A Study of the Complex Humanity Behind True Crime in Kate Brody’s Novel “Rabbit Hole” – Chicago Review of Books


We live in a golden age of the armchair detective, a person who aims to help solve a real-life mystery without the official qualifications for such work. Global fascination with true crime has led to an explosion of documentaries, websites, online forums, and more; a 2023 Pew Research Center study1 found that true crime is the most common podcast topic in the United States, with plentiful options also available in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. In her debut novel Rabbit Hole, Kate Brody captures a sense of the obsession that can develop for someone seeking answers, even when (perhaps) no crime has actually occurred. 

It’s been ten years since Teddy Angstrom’s older sister, Angie, vanished. Shrugged off by police, the case remains unsolved, viewed by some as an unfortunate situation where a young, tattooed, substance-abusing woman likely made some bad decisions and now doesn’t want to be found. But her family can’t believe she simply, willfully left one day, and on the anniversary of Angie’s disappearance, her father Mark, seemingly overcome by grief and helplessness, drives off a bridge and dies upon impact. Teddy, now grown and working as a local high school teacher, leans on the tentative strength of her mother, whose life seems saturated by tragedy: another family member lost, another husband gone.

“She insists on identifying his body alone, and I let her,” writes Brody, who has written Rabbit Hole from Teddy’s perspective. “For now, I am glad, but I will be angry later when I can’t be sure if the bloated, bruised, waterlogged version in my head is more or less grotesque than the real thing. I will grow jealous of her for getting to see him, for the visual proof that convinces even the most stubborn parts of her brain that he is dead.”

As Teddy seeks to understand her father’s death and learns more about his own substance-abuse problems, she discovers how deeply he was involved, all these years, in trying to figure out what happened to Angie. One night, Teddy grabs a bottle of wine and dives into the internet, a journey that leads her to Reddit, the very real website that serves as a community gathering place for people around the world to talk about everything from sports to TV shows to, yes, true crime. There, she finds a subtopic group dedicated to unsolved mysteries.

“There is a search feature at the top of the page. I know what will happen when I type my sister’s name. I brace myself for the onslaught of men trading information, throwing around detective show jargon, laying out their theories, linking to their YouTube channels and podcasts. Pining and fantasizing. Angie was cute in a punky way. I can see that now. All young people are cute. In the months after she disappeared, she attracted attention from a certain type, guys who were sick of all the blond sorority girls gone missing. They talked about her as though, if they helped rescue her, she might even date them. What I’m not prepared for—what comes up first—are the posts about my dad.” 

Teddy’s life spirals further out of control as she spends more and more time online, pulled into the anonymous messages she finds. Then, she meets Mickey, a nineteen-year-old college girl who looks like Angie with her own deviant secrets, and as the two work together to find out what really happened to Angie and Mark, their lives become increasingly intertwined and at risk. Violence escalates; online threats become physical ones. 

Among Brody’s strengths as a writer is her ability to create realistic, multifaceted characters whose needs and desires are at odds with what it is they actually want and need. They hurt each other in a spectrum of ways, usually while in pursuit of prioritizing their own goals. Love, loyalty, empathy, forgiveness, what it means to be selfish, and what it means to be connected to other people are all themes Brody explores with depth and nuance. The amateur sleuths of the Reddit community showcase these themes as well: individuals come together online in a mutual need to connect with others over their interest in solving mysteries and, ultimately, helping other people, and yet, though their efforts may indeed lead to answers, the way people communicate (or say nothing at all) can create division and even more pain. 

“ANOTHER VOTE FOR DAD DID IT,” writes one commenter in the Reddit group. Teddy sorts the comments so the newest ones appear first and finds that just one person responded to the news of her father’s death: “RIP MARK ANGSTROM.” She sees that no one has reacted to this comment, so, drunk, she does. “He was a good dad. Miss you xx,” she writes, accidentally outing herself to the community and triggering new interest in her sister’s case.

See Also

Though the story centers around true crime culture, Rabbit Hole is also a nod to the way we interact through social media on a broader level and how we behave through anonymity. It’s easier to be cruel, vulgar, and careless with our words when we can hide behind a random user name. We can believe that our opinions matter. We can soak in some schadenfreude, then go back to our lives with little awareness of how our behavior has affected another person, a person who could be experiencing agony we know nothing about.

Brody skillfully creates a unique, memorable case study of familial love and grief and examines how seeking truth and closure can turn ugly. A psychological thriller that also thoughtfully explores social media culture and the dangers of obsession, Rabbit Hole is a heart-wrenching reminder of the complex humanity behind every true crime story. 

Rabbit Hole: A Novel
by Kate Brody
Soho Crime
Published January 2, 2024


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