Anatomy of a Book: Murder in Mississippi, by John Safran

… a book’s just a succession of chapters. You basically have to write 15 chapters that are ten pages each and you have a book. (p.>1)

Lally Katz advises John Safran on what constitutes writing a book. What follows is John Safran writing a true crime book.

… the murder’s about race, money and sex. (p.21)

Safran is interested in the topic and so he is able to engage both the environment he researches and the reader. Unfortunately he does not describe the environment as well as he describes his interactions with it.

Mr Sandman has not only sprinkled sand in my eyes but grouted over my nostrils and under my fingernails. (p.28)

It reads as though Safran is unsure as to how to place himself in the book. His instinct seem to want him to withdraw, though as he has some celebrity it also seems someone has told him to put himself in the book.

I saw on an internet message board that John Berendt fudged the start of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. (p.29)

He often quotes other true crime writes, uses blog post short headings within chapters, relies on long sequences of conversation transcripts, and is at his best when he ignores all those formats. There are very good elements to this book that if he writes another he should focus on instead of listening to others or follow genre methods by copying other’s style.

Changing Status:

In writing non-fiction Safran has had to rely on facts for his story elements. The demise of a white supremacist is not treated as a demise because Safran quickly meets people who didn’t think the man was a success. It would have been more interesting if Safran’s own opinion of the man slowly crumbled with the evidence he uncovered.

High Stakes:

The worst that can happen is capital punishment to a provoked person. This is not given high enough importance as the provocation becomes unclear and is a key element often questioned. If it was held as a fact, then the story would be more problematic.

Page Turner:

There are some twists and time does laps quickly for the reader, however the main joy are the parts of humour and overall ease of reading. It is a pleasant read, if murder, sex and racism can be viewed in such a way. This owes to the writing style (voice) of Safran and is prhaps due to his interest in the topic.

Believable Characters:

Flawed and honest. The people Safran meets are as real as anybody. Even the murderer


The reader learns about the State of Mississippi and the state of Mississippi. Also about some legal elements and lessons about family units. It is interesting for the detail and care Safran approaches these topics.


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