The Spider and the Fly is a transgressive true crime book. Most true crime books focus exclusively on the crime and the criminal, but The Spider and the Fly reveals as much or more about Claudia Rowe, the author, as it does about Kendall Francois, the serial killer.
Rowe was living in the Poughkeepsie, New York area, writing freelance articles that focused mostly on crime and odd stories of the region for the New York Times. She became aware that several women had disappeared and just after she pitched the story to her editor, Francois confessed to murdering eight sex workers, leaving their remains in the attic, the garage and even in a kiddy pool in the yard.
Rowe is fascinated by violence and begins a long correspondence with Francois, one in which he demands she reveal more and more about her life while he strives to avoid talking about his background, his family, or revealing too much about himself. He is a paradox whom Rowe never quite understands, but then perhaps the reason she seeks to learn about him is to understand more about herself, and that is the real journey that enlivens this book.
For a few years back in the early 90s, I had a fascination with serial killers. New to the Oregon, I found it fascinating that the Pacific Northwest was serial killer central with far more serial killers per capital than most other states. I read a lot of Anne Rule’s books and a fascinating book on serial murder that postulated that many of them suffered a temporal lobe injury. Eventually, though, the more I read, the less I believed that we can ever understand what makes people cross that line.
The Spider and the Fly sustained my interest, but not because I was much interested in Francois. Rowe coming to understand her own life better, to recognize the trap she had fallen into, to recognize the traumas of her past and forge a new way of relating to her mother. and to even find empathy for her mother. That was interesting. Also interesting, the utter incompetence of the Poughkeepsie police, incompetence they still don’t recognize, incompetence bred of indifference to the throw away lives of the women Francois murdered.
Francois was not very interesting. He was an incompetent serial killer who was never caught because the police were worse at their jobs than he was at his obsession. He might have killed many more if he had not decided, on his own, to confess. The only interest he brings to the book is as a catalyst for Rowe to look at her own life.
I would be interested in another memoir by Rowe, one that does not hang off a serial killer to justify itself. She is interesting and her story does not need a connection to infamy to be worth telling.