I have had this book in my “to read” pile for months.
Like many readers (and especially when you have a book blog) I have SO many books to read and feel like I just want to devote whatever spare time I have (apologies to my children!) to curling up and reading. This book by Australian John Safran – controversial media personality, filmmaker and now, author – was worth the wait.
I was fortunate to hear Safran talk about his journey to writing Murder in Mississippi (the book is called God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi for North America) at the launch of Monash Libraries’ Wordfest in the middle of 2014. Once I had got over my complete professional jealousy of him for having the planets align to create this incredible book, I was entranced by his retelling of his creative process. As a writer myself, I find him inspiring.
Safran is someone people either love or can’t stand. There is not a lot of middle ground with Safran and that’s why he is so good at what he does…which is basically getting himself run out of places for doing super-controversial things. His series Race Relations, which aired on Australia’s public broadcaster, saw him donate sperm to a Palestinian sperm bank (Safran is Jewish) and digs a hole next to his mother’s grave and performs a ritual order to ask her whether she approves of him marrying a non-Jewish woman.
For this series, Safran interviewed a notorious white supremacist named Richard Barrett. This footage never made it to air (for reasons I will let you read in the book) but then Barrett was brutally murdered in 2010 by a young black man named Vincent McGee. Some pretty startling revelations came to the surface and Safran seized his opportunity to go to Mississippi and write this book.
Even though it is a true crime book, Safran infuses his writing with his trademark humour. It’s not in the style true crime buff will be used to. There’s a lightness to the writing that seems at odds with a true crime subject, but it really worked in this case.
This is a standout true crime release of 2014.
Murder in Mississippi is published by Penguin.