Green River Killer: A True Detective Story
Is it a horror story? Is it a crime thriller? It’s a little of both, but more than anything else, this is a police procedural.
“Green River Killer” was written by Jeff Jensen and illustrated by Jonathan Case. Jensen is actually writing about his own father, Tom Jensen, a detective in the King County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state. Detective Jensen spent a good chunk of his career on the hunt for the infamous Green River Killer, and when the murderer was finally unmasked as a schlub named Gary Leon Ridgway, Jensen became part of the team working to identify as many of his victims as possible. To do that, as part of a plea agreement, Ridgway was given temporary housing inside the sheriff’s office in hopes of getting him to lead detectives to more bodies.
What follows is vastly frustrating for the detectives — Ridgway’s career as a serial killer spanned decades, and he simply wasn’t able to remember many details about all the women he’d killed. He said he wanted to help, but Jensen and the other investigators wondered if he was really a low-IQ mook with a bad memory or if he was just playing them for fools in hopes of getting away with his crimes.
We’re essentially dealing with two protagonists in this book. One is, obviously, Detective Jensen, devoting years of his life to hunting down and trying to understand one of history’s worst serial killers. But the other is Gary Ridgway himself, though few people would want to identify with him. Yeah, he’s a killer and necrophiliac who confessed to over 70 murders, he’s a complete sad-sack loser, dull-witted, pointlessly angry, a moral hypocrite on multiple levels — but you still identify with him to some degree, because he doesn’t know why he killed all those people either.
Granted, Ridgway isn’t a very likeable protagonist, but our natural empathy leads us to sympathize with him on a human level — and that leads to a few minor scares on its own — every time you feel a twinge of sympathy for Ridgway, for his fears and sorrows and stupid motivations, you wonder why on earth you’re identifying with this monster. Detective Jensen, thankfully, is a much more enjoyable character — smarter, funnier, more personable, more emotionally involved in the mysteries he’s charged with solving.
It’s not all murder and cop talk, though — there are lots of great human moments with the Jensen family or with the other officers. One of my favorite moments is when Jensen has to pass a physical exam to remain on the force — he has to subdue a fellow officer posing as a bank robber — a serious task for a middle-aged, out-of-shape detective. So Detective Jensen asks the officer to pretend he’s one of those nice bank robbers who won’t hurt him too badly. A great, funny moment — and it’s one of many that Jensen and Case use to break up the seriousness of the story.
Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a wonderfully-told cop story — really, a wonderfully-told human story, with massive amounts of empathy and understanding for the police, the victims, and even the killer himself. Beautifully written by Jeff Jensen, with great dialogue, and the art by Jonathan Case is precise, emotional, and charismatic.
Don’t think it’s all cop talk and quiet moments — there are some very chilling moments. The discoveries of bodies in various states of decay are often presented shockingly and frighteningly, Ridgway’s accounts of how he killed his victims and what he did to them afterwards will make your skin crawl, and the prologue, featuring Ridgway’s first murder attempt, is a masterpiece of suspense and fear.
This is a winner if you like serial killer stories, if you like crime thrillers, if you like police procedurals, if you like slice-of-life memoirs. Go pick it up.