55. Murder in Mississippi: John Safran

This was received as an e-book from Little/ Brown Book Group via NetGalley. I requested it as I thought it sounded interesting and the range of quotes on the cover excited me. I never miss Louis Theroux’s documentaries and he called it “Funny and gripping and wonderfully weird”, elsewhere it is referred to as “In Cold Blood for our generation”. You can’t get better than that!

Murder in Mississippi is the story of Australian documentary maker John Safran’s attempts to find out why Richard Barrett, a well-known local white supremacist, was murdered by a young black man called Vincent McGee. Safran had already previously met Barrett when making a documentary on race for Australian TV which was subsequently never shown as Barrett, a lawyer, had threatened to sue the station. The identity of the killer is never in doubt, this is not a ‘whodunnit’, but the circumstances surrounding the death are odd. There are, Safran discovers, three possible motives… money, sex and race. Each of these theories are explored by meeting with people who knew both Richard Barrett and Vincent McGee and others who were involved in the case.

I think this book has an awful lot of potential but doesn’t quite hit the mark and would probably be much better as a documentary TV show or film. Safran is not a great writer and though it is easy to read there is little atmosphere. The comparison with In Cold Blood is very unfair on Truman Capote’s seminal work. The case is an intriguing one and the reader is keen to unravel the story as both Barrett and McGee are not quite who they seem to be, and there are some wider points made on the nature of Mississippi society and its history but much more could have been made of this.

3 stars

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