On the shelf
More than you will ever know
By Katie Gutierrez
Morning: 448 pages, $29
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Cassie Bowman spends her workdays writing a chilling true-crime blog about murdered women. Then she stumbles across a decades-old story in which the tables are turned: the woman has the secret life and the man is the murder victim. Cassie goes in search of Lore Rivera, a woman from Laredo, Texas who had two families at the same time, one in Texas and the other in Mexico City.
She wants to write a feminist book about true crime and hopes her readers will see Lore as more than a femme fatale who destroyed two families. But as Cassie – who maintains her own history of abuse from her fiancé Duke – becomes intertwined with her subject, the truth and motives become increasingly blurred.
Katie Gutierrez’s debut novel, More Than You’ll Ever Know, infuses the summertime mystery genre with some serious ideas about our obsession with crime stories and our sense of female identity.
Gutierrez, a native of Laredo who grew up reading Nancy Drew, then Fear Street, and then her mother’s novels by Patricia Cornwell, wasn’t introduced to true crime until the first season of Serial. “But that pushed me over the edge following all the prestige documentaries,” she said in a video interview that had to be interrupted for a stretch by a sick toddler. Our talk on representation in thrillers, the ethics of true crime and the double life we all lead has been edited for length and clarity.
What was so captivating about crime stories?
They were always about murdered women, kidnapped women, women in danger. It’s always women and mostly white women. wondering why [that is] led me down a rabbit hole investigating the cultural obsession with true crime. This led to certain disturbing conclusions about who is disproportionately represented, who is allowed to be a victim. That convinced me as an author.
Men are 80% of murder victims, but when women are murdered it’s almost always by an intimate partner, which is terrifying. But black and trans women are killed at a much higher rate [rates]. It’s problematic to tell these stories of white women over and over again.
Telling these stories can also create a false sense of danger, even when the sexual assault danger is real [as opposed to murder]. The disproportionate representation of women in true crime stories does not negate the fact that the most dangerous place for women is often their home.
Does true crime have value when done right?
Yes, if you read, say Michelle McNamara [“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”], you see the moral center of their investigation. True crime can spark interest in cases that fly under the radar, perhaps because the victims are traditionally not considered sympathetic, like Christine Pelisek’s The Grim Sleeper, where the victims were black sex workers [in Los Angeles].
But then you read Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites and you see a true crime conference with people walking around in fake, blood-splattered shirts. And you’re wondering: why are women so fascinated when it feels so gross?
One aspect I wanted to play with is that Cassie wants to write a feminist true crime book, but is so used to seeing women as victims that at some point she can’t help but see Lore as the victim.
They cite Janet Malcolm in the book on the journalist-subject relationship as “deliberately induced deception.” Is Cassie lying to herself about her intentions? What about you writing your own page turner about secret lives and murders?
I’ve tried to critique the genre by using some of its tropes, but I’ve asked if I’m getting there or if I’m just complicit in all the ways I’m criticizing. I don’t have a solid answer to that. I think it’s both. You are also complicit in reading it.
This story takes place on both sides of the border; Characters range from white to Mexican-American to Mexican. There is a lot of untranslated Spanish, and Lore is clearly the most successful and assertive character. However, their nationalities are not the focus of the story. Was that conscious?
I grew up in Laredo, a city that was 99% Mexican and Mexican-American, but read a book by a Latina author—Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” on 7th—until I graduated from college Class. It’s outrageous that a kid who always wrote stories and wanted to be a writer never saw that life reflected in fiction. So it was really important not to make identity an issue of trauma or oppression, but to just let each individual’s identity seep through the story. I wanted Lore’s identity to make her the center of attention without “alienating” her and flipping the switch on what people can expect from a Mexican-American woman.
We see Lore as being duplicitous from the start, but we’re on Cassie’s side for now. Then her fiancé Duke accuses her of being “ruthless”. Did you want both women to be considered ruthless?
They are both driven by desire, which is such a powerful force. Lore wants to be known, understood, which leads to this additional relationship; Cassie’s desire takes the form of ambition. And society tends to see ambitious women as reckless and cold, while ambitious men are seen as attractive. I don’t see female ambition as a bad thing. I want to read more about these women.
I saw Cassie as black and white in the way she constructs her justifications. She was intended to see herself differently than the reader sees her. The trauma of her past affects her worldview in ways she doesn’t see.
How much do you divide your own life?
We all do. That was the seed of my fascination with these double life stories in which people take isolation to the extreme. Being a mother of young children during the pandemic provided fewer opportunities for isolation – my world became very small.
When my kids are napping, I turn off the mothering part of me and get on with my work without hesitation. Writing a book with this larger than life character who lives a secret life offered me that sense of escape during that time. As an author, you live that out in your head.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-06-07/a-cross-border-murder-mysterys-true-target-our-true-crime-obsession Katie Gutierrez on her thriller ‘More Than You’ll Ever Know’