This gear-shift, from the gawking exploitation of true crime to the more introspective exploration of memoir, is a transition that could likely lose some readers. That’s their loss. Spider is not Francois’s story. It’s about Rowe, and how she responds to Francois’s monstrous acts ... True crime buffs might be frustrated by Spider’s unwillingness to tie everything together, to slap a moralistic Law & Order-style framework on the story. But readers who are interested in deeper conversations than a childlike fantasia of good versus evil will find sentences of this book echoing around in their brain for weeks afterward ... Spider is a messy, complicated book about a messy, complicated human. It’s about finding yourself inextricably bound in a situation that you never wanted. But most of all, it’s about the terrifying notion that when you scratch enough of yourself down on paper and throw it into the void, the void might just decide to write back.
As it happens, Rowe's book is not a piece of reporting, but an amalgamation of clichés: intrepid lady reporter becomes obsessed with rapist/serial killer who murders women who resemble her, and begins sending him emotional letters. She isn't interested in facts unless they illuminate some aspect of her own life. Rowe knows it isn't true journalism, and says so: 'The first rule of reporting is that the writer is never the story.' But even if she abandons the guise of journalist, it just isn't appropriate for her to be the center of Kendall Francois' story, particularly in the callous way she goes about writing it ... The ethics of writing a book that sexes up a serial killer while mostly ignoring his victims is queasy at best. There are two axes of weakness: aesthetic and ethical. And the horrible truth is that I'd be much more willing to put up with the way Rowe more or less sells out these women if she did it with subtlety and élan. That's not fair, of course: It's like being easier on bank robbers who burgle with brio. But her writing, if competent, is purple, and her reporting patchy.
Unfortunately, this prospect explains more about Rowe’s frame of mind, an eagerness that pushes her to the front of the story, than the pathology that lurked around Francois ... Needless to say, no matter what her remembered deeds or their cause, they are mere peccadillos in contrast to that of a serial killer. The Spider and the Fly never adequately addresses this awkward juxtaposition or really explains 'the meaning of murder.' But Rowe’s up-close portrait of Francois offers a fascinating meditation on the psychopathic mind.