Monster City: Murder, Music, and Mayhem in Nashville’s Dark Age
by Michael Arntfield
Nashville. Music City. A place where hopefuls come in search of country music stardom. A place where monsters come to murder. Since the early 1970s, Nashville has been the killing ground of a disproportionate number of violent predators. It’s also home to Detective Pat Postiglione, now retired, who lead the elite M Squad and later the city’s first cold case unit, putting many of those monsters behind bars. Notable cases each include the Tanning Bed Murders, the Rest Stop Murders, the Motel Murders, and the Vandyland Murders, and these are each given a section in the book, though the Janet March and Carl Williams murders as well as others are also discussed.
In Monster City, Michael Arntfield collects the stories of these murders, many committed by serial killers, and tracks the investigative process, highlighting how techniques have changed over time. As an academic and former police officer, Arntfield combines practical knowledge with theoretical insights into types of killers, meanings of weapons, interview techniques, and what the state of the body says about the perpetrator. He also references other infamous killers when relevant and sprinkles the text with allusions to popular culture like True Detective and the Making of a Murderer. Though detailed, the book isn’t sensational.
When my parents were first married, they lived in Nashville, and my father attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, so I had a personal interest in the subject. I’m a true crime aficionado as well, watching Investigation Discovery frequently, and while I had heard of some of the killers (particularly Janet March, who had an episode of 48 Hours devoted to her disappearance), this was the first time I’d been introduced to some of the cases. I also did enjoy how Arnfield included the latest forensic developments.
That said, the book was more complicated to read than it should have been. Information was presented in a strange order, as were phrases within sentences. I found myself often confused and rereading for clarification. At times, too, the prose was overwritten, and I was surprised by the overuse of the word “inevitable.” Arnfield attempted to link the murders through Postiglione, but the reality is that they were distinct crimes, so the linkages felt like a stretch. Also, it was at times implied that the killers were playing a deliberate cat-and-mouse came with Postiglione during the investigation, which doesn’t seem to be the case–though Postiglione was a target after the fact.
Unfortunately for Arntfield, at the time he wrote the book, one of the cold cases seemed resolved, with a man indicted for the murders. But this past summer, charges were dropped. That section now rings hollow since much of it tracked the movements of the now-exonerated suspect.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity, though, was an exploration of why Nashville attracted so many serial killers and violent murderers. Given the focus on the city itself, this seemed a glaring omission.
I received a free copy of Monster City through a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you Goodreads and Little A.