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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: A Hunger to Kill by Kim Mager, Lisa Pulitzer 
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While I'm far from a true-crime connoisseur, I had an empty spot in my review schedule and was intrigued by this story of an Ohio serial killer of whom I'd previously been unaware.

"A Hunger to Kill" is written by former Ashland, Ohio police detective Kim Mager along with Lisa Pulitzer.

The story kicks off on September 13, 2016. Emergency dispatchers in the small town of Ashland, Ohio (population under 20,000) received a 911 call from a whispering, obviously terrified woman who was claiming to be kidnapped. Against remarkable odds, police were able to rescue the woman and capture her kidnapper, Shawn Grates. What first seemed like a horrific kidnapping and sexual assault quickly became even more as Ashland, Ohio became yet another city in America to experience their very own serial killer.

Detective Mager was tasked with interviewing Grate over a period of eight days. With a combination of police-like precision and small town hospitality, Mager gained Grate's trust and extracted recorded confessions for five murders, kidnapping, multiple sexual assaults and more. Grate is currently on death row in Ohio with a current execution date of March 19, 2025.

While I'm not a connoisseur of true-crime writing, I was captivated by Mager's storytelling with a combination of matter-of-factness and quiet humanity. While we certainly get a strong focus on Grate himself, Mager makes sure we also get to know the women that Grate killed and their stories.

True crime writing is, of course, naturally dramatic. However, Mager really humanizes this story by allowing us to get to know her, her professional peers, the victims, and all that she learned about Grate along the way.

Mager powerfully captures the twisted and depraved mind of a killer, his interviews revealing a dark logic for his actions and a sort of exploitative sense of remorse. Mager, rather remarkably, captures the charm he was able to use to gain the trust of his victims and also how the littlest thing could alter the course of their interactions.

Similarly, Mager powerfully portrays the lives of these women. In most cases, they had a very specific vulnerability and Grate simply was able to exploit them. Yes, some of them had troubling backgrounds but Mager captures their humanity and reminds us very vividly that there isn't a poor choice that justifies Grate's actions.

Along the way, Mager also captures the challenges of small town police work and the frightening times she was actually in danger while interviewing him. This became especially true once he truly latched on to her and began making request after request to speak to her.

As is always a reality in true crime writing, "A Hunger to Kill" has its share of violence and graphic descriptions of sexual assault, violence, and murder. Remarkable in its detail of both top-notch police work and in capturing the very foundations of one man's hunger to kill, "A Hunger to Kill" is deeply personal, absolutely heartbreaking, and unforgettable.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic