Book Review: His Garden: Conversations With A Serial Killer by Anne K. Howard
Being Australian, I’m always slightly blown away to discover just how many serial killers America seems to have. Many of them make global news because of the nature of their crimes, or the number of their victims, but there are many more I’ve never heard of. Until I came across this book, William Devin Howell was one of those.
Yet, in a period of just nine months in 2003, Howell murdered seven people and buried their bodies in shallow graves within literal shouting distance of a suburban strip mall. Only caught because he deviated from his pattern to kill someone he was previously acquainted with, he discussed with Anne Howard (a practicing attorney who was not representing him, but acting as a journalist to research his crimes) details he revealed to nobody else.
His Garden is a deep delve inside the mind of a serial killer, and it’s very obvious that Anne Howard is profoundly uncomfortable with what she found there. ‘Bill’ Howell was a friendly, personable man even once incarcerated, and Howard obviously found it hard to reconcile the facts of his case with the kindly, thoughtful man who wanted to be her friend.
Howard does a superb job of letting the story unfold organically, rather than sticking rigidly to a timetable of events. Most of the details of Howell’s crimes were discovered long after she started talking to him, and it’s clear just how unsettling it was for Howard to find out what manner of man she was really dealing with. I was struck by how very ordinary Howell seemed, how normal his background… right up until a switch flipped in his head and he decided to commit his first murder. It makes you wonder, if someone as ordinary as Howell could kill, how many other men do you know who have that switch - it just hasn’t flipped yet?
While I was intrigued by the relationship Howard built with Howell, I was disappointed she let him direct the final product of the book by actually allowing him to, in effect, edit it before production. She also chose deliberately to leave out some details he provided to her because of their graphic nature, but to most readers of true-crime (and fictional crime!) what was left in was honestly pretty tame. If she wanted to leave it out to avoid titillating Howard himself, she had only to ensure he never got to read it, not difficult considering his current status of incarceration in supermax for a term of 360 years.
Four stars for a fascinating deep delve into the mind of a serial killer, but I wish the author had allowed herself to be less influenced by the criminal.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.