I’m going to start this review a little differently, partly because I’m not really sure how to start the review. Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings is a fictionalized memoir of the book’s author, Todd Smith. The basic story is true, but the names, places, and other aspects of the story have been changed for the novel.
Smith had the ill luck to be the victim of not one, but two shootings, the last of which was the mass shooting of a Town Council meeting at Kirkwood City Hall in 2008. Two police officers, two Council members, and the Director of Public Works were killed. The city mayor was wounded and died months later as a result of his injuries. Smith was a reporter for a local paper and was ultimately the sole survivor of the shooting. And this was after surviving a previous shooting during a robbery gone wrong and enduring the murder of a close friend to violent crime. The only reason I’ve detailed all this is because when you read Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings, you aren’t reading a fiction story, but the recollections of a man’s life. It’s what makes this book so hard to review. Because Murder, Romance and Two Shootings isn’t very good.
This book is written with a cold, almost wooden sort of prose. Smith is a well-established journalist, so that likely accounts for the precise grammar and mechanically correct styling. I suppose there is a measure of distance that Smith has placed between himself and the horrific events he recounts. How could he not? To have endured so much and to have the ability to write about it, separating himself from the action on page makes sense. But the story lacks passion. It lacks much emotion at all. It is dispassionate and devoid of feeling. When we’re told of anger and fear and terror… it feels flat and empty. I wanted to feel something. The events are profound and should be impactful, but they aren’t. They exist as facts, recounted in a rote, voiceless manner and without any emotional connection between the author and the readers.
There is no characterization here. There are people and perhaps some of their mannerisms are fictionalized, but we aren’t told much about them. They go through the procedures of life, and sometimes death, but do so in such a way that we never know who they are. The closest we come to connecting with anyone is Rick, a man who loved Marilyn Monroe, was a constant friend, and a murder victim. We mourn his death for the senselessness of it all and because the author suffers his loss, but not because we were truly allowed to know him. All of the characters in this book are sketches, the rough, cobbled together creations of memory that never materialize on page. And as a reader, I never found a way to truly understand what the author went through. Nor are we allowed to know the people who touched his life.
Todd Allen Smith lived through multiple tragedies, the last of which has become a near daily event in American society. That he survived is amazing. That he found the strength to tell his story is something to be honored. But this quasi-fictionalized format was perhaps not the right one for that story. It lacks emotion and any developed voice through which I could connect.
Murder, Romance and Two Shootings is a loose collection of facts and fiction that never coalesces into the powerful narrative that it should have. And I wish that it had. Because this story, along with the stories of every victim of senseless, destructive violence, deserves to be told well.