- Title: The Zodiac Killer: Terror in California
- Author: Kate Rodgers
- Publisher: Lucent Press
- Publication Date: August 1, 2017
- Reading Level: 14-17 years
- Grade Level: 7-9
First point I would like to make about this book is the audience. When looking up the reading level, I found it to be grades 7-9, whereas the reading level is more like 14-17 years. Of course, every youth reader is different. But I would consider this to be a book more for high schoolers and older, rather than middle school. While the book looks like a quick read, and resembles a nonfiction that might be found in a Children’s Dept., without a doubt this is more mature reading. In fact there is a lot of text and a lot of serious and triggering topics are covered. With that being said, I believe an excellent job of not sharing explicit images is done here.
This nonfiction reads like a True-Crime podcast, by that I mean, it is absolutely fascinating and engrossing. Just like that reactionary element that causes you to not look away from a wreck, you are not going to put this book down. Honestly, I would recommend this to adult readers just as much as youth. The text tells the remarkable and fantastical story of the Zodiac Killer beginning with the cultural climate, actual accounts of murders and survivors, and the killer’s taunting communications with police and press.
Another aspect this text does really well is setting the stage with images. Many of the attacks perpetuated on young people were in cars, on beaches, or private places. The reader is really transported to the era and place with images of older model cars and the locations.
Slideshow images include: Zodiac Killer victim “David Faraday’s Rambler station wagon looked similar to this 1960’s station wagon” (p. 13). “The Corvair was a popular car in the 1960’s. Darlin Ferrin and Michael Mageau were attacked while sitting in hers” (p. 16). “Lake Berryessa is mostly known for its beautiful views and relaxing atmospheres. In September 1969, however, it was the state of a brutal and lethal attack perpetrated by the Zodiac” (p. 20).
This title manages to exude all the appeal of a True-Crime podcast without overly glamorizing the murderer, which is a significant task when dealing with such a prolific perpetrator. Victims and their family members are named and humanized. The dedication of law enforcement to stop the killings is detailed. Technical aspects of investigation and information about careers in law enforcement are shared in images and sidebar. Certainly, this design is likely to inspire empathy for victims and interest in future careers (namely detective rather than murderer).
Slideshow images include: A sidebar detailing the job description of police officers (p. 14). The efforts of investigators to find the killer is shown with this graphic that shows the number of interviews conducted in the search (p. 23). The killer’s note on a victim’s car, “This is the door to Bryan Hartnell’s car. After the Zodiac attached him and Cecelia Shepard, he wrote this cryptic message to taunt police” (p. 31). Victim after an attack, “Bryan Hartnell, shown here, survived the Zodiac and was able to give a physical description of his attacker” (p. 30). The impact on victim’s family is illustrated by this sidebar detailing a brother’s challenge to the Zodiac Killer (p. 24).
Finally, the political unrest, dissatisfaction of citizens, and protests occurring when the Zodiac Killer began attacking will surely resonate with today’s readers (young and old) who are also living through historic, anxiety-inducing, times. Features include: final Notes, For More Information, Index, Picture Credits, and About the Author.
- Crime Scene Investigation Activities– this webpage provides links to all different kinds of opportunities to “play detective”. Users might attempt their skills at Handwriting Analysis, a CSI Web Adventure, or Fingerprint Classifications.
- ACS Chemistry for Life: Forensics- “Heading into a forensics lab opens up a world of chemistry. Learn about the science behind crime investigations and try some of the techniques for yourself”.
True-Crime and True-Crime podcast, and I believe I can use this term without hyperbole, are epically popular right. Readers of The Zodiac Killer: Terror In California are going to finish reading and want more. Here are a few suggestions:
The Borden Murders, by Sarah Miller– This is the haunting tale of Lizzie Borden. The author shares primary source elements, and the narrative is a perfect level of creepiness. (Published by Schwartz and Wade, 2016).
Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of Legend by Karen Blumenthal– Here is the story of another “rock star” like crime couple, Bonnie and Clyde. (2018, Viking Children’s Books).
Like The Zodiac KIller: Terror in California these books will not only supply the true-crime element for readers, but also a history lesson.
Rogers, K. (2018). The Zodiac Killer. Lucent Press.