more than sympathized with Francois, even starts making excuses for him, eagerly awaits his correspondence, I was completely turned off.