Having written such true crime standards as "The Stranger Beside Me" and "Small Sacrifices," Ann Rule long ago established herself as one of the brightest stars of her genre. Her best work shines in its detail, moves along quickly, and reads almost like fiction rather than cold fact.
In "Green River Running Red," though, Rule takes her eye off the ball and spends less time (a LOT less time) telling us about Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway than about his dozens of victims. Yes, it's a noble cause to give these young women an identity beyond 'known prostitute' or 'Jane Doe #4.' But in spending literally hundreds of pages on mini biographies, Rule can't help but make them seem, well, boring. As reported in `Green River Running Red,' there's a downbeat, dreary sameness to the lives of the killer's victims. They have, for the most part, unhappy childhoods and incapable parents. They become estranged from their families. They drop out of school. They get into drugs. They hang out with losers and, eventually, fall into prostitution. They're busted a few times. They live in motels. Finally, they meet Gary Ridgeway, and their sad lives come to an abrupt, violent end. Wading through hundreds of pages of "She was a beautiful, intelligent, well-liked girl," you get the feeling that Rule isn't giving you much credit. After all, these women don't HAVE to have been beautiful or well-liked for their lives to have had value. If we have any humanity at all, we're already on their side, and we're horrified by Gary Ridgeway. In spending SO much time telling the victims' stories, Rule simultaneously sugarcoats their lives and underestimates her readers.
There are other flaws with Green River Running Red, too, most of which spring from the author's coziness with the Seattle locale and the cops investigating the murders. Not only does Ann Rule insert herself rather inappropriately into the story (telling us, among other things, of tips that come her way from the public and of her own speaking engagements that have nothing to do with the case), but, in detailing her relationships with the police, she obliterates any sense of objectivity toward their work in catching the killer. At times, Rule comes off as more cheerleader than reporter.
Keep in mind, this book is not about Ann Rule and her friends' involvement with the case of Gary Ridgeway. It's a story in which she shouldn't be a character at all, but occasionally sees fit to say, "By the way, I know this guy! We're pals!" The problem with this sort of lapse of detachment, of course, is that we don't get a sense of truth and accuracy. As heroic as the officers on the Green River Task Force may have been - and they truly were - Rule can't portray them as anything less than perfect.
This is never more clear than in Rule's retelling of the Task Force's early interest in Ridgeway. When traces of a rare auto paint found on three of the victims point the police to the truck painting shop where Ridgeway works (the only shop within thousands of miles to use this paint), he becomes a `favorite' suspect among some in the task force. This occurs in the 80s - years before Ridgeway's eventual arrest - and a few years AFTER he first pops up as a suspect. So, did the police drop the ball at this point? Or did they feel that they had their man but couldn't quite prove it? Well, Rule isn't saying. Leaving such a question dangling in the minds of her readers does leave the impression that she didn't want to go there.
To be sure, there will be other books written on the Green River Killer. As with books inspired by other sensational crimes, most will invariably be shoddy, poorly written and barely researched. This book will outshine those, and will probably prove to be the definitive report on this particular case. But, given her back catalog and her familiarity with this turf, it's a wonder indeed that Ann Rule couldn't come up with something better than it is.