As a reader of many true crime novels in my youth, “Escaping the Arroyo” by Joyce Nance was quick to catch my eye in an e-mail offering free Kindle books. True crime is my father’s preferred genre for reading, and when I had finished the final page in my own personal or borrowed library, I could always be certain to find one of these books in his that I had not yet read.
Although it’s been a good many years since I’ve picked up a true crime novel, I found this one to be an outstanding representative of the genre, and one that went above and beyond in many ways.
“Escaping the Arroyo” is the story of New Mexico’s Michael Guzman, who abducted two University of New Mexico students, Julie Jackson and Colene Bush. Guzman raped and stabbed Jackson to death, and attempted to kill Bush in a vicious attack which she miraculously survived.
I feel like the narrative of this true crime novel displays a sincere empathy for both the criminal and the victim. Early in the book, heart-wrenching vignettes detail the type of abuse Guzman endured throughout his childhood and offers profound insight into what might have spurred him to commit such heinous acts. Details of the victims as youths provide insight into the fighting spirit that allowed Bush to survive her attack, only to learn later in life that surviving never meant she would get her life back.
As there was a surviving victim in the Guzman case, Nance is able to offer the reader a special insight that many true crime novelists are not into the permanent trauma that leaves a life-long impact on the survivor. She describes in detail several attempts by Bush to pursue goals she had set for her life before the attack, only to be turned away time and again. I found myself wishing that there were some explanation from those involved as to why Bush was first welcomed and later denied the opportunity for these pursuits, but I’m certain that it would have been impossible for an interviewer to find someone who would speak candidly about their reasons.
Regularly priced at $4.99, this is a book I would categorize as a #kindlesteal on Twitter. But even at full-price, I’d suggest this book as a must-read for any fan of the true crime genre. Nance’s second true-crime novel, “Reel to Real: The Video Store Murders” was released in July. Other offerings on Amazon include the children’s book “Crime Doesn’t Pay – Even for Cats” and an anthology of poetry with Kathy Teller, “Sharp as Stars.” Joyce Nance’s Web site can be found here.