#BookReview – DANGEROUS GROUND: My Friendship With A Serial Killer

“Anyone can become a killer under the right circumstances—even you.” 
 
For the first time, award-winning investigative journalist M. William Phelps reveals the identity of “Raven,” the serial killer who co-starred with him on Dark Minds—and tells the story of his intriguing bond with one of America’s most disturbing killers.
 
In September 2011, M. William Phelps made a bold decision that would change the landscape of reality-based television—and his own life.  He asked a convicted serial killer to act as a consultant for his TV series. Under the code name “Raven,” the murderer shared his insights into the minds of other killers and helped analyze their crimes.  As the series became an international sensation, Raven became Phelps’s unlikely confidante, ally—and friend.

“I’m not making excuses for the eight murders I committed.”
 
In this deeply personal account, Phelps traces his own family’s dark history, and takes us into the heart and soul of a serial murderer. He also chronicles the complex relationship he developed with Raven. From questions about morality to Raven’s thoughts on the still-unsolved, brutal murder of Phelps’s sister-in-law, the author found himself grappling with an unwanted, unexpected, unsettling connection with a cold-blooded killer.

“It made me feel warm inside to know that I was responsible for that pain . . .”

Drawing on over 7,000 pages of letters, dozens of hours of recorded conversations, personal and Skype visits, and a friendship five years in the making, Phelps sheds new light on Raven’s bloody history, including details of an unknown victim, the location of a still-buried body—and a jaw-dropping admission. Eye-opening and provocative, Dangerous Ground is an unforgettable journey into the mind of a charming, manipulative psychopath that few would dare to know—and the determined journalist who did just that.

Published: July 25, 2017

Amazon / Amazon UK / Amazon CA

 

My Review

I finished this book a few days ago, and I’ve since been trying to convince myself that I liked it more than I initially thought. I didn’t convince myself. I didn’t like the book. I was left… perplexed.

I’m drawn to the kind of true crime books that take us into the minds of the bad guys/girls, showing us how/why they unraveled and what motivated their crimes. Given the nature of the author’s relationship with Jeserpson, I expected a lot of that type of insight here. What I got was something else entirely. Sure, we have a sprinkling of insight into Jersperson’s psyche, but overall this book includes little of the “7,000 pages of letters, dozens of hours of recorded conversations” the author collected during his five-year relationship with Jersperson.

My job, in going into and continuing a conversation with a serial killer, was not to stare at him under a condemnatory microscope focused on what he had done. It was an opportunity to unravel the emotional state – body, mind, and soul – of men like Jesperson.

What I didn’t like: The author’s tone feels overly dramatic, particularly in regards to what this relationship of sorts does to his physical and mental health. He repeatedly and incessantly tells us about his anxiety attacks, his digestive problems, and his need to take antidepressants in order to manage his symptoms. He claims his “friendship” with Jesperson was destroying his health and his faith. It’s like he’s desperate for us to believe he sacrificed his soul in order to talk to a killer, all for selfless reasons, and certainly not to sell a TV series or for the material he used to write this book.

My friendship with Jesperson was deteriorating my health, mentally, spiritually, and physically.

Another irritant for me: Phelps uses the term “friendship” throughout the book in describing his relationship with Jesperson. Perhaps he truly feels that way, but, from what he shares, this so-called friendship was nothing more than a business relationship. Never any sort of friendship. In fact, Phelps goes out of his way to insult and ridicule Jesperson, to us, calling him names and ensuring we understand that Jersperson does not deserve even the most basic compassion.

What a pathetic creature.

A final complaint: Phelps seems quite proud of the fact that he was able to trick Jesperson into providing information on one of his unidentified victims. Phelps also happily cons Jesperson into believing he’d be using much of the information provided to write a book specifically about Jesperson, his life, and his crimes, helping to dispel some myths. Instead, what Phelps did feels more like taking advantage of a sick mind so that he could write a book in which he calls his confidant a “pathetic creature”. When Phelps bled Jesperson of all he could get, he then snidely turns and walks away, severing the relationship with a sense of righteousness.

I was slowly becoming another one of Keith Hunter Jesperson’s victims. He was beating me down, willingly or not. I felt like a shell of a human being all the time. Totally wiped. Emotionally drained.

The killer portrayed here vacillates between emotionally dependent and emotionally void, a dichotomy I could make no sense of, particularly since Phelps made no real effort to show us the humanity behind the killer.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating for Jesperson to receive hugs and coddling. But I got a strong sense that the objective here was a little too self-serving. And, ultimately, after reading this book I don’t know much more about Jesperson, the man and the killer, than I already knew from the few articles I’d read.

*I received an advance ebook copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Matthew Savoie

    Thank you for this honest review. Phelps always had come across in my mind as overly dramatic and using the murder of his sister in law for his own financial gain. He constantly drives home the idea that since he knows someone who was murdered that he somehow has special insight into the minds of murderers, when in fact he is merely a fluff true crime writer making a profit off of the suffering of others. His mock compassion for the families of the victims he exploits with his books makes me think he is himself a bit of an antisocial personality (or a sociopath).

    • Good to know I’m not alone in my distaste for the author’s tone. I definitely got that vibe about him using his sister-in-law’s murder. I was particularly disgusted by the way he talked about her. Early in the book, he takes great pleasure in telling us what a screw-up she was and how no one in the family liked her. But then he wants us to believe he was so shaken by her murder that he was driven to find out who killed her. And that experience somehow makes him an expert on crime.

      I didn’t know anything about the author before I read this book. I hadn’t watched his TV series. After reading this book, I have no desire to watch his show. You captured his persona perfectly – “mock compassion”.