Score: 90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
There's something very fascinating about murder—the ultimate crime—and murderers, the most depraved and frightening among us. This is largely why shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and NCIS have been so popular for so long. This is also why the recent movie about a certain serial killer made such a splash on Netflix last year. People are instinctively drawn to the darkest of the darks. It fascinates them to know just how bad humanity can be--how and why these things can get so bad.
We've also seen a reemergence in the popularity of the true crime genre, with the Oxygen channel essentially becoming a showcase of true crime shows like Cold Justice. This book does, in fact, play out a lot like an episode of Cold Justice.
CLICK-CLICK-CLICK is an interesting deep dive into a murder that occurred in the little pig farming town of Franklin, Virginia in 1990. This is a book in the Say My Name series by true crime podcasters Anne Warner and Karen DeVanie. The two run the Sugar Coated Murder podcast and often employ the aid of a spiritual medium in an attempt to bring life to murder cases.
The victim in this case was a high school student named Raymond “Trent” Whitley (usually just called “Trent)”, cut down in the prime of his life at 17 years old.
His murderers were fellow classmates, Fred and Mike. Fred and Mike idolized seasoned criminals and gangsters, based on the movies they'd seen on TV. They wanted to make their case to be accepted as enforcers in a major criminal enterprise. They did this by first throwing together their own protection agency similar to the APA in WWE—offering their “protection” services to Trent, who rejected the offer. This resulted in Fred and Mike berating and threatening him in class before murdering him out of spite, perhaps trying to prove a point that he needed their protection. They then buried him in a shallow grave, moving the body at least once while looting it.
Trent went missing for over two years before the murder was finally disclosed in 1992 when the guilt and trauma of the act finally caught up to the murderers. They had escaped law enforcement (initially), but could not escape the overwhelming, possessing guilt that haunted and followed them those two years.
Now, this book has a lot to offer. First of all, it's undeniably interesting for the reasons discussed in our introduction. It is also reasonably well-written in terms of grammar and punctuation. Also, the stated intentions behind this book are also positive: wanting to give a voice to the victim and to tell his story. However, in execution, we're not sure if that was as successful as it could have been.
We hate to say it, but this book almost reads like an apologist's explanation for Mike and Fred—the killers—rather than as a tribute to Trent, the victim. Again, it hurts us to say it, but it's the truth (having read the book). Most of this book is either from the perspective of the two podcasters/authors or from Mike and Fred, the murderers. We get into their heads as they're haunted by the trauma and guilt of the horrific act that they've done. It creates tension between the two killers and affects their lives and daily activities.
This is summarized by a rather amazing quote, a nominee for Best Quote: “What started as a pebble-size pock in the windshield now grew into a web of mistrust and doubt. The small chasm in Mike's confidence continued to spread the way Trent's blood spread in his trunk.”
With that said, it almost seems like the narrative is trying to make us feel sympathy for the killers (or to feel bad for them) like they're some antiheroes in a TV show rather than actual, deranged a-holes who committed a horrific act that robbed a boy of his promising life. This bothered us immensely.
It doesn't help that some of the wording and phrasing int his book seems to try to soften our naturally-harsh feelings toward the killers. For example, the murder is constantly and disturbingly referred to as an “execution” or an “assassination”--phrasing which the killers would likely have been proud to use in early 90s, feeling themselves to be criminal enforcers and assassins. This was really troubling, and we strongly disliked it. We would have preferred that the authors had continually called this murder what it was—a murder and a killing. This is something we found to be incredibly frustrating.
Now, we know this may have not been the intention of the authors, but that's the way that it came across. Looking at the feedback of some of the people who knew Trent, it looks like we aren't alone in that feeling.
With all that said, it's not like the authors are the only people who struggle and wrestle with paying adequate tribute to the victims of murder. Almost every true crime TV show we've watched has had similar problems, usually in an attempt to add glitz and glamour to the crime. TV shows are made for views, after all. We've seen what the History Channel became for views.
Another thing that was a little frustrating about this book is that the authors spent quite a bit of it talking about themselves, their families, and their lives in Franklin. You could make the argument that this helps to establish that the authors have an intimate attachment or connection to the town where the murder occurred. However, there were bits of that that could have been trimmed. Here are some examples of things the authors talk about that don't seem to have anything to do with the victim, the murderers, or the murder: the YMCA, getting into swimming, getting into modeling, their dad playing golf, their parents bumping into other parents at a fair only to talk about mononucleosis, and Elizabeth Taylor's visit. Perhaps the authors were treating this book as an introduction to themselves and the series, but we though the point of the book was to cover the murder itself.
Here's what we'll say about this book that's absolutely, undeniably positive: it effectively raised AWARENESS about the person of Trent Whitley and the tragic crime that resulted in. That's something we can applaud and get behind. It seems as though this was a cold case for a time. After that, it became a relatively old and forgotten case. There's a tragedy to that as well. We should seek to remember and memorialize those who can no longer be here with us, especially under circumstances like this. This book accomplishes that.
Check it out on Amazon!