Matt Forney
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Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman

America can’t get enough of “true crime” stories. In our prim, proper Puritan nation, news reports and books about serial killers, child molesters and other disturbing criminals are a socially sanctioned form of pornography. We drool over biographies of the Son of Sam, savor the lurid details of how Ted Bundy sodomized the corpses of his victims, salivate over the blow-by-blow courtroom dramas and tearful testimonies.

But how many of us think about the victims of these crimes?

Oh sure, we know they exist, and we get off on reading about their suffering and torment. But do we truly grasp how these crimes destroy the lives of those around them? When you’re just a spectator in the peanut gallery, the fates of Stacy Moskowitz, Caryn Campbell and other victims of serial killers are an abstraction, no more real to us than fiction. But for the husbands, mothers, boyfriends, siblings and friends of these girls, that suffering is very much real, and it’s something that few will truly ever be able to get over.

Mikita Brottman’s Thirteen Girls is an oddity in “true crime” literature: a book that focuses on the victims rather than the perpetuators. While fictional, each short story is based off of a real victim of a serial killer, from the Son of Sam to Ted Bundy to the Zodiac killer. If you’re looking for a unique and bleak twist on the traditional true crime formula, Thirteen Girls is a must-read, as no other book accurately plumbs the emotional depths of murder, rape and loss.

The stories in Thirteen Girls are each told from the perspectives of the people affected by the murders of its titular protagonist. The first story, an account of how the Son of Sam killed Stacy Moskowitz and blinded her boyfriend, sets the book’s morbid tone. Brottman paints a landscape of emotional peaks and valleys, punctuated by the ringing gunfire of rape and death:

He fired through the passenger window, hitting Lisa first. Four shots. One went into Joey’s eye, blinding him forever. He could hear Lisa moaning, but could not see her. He was bleeding everywhere. He leaned on the car horn. When the police arrived they covered him with a blanket and lifted him out of the car. Lisa was lying across the front seat. She was conscious but she did not know what had happened. Thank God, she did not know she had been shot.

Brottman’s writing style slices into you with the cold precision of a coroner autopsying a prostitute. She details death and heartbreak with clinical precision, giving you just enough to become emotionally invested in each story while retaining her distance from the fallout. Each tale in Thirteen Girls is brief enough that you can blaze through individual stories in about ten minutes or so, propelled by Brottman’s minimalist prose and cutting reports. To aid you in matching each story to the real-life victim it was based on, there’s a handy appendix at the end of the book.

Indeed, the most striking thing about Thirteen Girls is that the serial killers who are the focus of the true crime genre barely figure in it at all. The focus remains on the victims, each story probing their identities and personalities from every conceivable angle. One of the most gut-wrenching stories, “Alice,” is told from the perspective of a shrink analyzing the friend of one of the Hillside Strangler’s victims. Brottman engenders a violent emotional reaction in the reader by reciting the facts in a stern, detached fashion:

Often, B would miss her appointment due to undefined illnesses. On one occasion, she had an allergic reaction to her eyelash extensions (“my eyes were itching all night, and when I woke up I looked like a racoon”). Sometimes she would express discomfort in my office. For example, I had a picture of my children on my office desk, and she commented that they were “evil-looking.” She observed more than once that there was a “bad energy” coming from the therapy couch, which, she observed, always felt “cold.” She would often talk about ghosts.

Brottman’s nihilistic perspective will no doubt turn off a great number of readers. Unlike most mawkish “true crime” writers, she doesn’t even attempt to wring a moral out of these stories. That’s because there isn’t one. Thirteen Girls depicts the cruel randomness of human existence, where a young girl’s life can be snuffed out with no reason or purpose. There’s no God to punish the guilty and reward the innocent, no karma to ensure that evildoers get what’s coming to them, no mythical force that provides purpose to this cursed existence. There is only probability, our meat puppet lives dictated by a toss of the invisible dice.

And it’s that reality that makes the torment of Thirteen Girls’ subjects all the more poignant.

That’s why you owe it to yourself to read Mikita Brottman’s book. If you need some intellectual ipecac to counteract the effects of traditional true crime writing, Thirteen Girls will put your head in the toilet in record time. If you enjoy bleak, dark tales of rape and murder, Brottman’s short story collection will also satisfy you. As a depth charge plopped into the sea of the moral smut store that is the “true crime” genreThirteen Girls succeeds in every respect.

Click here to buy Thirteen Girls.

Read Next: Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova by Neil Skywalker