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Bright Young Women Bets On...

Bright Young Women

October 2023

Jessica Knoll’s BRIGHT YOUNG WOMEN brilliantly looks at an unnamed serial killer who we will recognize as the man who murdered two young women and seriously hurt two more in a horrific crime spree at a sorority house in Tallahassee in 1978. I remember this real-life incident so well, as I was in college at the time and thought how completely terrifying that situation had to be. This was the same person who had been on the prowl in the Seattle area before making his way to Colorado, where he killed and then escaped from prison twice. Along the way, at least 20 women were murdered, but the number could have totaled as many as 100.

This is not a true-crime book, but rather fiction as Jessica imagines what it must have been like for her character, Pamela Schumacher, who was the president of the sorority where the crimes took place. She saw the killer for one brief moment and feels the need to calm the women in the house, who are told to leave and then are brought back to the school with the walls painted as if nothing ever happened. At the same time, a woman named Tina Cannon arrives on campus as she thinks this is the same man who abducted and killed her girlfriend, Ruth, in the Pacific Northwest. They, along with a local journalist, head to Colorado to catch up with the kidnapper’s former cellmate hoping to learn more about him. And they bring questions for which there may never be answers.

We quickly realize that “The Defendant” as the killer is not as clever as he would like us to think he is, and the focus is on the survivors. Told in different time periods and in different voices, the book starts on the night of the crime and wraps up on day 15,780. I flew through it balancing the different stories and timelines seamlessly. And I loved that while we easily intimated the killer’s identity, Jessica never graced him by adding his name. It’s a brisk, smart and very powerful read.

Bright Young Women
by Jessica Knoll