This was a strange book. I can't accurately recall why I got it from the library, either. Maybe on a whim. I do vaguely remember the author, Pete Early, as having written something I liked but when I looked at his other books I couldn't recall what. So it's probably the beginning of short term (and maybe long term) memory loss for me.
This book surprised me, but was hard to read because of the gruesome, detailed descriptions of murders. The narrative is about a man named Tony who, at the age of 15, was in a boating accident that left him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The story is really about Tony, but there are 3 killers he gets the most information from, and much of the book is their first person accounts of their dirty deeds.
Before the accident, Tony was a smart, popular, go-getter but after almost a year of rehab he still had many of the hallmark problems that befall TBI survivors: impulsivity, fits of rage, trouble with depression, difficulty with learning. However, he came out of it better than was expected and had a very supportive family. He couldn't work, but lived at home with his parents, and was encouraged to find a hobby.
He decided to start writing to serial killers who were imprisoned, to find out more about them. He felt that he had some things in common with these guys, since he was prone to rages and had trouble controlling himself at times. Because of the TBI, he was also very nonjudgmental, with a childlike outlook in some ways. This meant he was able to get very honest accounts (to the extent that a serial killer can be honest) of the nature of their crimes. More than any other true crime book I've read, this one shows the kind of thinking these guys are walking around with. It's creepy and it's hard to read without thinking about what their terrified victims went through. Despite the horror, Tony develops pen pal relationships with three and goes to visit one of them. He wonders if he really is like them, but after a period of years realizes he's able to connect with the victims, too. He gets some information about crimes they had not reported and, over the course of several years, gets a lead from the roommate of one killer, Robert Hansen, who had been imprisoned for decades in Alaska. Hansen did not write back to Tony, but his roommate did and began to get information from Hansen. This led to finding a body and closing a cold case, almost 40 years after the victim had disappeared in Seward, AK.
Tony had experienced a near-death vision when he was air-lifted to the hospital after the accident...in it, he had strong sense that he could chose to stay or leave his life, and he chose to stay because he felt he had something to do. It took him years to figure out what that was, but he finally told his parents that with the information he'd given to police, he knew he had come back to help people.
Despite all the evil in this book, the more convincing theme is Tony's recovery and his ability (with the help of his family) to bring some good out of a tragic situation. I wish I could recommend it without reservations, but some of the sick things these guys did I really wish I could forget.