Book review: Portrait of a Monster
In a world where the most heinous terrorists are referred to as ‘cowards’ the like-minded psychopaths who torture and kill without remorse are often called monsters. Individuals who lack conscience do not seem human to the majority of the population with a conscience.
The media elevates the murderers to quasi-celebrity status when they cover their crimes. The victim(s) are all but forgotten as murderers-defendants quibble over contaminated DNA in court. Which is why this book published in 2011, ‘Portrait of a Monster’ by Lisa Pulitzer and Cole Thompson is so refreshing.
The book begins from the victims families perspective. It starts with Van der Sloot’s second murder victim in Peru, Stephany Flores and then returns to Natalee Hollaway’s disappearance. The reader is given the blow-by-blow account of how both parents were alerted to their missing daughters. For Stephany’s father, he first noticed that she never came home and for Natalee Hollaway’s mother, it was the fact that Natalee did not catch the plane home. We follow each family’s frantic search for their missing child, both roads leading to the same psychopathic killer.
Only after reliving these nightmares that all parents fear most, the authors turn to the cold-hearted perpetrator, Joran Van der Sloot. Like all murderers he and his accomplices lie up and down about what happened. At first they try to blame it on a black man, a security guard at the hotel whom they claimed to have left Natalee with. However, this falsehood is quickly unraveled by security cameras. Only they really know what happened and after all of these years, and all of the money that they have made speaking about the crime, they refuse to tell the truth. Everyone knows they did it, yet they have managed to escape the net of the law . . . until next time.
Five years after his first murder, Joran’s dark urges strike again, this time in Peru with the brutal attack on Stephany Flores. Again the authors insightfully reenact the tragic chain of events that her parents experienced from noticing her missing to discovering her body in a hotel room. Van der Sloot has created a different lie this time, instead of blaming a black man – this time he blames the police. However, all of his storytelling ends him up where he belongs – in prison.
‘Portrait of a Monster’ is refreshing in how it puts the victims families first in the retelling of these horrific crimes. This doesn’t mean that Van der Sloot or ‘El Holandaes” as he was called by the South American press, was ignored or neglected. The authors take us through his attempted escape and his curiously calm capture.
We also learn about how he was able to make tens of thousands of dollars from ‘unpaid’ interviews with various news outlets. How the the monster was rewarded for every fictitious fable he babbled. His notoriety apparently gave him a false sense of having a superior intellect but in the end he is right where he belongs.
This book is a well-written, intriguing and informative portrayal of the crimes of a monster. It is completely fact based but written so smoothly and compellingly it seems like novel. However, it is all too real and that is what makes it a must read for anyone interested in true crime.