Newspaper Reporter’s Personal History Colors Serial Killer Book

Author Claudia Rowe learned a lot about herself through her dealings with convicted murderer Kendall Francois

The peer reviews for Claudia Rowe’s true-crime book The Spider and the Fly, released Jan. 24, have been spectacular. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn calls it ‘extraordinarily suspenseful and truly gut-wrenching,’ while Alan Cumming, who penned Not My Father’s Son, deems the book ‘a memoir of discovery through the lens of potential evil. I literally could not put it down.’

That aspect of discovery is one that has imbued some of the early media coverage of Rowe’s book tour. Both Maclean’s magazine in Canada and now People have focused on how Rowe’s own background reverberated through the process of documenting the case of Kendall Francois, an imposing African-American man who killed eight prostitutes in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in the late 1990s. Rowe, who now works as an education reporter for the Seattle Times, was at the time a freelancer for The New York Times.

From the People article by Jeff Truesdell:

Rowe grew up in affluence on Manhattan’s Central Park West. Her mother was a college literature professor; her father worked in news promotions at NBC.

But appearances masked explosive conflicts inside the home and attacks on Rowe’s self-esteem that fueled her need in adolescence to escape. She ran the streets after dark, consorting in Central Park with drug dealers and delinquents. While her parents lived an outer life “framed in culture and grace,” she writes, “Every gentility was a lie, undermined by their bitter marriage, their petrified kids.”

Truesdell’s People piece is wonderfully constructed, documenting the stressful visits Rowe paid to Francois in prison and revisiting the final powerful letter she wrote to the killer. Francois, sentenced to eight concurrent life terms, died in 2004.

Jacket cover courtesy: Dey Street Books