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A wandering reporter finds himself searching for a lost girl

NONFICTION

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray

By James Renner

St. Martin’s Press

280 pages, $25.99

What’s a reporter to do when he suddenly finds himself out of work? How about writing a book? But about what?

Let’s see: If he had successfully written a book about a missing girl found dead, why not write another one about a missing girl, dead or not.

That must have been what was running through James Renner’s mind when he decided to write “Addict.” It’s about a missing girl. Then again, it’s about much more that, and the much more involves the author in memoir-like writing.

Renner not only chronicles his search for a missing University of Massachusetts co-ed, he also bares his soul about how his life derailed as he tried to deal with the added burden of an autistic child.

He found himself unemployed after flinging an expletive at his editor when the editor, fearing a lawsuit, refused to run his story about an elected state official’s affair with an aide. The story got out anyway, thanks to contacts he sent it to, and he sued the paper for wrongful termination.

Depressed and out of work, he turned to his psychologist. She endorsed his idea to return to crime reporting, a genre familiar to him. Enter Maura Murray. Renner remembered the name from a network television story. She was last seen seven years earlier on a New Hampshire highway after hitting a guardrail with her car.

After that, nothing.

So he undertook the task of finding out what happened to her, including, at the outset, making the same car trip she did on the last day she was seen. And, since empty alcohol bottles were found in her car, indicating she was drinking, so did he. The Jameson made him tipsy but didn’t help uncover anything significant about Murray’s trip.

Tactics such as that Renner employed in his reportorial endeavors. But he didn’t neglect the basics of face-to-face interviews and poring through police files and newspaper stories. One trouble: Murray’s father, a key figure who was with her in New Hampshire the day she disappeared, refused to talk to him and discouraged other family members and Murray’s friends to avoid him.

The father, Renner wrote, criticized the author for trying to make money by dredging up a seven-year-old unsolved mystery.

Renner utilized a unique tactic in his investigation--he started a blog--Maura’s Blog--and posted the documents he reviewed and transcripts of his interviews for the cyber world to see.
That begot a team of sleuths, he dubs them “Irregulars,” who “contacted me with new leads, new avenues of investigation I hadn’t considered” or “found details in documents I had overlooked.”
Renner takes the reader into every nook and cranny of his efforts, sometimes building sufficient suspense to keep the tale flowing. Along the way, he also exposes the nooks and crannies of his troubled mind. And it’s a mind that spews paranoia, a mind that topples into depression when he learns something supposedly joyous, that a Hollywood producer has bought the rights to one of his novels.

It’s also a mind that goes into a tailspin when trying to cope with his autistic kindergartner. He writes: “We fed off each other’s madness, two mirrors facing each other, an endless loop of anger. Each day he got worse and so did I. Never mind that he was five and I was thirty-five. I couldn’t let him win. I couldn’t give him that control.”

Memoir-like interludes frequently interrupt Renner’s search for Maura Murray, and they reveal as much about him as do his investigative efforts. For instance, when he was thrown in jail for a calling a judge who banished him from the courtroom “a drunk,” then fought with the police officer escorting out. That cost him 10 days in jail.

Renner lives up to the title of his work.  It seems it won’t rest until he finds the answers to Murray’s disappearance. But he doesn’t. The best he can do is theorize that perhaps she was pregnant, afraid of the father, and decided to take herself away where nobody could find her.

But the book was written, so he found a way to channel his journalistic skills after swearing at his boss and losing his job.

Lee Coppola has been both a print and TV journalist in Buffalo, a Federal prosecutor and the dean of St. Bonaventure University’s Journalism School.

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