Read Murder in Mississippi by John Safran Online


When filming his TV series Race Relations, John Safran spent an uneasy couple of days with one of Mississippi's most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he heard that the man had been murdered – and what was more, the killer was black.At first the murder seemed a twist on the old Deep South race crimes. But then more news rolled in. Maybe it was a dispute over moneWhen filming his TV series Race Relations, John Safran spent an uneasy couple of days with one of Mississippi's most notorious white supremacists. A year later, he heard that the man had been murdered – and what was more, the killer was black.At first the murder seemed a twist on the old Deep South race crimes. But then more news rolled in. Maybe it was a dispute over money, or most intriguingly, over sex. Could the infamous racist actually have been secretly gay, with a thing for black men? Did Safran have the last footage of him alive? Could this be the story of a lifetime? Seizing his Truman Capote moment, he jumped on a plane to cover the trial.Over six months, Safran got deeper and deeper into the South, becoming entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder – white separatists, black campaigners, lawyers, investigators, neighbours, even the killer himself. And the more he talked with them, the less simple the crime, and the world, seemed.Murder in Mississippi is a brilliantly innovative true-crime story. Taking us places only he can, Safran paints an engrossing, revealing portrait of a dead man, his murderer, the place they lived and the process of trying to find out the truth about anything....

Title : Murder in Mississippi
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781926428468
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 368 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Murder in Mississippi Reviews

  • karen
    2019-05-08 00:52

    i don't really read a lot of nonfiction, so when i do, it needs to be either about a subject matter i have a deep personal interest in: food, sharks, byron, books/linguistics, etc, or it needs to be really fun. and i thought this one was really's also deeply sad, but safran doesn't really give you much of a chance to absorb the sad parts, because this book is kinda like this guy:and it's all flash and flutter before he is off onto another tangent of the story, another anecdote, another brief observation.this is a super-voicey piece of narrative nonfiction with a trajectory that reads like a (fragmented) novel and a story that comes alive on the page with all wild immediacy.i'd never heard of this guy before, although he's huge in his native australia, but i'm not usually a fan of this kind of schtick. with the exception of louis theroux, i don't usually have the patience for prank journalism - i generally find it annoying and too easy. it's all just exposé-snark, where some fringe culture is infiltrated, allowed the damning freedom to express its beliefs to some wide-eyed and seemingly hapless interviewer to the point where they ultimately make a laughingstock of themselves and their beliefs to an audience who feels superior, and everyone has a laugh and goes home feeling better about themselves for not being in a cult/a juggalo/a snake-handler or in this case, a white supremacist. i'm already aware that i have little in common with white supremacists, that we have different values, and i find their belief system misguided, dangerous, and appalling, i don't need a book to tell me that. and it seems kind of easy to mock these people, like laughing at a baby who has pooped itself. if you're measuring your own worth by being better than someone who poops themselves, it's really a hollow victory, isn't it? and yet for all my initial resistance, i discovered that the man writes a well paced story, and his chapter names are intriguing, like:the murblethe black man who crieda fifteen-second memorythe clobbering sunwhat did Kant say?the whole book is made up of these short, choppy, almost disjointed sections, which backtrack, sidestep, overreach, and occasionally repeat themselves. but that's what gives it its propulsive pacing, and although he is not addressing pacing here, per se, i think this quote contributes to his decision to write his story in this way:There's a New York professor called Harold Schechter who writes about true crime books. I've been reading him to figure out what I'm meant to be doing.True crime stories are morality tales that explain how the world works, he says. That's why people read them. They always reflect the time in which they were written.True crime stories from Puritan days say the killer fell victim to the devil. That's how their world worked.Then Freud came along. Suddenly every killer was playing out a fantasy to kill his mother or father. That's how their world worked.The new trend - reflecting our progressive times - blames the killing on "the system." The killer was a victim of racism or poverty or social isolation by capitalism.and that's all probably true, but i think this quote also speaks to pacing - the modern reader is one conditioned to headlines, snippets, online reading of brief fragments and this book is a rollicking, snippety read catering to the short attention-spanned. basically, the book is about jonathan safran, a journalist/documentarian/prankster, who had traveled to mississippi to interview a white supremacist named richard barrett, which was to conclude with piece of DNA "gotcha!" tomfoolery. safran never ended up using the piece, but he came away with a lot of bizarre soundbites like this:"Okay, so I understand nationalism," I say. "So, it's not racism?"Richard looks offended by the vulgar term."Well, it's not so much a matter of what it's not. Let's talk about what it is. Nationalism is blood-based. Where you have a feeling for your own self, your own people, your own children, your own family, your own countrymen. It's really what makes the world tick.""But so many young people today are a mixture of things," I say. "Like they'll have one Lebanese grandparent. So if you're an American with one Lebanese grandparent...""You don't have that," Richard interrupts. "Yes, you do.""Not really."I find it odd that I have to argue the point that mixed-race people exist.the following year, richard barrett was murdered by a black man named vincent mcgee, in a case that seemed to have a lot of unanswered questions, including a possible sexual motivation for the murder, renewing safran's interest in barrett. although he had never written a true crime book, he went back to mississippi for the trial, and to interview those connected to the case, and found himself with even more questions than those he had arrived with, in an unfamiliar landscape where racism was a deeply rooted code of behavior and tradition, and there were many things not so much talked about in polite society as simply understood. barrett was a strange and inconsistent man, and some of the conversations he and safran had are bewildering, and keep you reading to see what else he's gonna come out with. in fact, most of the people safran encounters in this book are curiosities in one way or another, and as the various aspects of the case get more and more tangled, nothing seems to add up, and safran is stymied. the book is as much about the case itself as it is about safran trying to find and write the story, in the tradition of In Cold Blood, but way more jaggedy. although it is not written in the same style, i think fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will enjoy this, just in terms of its southern gothic tone, its mystery and its colorful "characters." i particularly liked this passage:Everyone's pretty joyless considering it's a parade. No winks and secret smiles. Few seem to be into it on its intended level, and Mississippi doesn't do meta, so no one's enjoying it because it's kooky.safran himself is disconcerted by the messiness of the case; the inconsistencies in testimony, the unexpected obstacles he faces in trying to understand what actually happened, and the difficulties of constructing a cohesive narrative in the conflicting reports. he knew the story he wanted to tell, but the more he learned, the less he really understood.If Vincent killed a white supremacist, fighting racism, he can be the hero in that story. If Vincent killed a gay man for hitting on him, that doesn't work anymore. I wanted the narrative to be me and the brave McGee family against "the system." I wanted to be hanging with the black activist lawyers, but they've cut me off. Worse, I got on smashingly with Jim, the white supremacist.This story isn't working out like it should.even the racial beliefs of the white supremacists are illogical, it's not (forgive me) black and white:"You know 80 percent of blacks are okay. It's just the 20 percent."What?? Eighty/twenty? Is an eight-to-two ratio high enough to go to all the effort of being a white supremacist?so he wanders and he flounders and he is frustrated by his inability to get to the bottom of the case and wonders how true crime books are ever written, when there is always so much unknown.There's this true crime book abut an Aboriginal death in custody. The author paints precisely what happens the morning of the man's arrest. He was wandering down the street like so. A woman was lounging over by that house. He was whistling this specific tune. The sun shone like this. The police van pulled over like that.It bugged me, the precision with which the author knew about the morning, while i was still floundering over whether Richard pulled up outside the McGees' in a black SUV (like Vallena told me) or a bicycle (like Tina said). I spoke to the author, and as it happens, she didn't really know any more than me. She just committed herself to a fair-enough version of events. None of the true crime writers know any more than me, they just commit. They just pull the trigger. Safran, pull the trigger.and he does. or tries to. and although it never ends up being a tidy account of what actually happened, i think the process is fascinating, and i really responded to its conversational tone. the book is more than just a chronicle of a crime; it's memoir, travelogue, a book about writing and race and history and community and sexuality and the impossibility of ever getting any kind of clarity in these kinds of horribly compelling cases.a mess of a book, yeah, but an engrossing mess.

  • Scott
    2019-05-10 05:04

    Murder in Mississippi is an enthralling exploration of a murder, its participants, and its aftermath, written by John Safran - one of Australia’s best prodders of hornets’ nests.During the filming of his last television series, Race Relations Safran travelled to Mississippi and publicly pranked white supremacist Richard Barrett, publicly announcing that Barrett had African ancestry (as we all do). A year later Barrett was brutally murdered, his repeatedly stabbed and partly burnt body recovered from his home by firefighters and police. The confessed murderer was Vincent McGee, an African American whom Barrett had hired to perform yard work.Safran’s connection to Barrett (and the social fallout from controversies around Race Relations- Safran stocked his apartment with food and avoided going outside after the series was broadcast - compelled him to pack his bags and head to the deep south in pursuit of answers and enough material for a book.Safran soon discovers that what he thought would be a fairly straightforward example of a race-driven killing was far more complex, involving issues of poverty, childhood abuse, closeted homosexuality and the strange inconsistencies and hypocrisies of hatred and justice in Mississippi.In his hunt for the truth behind the murder he chases down prosecutors, defence lawyers, relatives and friends of both the killer and the deceased, driving all over Mississippi, sweating his way down sun-beaten back streets and poring over massive piles of legal documents. Safran is an eager embracer of weird situations, and even finds himself running bizarre errands for McGee, acting as a go-between in a seemingly doomed romance.So far, so true crime. What elevates Safran’s book above the norm are his regular reflections on the nature of what he is doing, the ethics/legality of his actions in chasing down information on the case, and his own, often wrong, assumptions. He reflects on the small lies and obfuscations needed to gain the confidence of those close to Barrett and McGee, the limits on what a crime writer can realistically reconstruct for the reader, whether giving gifts to someone who could shed light on the case is a bribe (Safran provides McGee with hundreds of dollars in Walmart gift cards for his testimony - an exchange that made me a little uncomfortable) and even the critical judgements other writers might pass on his work. Early on in Murder in Mississippi I worried that these digressions were filler, something Safran was using to pad his book out in lieu of hard investigative info. My concerns were unfounded. Safran’s reflections add a great deal to the book, allowing the reader to experience the process of writing true crime and peek behind the purposely constructed veil of artifice that non-fiction writers so often erect to disguise their involvement in the issue they are investigating.Beyond the awfulness of the crime and the depressing race and political realities of Mississippi there’s also a fair bit of humor. Safran internally berates himself for asking stupid questions, getting people offside or forgetting to press record on his Dictaphone during important discussions, and often reflects on the absurdity of the situations he encounters- a White Supremacist who is genuinely loved by his African American neighbours, a killer who would rather face a sixty year sentence than discuss his likely sexual involvement with the man he killed, and other mind-bending discoveries.I've long thought John Safran to be one of Australia's stand-out comedy talents, a genuinely interesting media voice who isn’t afraid to mock the powerful and challenge cultural shibboleths. Murder in Mississippi reveals him to also be more than just a gonzo television provocateur- he is also a thoughtful and entertaining writer who has produced an involving and compelling trip through a complicated murder and an even more complicated part of the USA.(Conflict of interest declaration: I am Goodreads friends with John Safran, although we've not spoken.)

  • Jo
    2019-04-30 03:02

    John Safran is a national treasure with balls of steel, and I've enjoyed his TV and radio work for many years. I am not a hater, but I think what this book amounts to is a misallocation of his genius, a waste of his precious time and resources. The setup here is that he interviewed and played a clever DNA test prank on a white supremacist in Jackson, Mississippi for a TV segment that ultimately never aired, and then, when the supremacist was later murdered by a black man, returned to Jackson to document it as a true crime book. As it turns out, the case is just pretty sad and not all that interesting, but halfway around the world and halfway through a book, Safran has to write something. With a weird kind of perverse glee, he hungrily dredges up whatever information he can from local archives and his own awkward interviews with anybody connected to this case in whatever way. At one point, Safran's listening to brutally sad, simple statements down a phone line from the poor/young/black murderer in jail, and getting around the Son of Sam law by paying him in Walmart gift cards. He scratches the silver off the card and reads the number to him down the line. This is low, predatory behaviour and he should be ashamed for taking advantage of these people and this case. I can see what he was trying to do with this book, but it comes off in very poor taste. I kept thinking: Go back to Melbourne.

  • Lefa
    2019-05-23 02:05

    I really loved this book. I heard Safran talk about it at the Emerging Writers' Festival earlier this year, and was excited to hear him discuss his love of Capote and the true crime genre. I was initially worried that my high expectations might make this book fall short of impressing me, but it lived up to all my hopes.As much an exploration of what happens when an author goes chasing a story as a an exploration of the story itself, Murder in Mississippi manages to explore a small-town crime, race, sexuality, poverty and politics. Perhaps most impressively, it tells the story of Safran balancing his desire to have a worthy book to write and his discomfort at being up close and personal with a confusing, unclear crime. Unlike too much Gonzo journalism, Safran's inclusion of himself in his book isn't gratuitous self-aggrandising, it's acknowledgement of his own motivations and agenda. His agonising over the 'right' thing to do as his investigation takes him further into the crime and its various players makes the book feel honest, and makes the reader feel closer to him than his prankster persona from other projects.There is a great deal of commentary on race, as we expect from Safran, but when the story veers into other areas; politics, sexuality and poverty especially, he is able to explore the discomfort that comes from never truly knowing what the truth of a situation is, and balancing the truths of different people's perspectives. This is definitely one of my favourite reads of this year.

  • Ashley
    2019-04-25 08:13

    Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve had a book hangover, I forgot what it was like. I also forgot that you can usually tell when it’s about to happen. Towards the end of the book–which you have finished at all costs, ignoring sleep and food–you start to feel a little funny, like the boundaries between real life and book life have disappeared. And then afterwards, you’re just done. With books, with stories, with bathing. After I finished it, I ended up starting another rewatch of Legend of Korra so I could shut down my brain for a while. I haven’t started a new audiobook, either, and it’s been really hard for me to concentrate enough to write this review.This book ruined me is what I’m saying.The seeds for this book were sown when Australian comedian and television personality John Safran (famed for his often racial and politically minded pranks) played a prank on the white supremacist Richard Barrett. He told Barrett he was filming a special about Barrett’s Spirit of America Day, but really he was there to gather DNA, prove that Barrett was less than 100% white American, and then spring it on him in public and on camera. Barrett, a lawyer, went to town on Safran’s production company, who never aired the segment out of fear of extended litigation. Then about a year later, Barrett was brutally murdered in his Mississippi home by a young black man named Vincent McGee. Safran was deeply freaked out that someone he’d known, spoken with, had been killed so horrifically. Because he’d been reading true crime books lately, an because Barrett had been such an infamous man, he got it in his head to go to Jackson, Mississippi and cover the trial, to try his own hand at true crime writing.Safran admits openly that he expected certain things going into the project, and one of the most intriguing things about the book is the way that all of those expectations fail so spectacularly. The central expectation, of course, and one you probably flashed on at least a little while reading my summary above, is that the crime was racially motivated. A young black man kills a famous white supremacist? The story practically writes itself. Only . . .“If Vincent killed a white supremacist, fighting racism, he can be the hero in that story. If Vincent killed a gay man for hitting on him, that doesn’t work anymore. I wanted the narrative to be me and the brave McGee family against ‘the system’. I wanted to be hanging with the black activist lawyers, but they’ve cut me off. Worse, I got on smashingly with Jim, the white supremacist.”Everything that Safran uncovers, every person he talks to, every door slammed in his face, every strange and criminal person he befriends, only serves to turn the story into something unbelievably complicated and unexpected. The more the story unraveled from what I (and Safran) had expected, the more interesting and compelling it got. I don’t want to say more than that because half the fun is watching Safran uncover these truly ridiculous, real-life facts about his subjects. Watching him delve into the weird and somehow wonderful yet horrifying details of small town Mississippi life and how it intersects with the murder.And of course, there’s Safran himself, whose writing style is more David Sedaris in spirit than Truman Capote. He’s a smartass, and he’s completely unafraid of making himself look stupid on behalf of his art. He’s also probably the most transparent true crime writer I’ve ever come across, to the point where he spends a later portion of the book literally addressing Janet Malcolm, an author who famously ripped apart another true crime writer and questioned the veracity of his writing. He treats Janet Malcolm like the angel on his shoulder. WWJMD is his motto. His entire tone is irreverent, mixed with this weird sincerity and genuine quest for the truth, whatever that is. I found myself completely sucked in to it, perhaps because Safran was so very present in the writing. It felt more real.I highly recommend this book. It wasn’t perfect–the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and I would have appreciated more of a conclusion–but overall it was a really great read. It’s relevant, it’s funny, and it will give you a hangover. [4.5 stars]

  • Brenda
    2019-05-17 04:20

    When John Safran, investigative reporter from Melbourne, Australia, heard that white supremacist Richard Barrett had been murdered he was shocked to the core. He had been in Mississippi a year earlier, interviewing the man for his TV series Race Relations. The two days he had spent with Barrett were days which left him uneasy and hadn’t left his mind – now he was dead, murdered at the hands of a black man.Deciding he needed to be in Mississippi to cover the trial, he took time off from work and flew straight over, heading back into the Deep South. As he interviewed the people involved, including killer Vincent McGee’s family, he found he was thwarted at just about every turn. But this of course made him much more determined to continue digging. And what he found wasn’t pretty. The contradictions were confusing to say the least, and as time moved on, the reasonably simple crime became one of great complications. I found this book to be really interesting. I enjoyed the story, the history and the intrigue, but I also found the way Safran wrote the book to be unusual and a little difficult to get through. I found myself putting it down often, unable to get deeply into the story, and feeling like I was having to wade through it. But for anyone who enjoys true crime, I would recommend you give this one a read. The story and the history are worth it.With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy to read and review.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-05 09:13

    15/11 - I've never watched any of John Safran's shows because I don't like to see journalists confronting and antagonising dangerous people, like KKK grand dragons (why on earth are they 'dragons'?). It's not like they're going to change their minds, and sometimes it doesn't seem too far-fetched to worry about the offending journalist's (and possibly their camera man) body being found hanging from a tree a week later.If I was watching this, rather than reading it, I would be yelling at the tv demanding to know what the hell Safran was thinking getting in the face of and asking KKK big shots awkward (and also reasonably obvious) questions about who can and cannot join the KKK. It's just not a good idea (IMHO) if you value your health and wellbeing. Thankfully, I'm not watching it so I'm finding it much less stressful following on with Safran's 'adventures' in white supremacist country than I thought I would.I really don't mean any offense to Mississippians, but your state sounds (from this book and movies like A Time to Kill, The Chamber, and Mississippi Burning) kind of scary crazy. I don't know how you live there, no matter what colour your skin is. I don't think I could stand the racism and how ingrained in the culture it is. Some of Safran's experiences sound like he stole them straight out of the 60s (or a movie), but what's most disturbing to me (a Melburnian who has seen very little racism in her lifetime) is that this book was written only last year. These things are still happening. The n word is still used with impunity, the KKK is still active and recruiting (even Safran if he hadn't had a Jewish mother), people believe that it was better before desegregation (even African Americans), African Americans still have to worry about being seen with a Caucasian person (especially in a dating/romantic situation) in case the Caucasian's family takes offense and decides to do something about it. I hate that this is still the reality for a whole state-full (or more, I don't know what Georgia and the other 'Southern' states are like) of people and it makes me angry to think about it too much.I'm just going to try to concentrate on the 'true crime' aspect of the story, which doesn't actually seem to be related to race, and not think too much about the racism. The crime itself certainly is worth contemplating, it's so weird. Richard Barrett is like two different personalities in the one body, I'm not surprised some of his acquaintances thought he was an FBI plant. Some people saw the white supremacist fanatic (there's no gay people in the KKK), some saw a man who was a bit too touchy feely with teenage boys (and even one of Safran's producers). The accused murderer came up with numerous different stories to explain what happened and why he murdered Barrett, but because he kept changing his story I don't feel that we have heard the true story. I will be very interested to read whatever of the court proceedings Safran decides to include in the book, as I can't imagine what his defence team is going to say or what the defendant's final explanation will be. To be continued...16/11 - This has got to be the weirdest murder (plead down to manslaughter) non-trial of the 21st century. None of it makes any sense, no one's behaviour makes any sense, the whole case is very nonsensical. Because McGee plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, as well as the original charges of arson and burglary, there was no trial and therefore no argument over McGee's sentence - the prosecutor recommended 65 years, so the judge gave him 65 years. No trial means no witnesses taking the stand to explain the defendant's, or the victim's, actions, no cross examining of these witnesses by the prosecutor or McGee's lawyer in order to get to the truth. So Safran decided to take it upon himself to attempt to find the truth by questioning all the witnesses who were meant to take the stand during the trial. What he's uncovered (so far, not quite finished yet) is enlightening and confusing at the same time.I'm not particularly impressed with the investigative skills of the two detectives assigned to the case. Within seconds of seeing Barrett's partially burnt body both men had decided that there were 'homosexual' motives behind the murder. All because Barrett had been stabbed numerous times around the chest and neck (enough so that he was nearly decapitated), in what the detectives considered 'homosexual overkill'. They (these homosexual murderers who the detectives have much experience with) get into a passionate rage (according to the officers) and go far beyond what is needed to kill their victim. Barrett had been stabbed 16 times, that was therefore, clearly, 'homosexual' overkill. They never gave any other motive for the overkill any consideration. At one point on page 192 Safran asks"What does that mean? 'A homosexual murder?' Why would that be different from a non-homosexual murder?""I can't explain it," Tim (one of the investigating detectives) says. "I don't have an answer for that."So he (Tim) doesn't know how a homosexual murder is different from a non-homosexual murder, but he still knows one when he sees it. That logic gives me a real sense of security in the powers of his investigating skills. Confusion reigns over the whole investigation. On page 193 and 194 Safran tries to understand why the victim had been dragged through the house (evidence of this shown by drag marks made in Barrett's blood)'"Why would Vincent want to drag him?" I ask. "Maybe closer to the fire?""Vincent moved him from the kitchen to the bedroom," Wayne says."And why do you think he did that?""I don't know."If Vincent did drag Richard to the bedroom, he must have later dragged him back to the kitchen because that's where everyone's telling me - Wayne and Tim included - the body was found. Is it possible they're confusing the bedroom and the kitchen because that might be what happened in a homosexual murder?'No one seems to be able to keep the facts of the case straight. On page 208 Safran describes his discussion with Adele Lewis, the forensic pathologist who performed Barrett's autopsy.'"Sorry to be tacky," I say, "but there were suggestions at the start it was a sex crime and so did you do things like any tests on whether he'd had sex, or whether there was semen on him, or anything like that?""No, I wasn't made aware of that until after the autopsy had been completed and the body had been cleaned."She doesn't sound happy about this.'And then further down the page she continues with'"Had they implied that it had been a sex crime or told me that it was, I would've asked them if they wanted me to do what's called a thorough rape kit, which is where we take cotton swabs and swab the mouth, the anus, and we also do fingernail clippings. Those can be examined for DNA and trace evidence."Here's a weird thing. Investigator Wayne Humphrey took me through the autopsy process. He said he was in the room when they cut open Richard. And he said there was a 'sex test'. This is what Wayne told me he said to the autopsy people:"I said, I'm sorry I have to get you to do this, when they finished, but could you please do a visual look at his rectum to see if there's any foreign objects? Then they spread him and then made an incision - with, like, hedgers you use to prune - to cut up his anus so she could really get inside. She had a look and couldn't see anything."Could one of them be misremembering, or confusing Richard with another corpse? Would you be more likely to remember accurately if you were the one using the hedgers or the one watching? Which one is more likely to get carried away with the story?'I think whoever advised McGee to take a plea instead of going to trial made a huge mistake. From what I'm reading it seems to me there would be about a dozen different opportunities for an appeal to be granted.I did notice a small editing error on page 97, where Safran mixes up Tina McGee's (Vincent's mother) name with Vallena Greer's (founder of the Vincent McGee defence fund). Safran is in McGee's house talking to his mother about what Vincent said happened the night he killed Barrett.'"So after that," Vallena says, "I don't really know. But that's what my son told me, that he pulled it on him."'Obviously, Safran means Tina when he writes Vallena, because it's Tina's son who is accused of the murder, Tina's house that he's sitting in, and Tina herself who he was talking to. Ooopsy daisy. To be continued...SPOILER AHEAD18/11 - Oh dear, he did it again. On page 333 Safran mixes Vicky McGee (Vincent's aunt) up with Tina McGee (Vincent's mother). One minute Trip Bayles (one of the investigators) is talking to Vicky, then suddenly she's Tina, then back to Vicky again, exactly the same as when he confused Tina with Vallena.'"He was a white supreme-ist."Vicky leans in. "I don't know what that means," she says seriously."That means he didn't like black people very much.""Well, I like everyone.""Me too," says Trip."They one of those people that perform with the skinheads," Trip says. "You ever heard of that?""No.""They're really extreme racist white people.""Oh, well," says Tina, "that's his business. Long as he doesn't mess with me, I love him."After finishing this yesterday morning I found both Vincent and Safran on Facebook and followed Safran (Vincent was of no interest to me). In one of his posts from earlier this month he discusses the fact that the book is being released in America under a different title (I never understand the motives behind this practice), with an extra 'epilogue' that wasn't included in the Australian edition. SPOILER DEAD AHEAD, LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE FINAL OUTCOME FOR THREE OF THE MAIN 'CHARACTERS' IN THIS STORY.In this new epilogue he tells the reader the final fate of Vincent, Chokwe, and Precious. Chokwe ran for, and was elected, as mayor. Then within a few months (in April 2014) he's dead from a heart attack. Precious and his 10-year-old son were involved in a four-wheeler accident where he lost control, drove up an embankment, and flipped the vehicle. Precious died at the scene, his son sustained numerous broken bones, but will recover fully. Vincent was stabbed in the eye by a fellow prisoner who had somehow gotten hold of a knife. The last Safran had heard was that Vincent was in the prison hospital hooked up to a ventilator and the stabbed eye had been removed. No word on his future prognosis. A crazy end to a crazy series of events.

  • Eustacia Tan
    2019-05-23 07:52

    This book is a really difficult book to evaluate. I mean, it is a pretty unique true crime novel, but unique can be both a positive and negative term.And to be honest, my first impression was not very good. When I read a true crime novel, I'd want to read more about the crime, not about the author and how he feels shut out of the crime (he does get to meet the murderer later, though he talks with him mostly through the phone). Of course, it doesn't help that at the start of the book, he plays a dirty trick on the victim (in order to prove a point about race relations), which left me a bit ambivalent about the author. But as the novel went on and it slowly shifted focus to finding out reasons for why the crime happen, the book got better. Since this is a murder of a white supremacist (who, strangely, got along fairly well with black people) by a black person, there is the very obvious "race theory." Then when you throw in the possibility of a sexual advance by the white supremacist, and something about a wage quarrel and suddenly, everything gets a lot more complicated. There are many many conflicting scenarios, and the more information you know, the murkier the case gets. It actually gets to the point where there's not clear solution to this mystery - sure, we know who the killer is, but we don't know why. Oh, and while the subtitle mentions "befriended his black killer", I'm not too sure if that is true. Sure, he talks with Vincent McGee (the black killer in question) and helps him and such, but their relationship seems to be more of a transactional nature - Vincent gets money, John gets information. I'm not sure if you can call this a friendship.All in all, this is an interesting book. I was a bit annoyed at the beginning, but once the book shifted its focus to the murder, I enjoyed reading it a lot more. This is a complicated murder case, and if you want something that shows you how race-relations is not as simple as it seems, this is the book to read. Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. This review was first posted at Inside the mind of a BibliophileP.S I seem to be unable to find this book on NetGalley, has it been taken down - and does that mean I can't submit my review?

  • Jess
    2019-04-26 03:15

    How to describe this book?It begins with a TV prank on a white supremacist. A few years later, when the white supremacist is murdered, Safran remembers his encounters with the man and can't help but take an interest in the story. Particularly when it emerges that the killer was a black man, and that the white supremacist may have made sexual advances towards him. Intrigued, Safran heads to Mississippi to try and untangle the case for himself.There is some thought-provoking stuff in there. As the complexities of the case emerge, you begin to get a sense of the institutionalised racism and discrimination that routinely goes on in the state, and it's deeply sobering. Safran balances this with humour, finding plenty of comedic fodder in some of the bizarre encounters he has while following the case.Ultimately, however, the story develops a discomfortingly seedy quality. With the case unfolding in a different direction to the one Safran had expected, discussions of inequalities begin to fall away, and what we're left with is an author so intent on getting his story that he'll pay off jailed criminals and harass a murderer's ex-girlfriend to attain it. Safran isn't blind to this, but though he briefly questions the ethics of his actions, it doesn't stop him from going through with it.Safran may have had some good intentions going into this, but the further the book progresses, the more exploitative and self-serving his actions seem to become, and it makes for some uncomfortable reading.

  • Mary
    2019-04-22 07:57

    Sure, Safran’s methods were dubious, but I’d expect nothing less. I was thoroughly entertained by his adventures and interactions with the locals more than the murder case itself, which quickly turned out to be quite ordinary, really. As a fellow Melbournian living in the American South, I chuckled and nodded my way through Safran’s adventures with catfish, rednecks, Walmart, dirt roads, twangy accents, trailers, the ‘unspoken race thing,’ and the heat, oh god, this heat...

  • Deborah Ideiosepius
    2019-04-25 04:55

    John Safran is a television documentary maker I first encountered in 1997, when he competed in Race Around The World. His reporting style stood out, even then, since he chose controversial topics such as religion and race which he addressed in an aggressively confrontational manner. While he was frequently rude or dismissive of other opinions or cultures, he incorporated enough humour to make the episodes enjoyable, as long it was not you or one of your holy cows on the firing line. His style of ‘reporting’ was vivid enough to make me enjoy his antics, though not enough so that I actively sought more of it after ‘Race’ finished.How a shock doco maker came to write a book is described in the first chapter: JS : Nope, never written no book. Seems too overwhelming.LK : ...remember a book’s just a succession of chapters. You basically have to write 15 chapters that are ten pages each and you have a book.John Safran followed this advice and wrote a book, however as most avid readers know, there is a world of difference between ‘a book’ and ‘a good book’ or even ‘a readable book’. This difference requires a lot more than merely writing ten pages and in my opinion, the above quote is all you really need to know about this book.The theme sounds like one I would find interesting; there has been a murder in Mississippi. The victim is a white supremacist and the accused, who has been arrested, is a black man. The reason John Safran is interested is that he had previously encountered the murdered man. He goes back to America to find out what happened. Sadly, not much seems to have happened: it was a small sad murder in a sad backwards part of the world. Safran can’t get at the right people to interview and spends a lot of time trying to line up interviews. Once he is actually interviewing someone instead of wandering around watching parades and comparing himself to a slavering rodent (I did get a laugh out of that), the writing style settles down and becomes quite interesting. Unfortunately however there are not enough interviews and not really enough material of interest in those interviews he does so Safran goes back to what he is best at, being John-centric. Ultimately, the murder in question might have suited a chapter in a book but not a whole book. Safran also has no experience with compiling background history for a book, he has always done docos, you need a lot more for a book and it has to be better organised. The writing style is basic and unfortunately more about John Safran than about the murder, this is a trap a lot of journos fall into; they are used to being centre stage and the main narrator, they find it hard to step aside from this. This is a particular writing style, some love it and some hate it (I personally do NOT love it). All the things that make Safran’s docos interesting to watch are mostly John Safan’s antics, John Safran’s opinions, prejudices and humour and this same focus is carried into the book. However since John Safran is the point around all else revolves you have to be very into John Safran to enjoy reading this much of him (watching a doco does not take anywhere near as long as reading a book). Honestly though, I don’t think anyone in the world is into John Safran that much except John Safran. Have you noticed that this review is much more about John Safran than the murder in Mississippi? That is an accurate representation of the book, which I had eased to enjoy long before page 121, which I gratefully quit.

  • Kristina
    2019-05-19 07:01

    So first, here’s the disclaimer: I received this book free from Riverhead Books in Goodreads’ book giveaway. Oh, and my confession: the publisher requests that any quotes used in a review be taken from the final printed version of the book. Sorry, publisher. This is the book you gave me to review and this is the edition I’m pulling my quotations from. Unless Safran’s quotes are completely wrong, I can’t see that it will matter a whole lot. Now, on to my review.Many of the books I add to my “to-read” list I pull from reading The New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, and (less impressive) People Magazine. I came across God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi by John Safran in Publisher’s Weekly. The description of the book describes a traditional non-fictional investigation into the murder of a white supremacist. That’s not really what the book is about—I mean, it is, but it isn’t. Even the description on the back of the proof I’m holding is somewhat misleading. What the publisher doesn’t say is that this book is a bit nuts. I was expecting a straight-up, factual exploration of the events. This book is very definitely not that. Once I got used to Safran’s style, I actually found myself enjoying the book. Which I found to be a bit of a relief because initially, I didn’t like the book at all.The facts: in Mississippi in 2010, a white supremacist named Richard Barrett was murdered by a young black man named Vincent McGee. John Safran, an Australian documentarian (more on that later), had earlier interviewed Richard Barrett for a documentary called “Race Relations.” When Safran learned of Barrett’s murder, he decided to go to Mississippi to investigate. The book is a play-by-play account of Safran’s investigation, his conversations with the various people involved (families, friends, law enforcement, lawyers and the killer himself) and how tangled up in sex, race, and money the crime is. It’s actually a fascinating and page-turner of a tale. Despite my initial dislike of the book, I found myself pulled into the story. It’s not a “true crime” book in the sense that you’re following the investigation to see who did what; it’s more of an exploration of the two people involved and who they really were and what kind of relationship they had. Safran recorded every conversation he had with everyone involved in the book (he specifies when he had to turn off his recorder) and he wrote the conversations into the book in a way that they read is if they are happening in real time (i.e. Safran puts a recorded interview with the prosecutor into the scene itself, he doesn’t set it aside in the book as a transcript of a recorded conversation). As Safran is discovering facts about Barrett and McGee, you discover them too. There’s something oddly compelling about Safran’s style of writing this book because he himself is another character in the book. You may or may not like this, depending upon how you feel about Safran.Before reading this book, I knew nothing about John Safran. I still know nothing about him other than what he revealed in this book. I was going to Google him, but didn’t want to do that until after I’d finished the book and written this review. He calls himself (or is described as) a “documentarian.” I’m not sure I agree with that. It seems (based on his own accounts) that his “documentaries” are more like attention-getting gags done in poor taste—it’s very probable he is trying to make a serious point, but Safran’s preferred method of making his point is to be unnecessarily provocative and offensive. Again, I have not gone to youtube to watch any of these documentaries, but based on Safran’s own descriptions, they seem like those cheap kind of “candid camera” or practical joke types of tv shows that I despise. He consistently refers to himself as a “Race Trekkie”; a pop culture reference to fans of Star Trek that makes no damn sense (they call themselves “Trekkies”) and I find stupid and offensive. When writing book reviews, I do not make personal comments about the author except as they relate to his writing. I have to make exception for this book and this author because John Safran involves himself so entirely in this book—it’s not the story of what happened between Vincent McGee and Richard Barrett; it’s the story of how John Safran, Australian documentarian, found out what happened between Vincent McGee and Richard Barrett. He is as much a character in the story as they are and often he mentions himself to a distracting and unnecessary degree. On pages 45-47, Safran is watching the footage of his documentary of Richard Barrett since he just realized this is probably the last time Barrett is alive for a public function (and it’s on film). While viewing this footage, the reader is subjected to details like this: “There is no component of this bed that doesn’t squeak. The frame squeaks, the mattress squeaks, and the sheets squeak. To get to the bed that squeaks I must cross the carpet, which squeaks. And to step foot on the carpet that squeaks I must open the door, which squeaks. Like a lyre-bird mimicking its environment, my asthma wheeze, which I swear used to be more of a whistle, has become a squeak. I shuffle to the kitchenette and begin preparing my third bowl of cornflakes for the day” (45). There’s also a running commentary on how he swallows his Tylenol pills in between paragraphs of the dialogue from the footage: “I swallow two Tylenol, squeeze my head in the kitchenette sink, and wrap my lips around the spout” (46) and “I spit into the kitchenette sink. My saliva is swirled red like a peppermint candy” (47). There’s no need for all this, but Safran is the star of this production, the main protagonist in this book. Many times, his observations are very amusing and smart but sometimes he comes across as crass. In the beginning of the book, I do not like him at all. He seems like a smart-ass attention-seeker. But the more he dives into the investigation and sees how nuanced it is, his observations are more thoughtful and he is more tolerable. The most compelling aspects of the book are the conversations between Safran and Vincent McGee, the killer of Richard Barrett. McGee is clearly trying to manipulate Safran into presenting the best side of himself and he also uses Safran as an ATM and an errand boy. Safran clearly pays McGee to talk to him but I don’t think that affects at all what McGee says. (Safran isn’t bothered by this either and his one thought on this is limited to yes, he acknowledges that he is using his “power” in the form of Green Dot cards, but he doesn’t thinking telling a story is a bad thing.) McGee has a complete absence of remorse and has reflected very little on his crime. He isn’t disturbed at all by what he did nor does he seem to be all that upset by being in prison. Safran himself is absolutely fascinated by how little thought McGee puts into not only what he says to Safran, but also how he treats Safran. Whenever Safran doesn’t give him what he wants (cash in the form of Wal-Mart Green Dot cards, whatever those are) he threatens Safran. McGee seems incapable of manipulating Safran in a productive manner: “Like, as soon as it’s some instant thing that he needs—a phone card, a Walmart Green Dot card—then suddenly he reveals all to me. He’s happy then, in that moment, to be kind of charming or give a little of what happened, shed a little light on the truth of that night, because he needs that card, that number, that minute, that second. But it doesn’t register with him that maybe he should—even as a manipulator, not as a person, but as a manipulator—maybe he should think a bit more ahead. I could be an advocate for him, but now I’m kind of not one” (282). There’s certainly even enough evidence to explore the idea that McGee is a psychopath or has many of the characteristics of a psychopath. One of the most chilling conversations they have is detailed on pages 302-303. McGee is demanding more “G-Dot cards” and Safran tells him no because he doesn’t have a lot of money left: “But I’m gonna need you do somethin’ for me, you hear? I need some G-Dot cards, you hear? I got some big business coming through, you hear? Gonna need twenty-five hundred. And get it in single one-hundreds, you hear?” “I can’t give you twenty-five hundred dollars. I don’t have much money left,” I say. “You’re going to have to figure out another plan.” “No,” he says. “You the plan.” When Safran continues to refuse, McGee threatens to have him killed, then also tells Safran that he wants flowers delivered to a girl he’s talking to from prison. The abrupt change in topic (“I’m going to come to your motherfuckin’ house and put your brains on the curb” to “get my girl some flowers”) is absolutely chilling. For McGee, both actions have equal importance. What’s also freaky is that McGee has no affection for this girl as he keeps referring to her as “this bitch” but he’s doing it for some odd reason of his own (perhaps because he’s amused by having Safran follow his orders). What I can’t figure out is how McGee is allowed to have a cell phone in prison. It is my understanding that cell phones in prison are a distinct no-no. So is this a legal cell phone? How does he get to spend so much time texting and talking to Safran? Some insight into this would have been helpful. One of the weirdest things about this book is Safran provides very little personal reflection on events. He places himself at the center of the book, but doesn’t have much to say overall about it. Normally I don’t want authorial intrusion, but in this case, Safran should have something to say about all this. There’s not much of an ending to the book either—it just stops. There is a page at the end with headings of “Epilogue #1” and “Epilogue #2” but what’s below them isn’t text, just screen grabs of what I assume are postings from a Facebook account. Maybe that’s because this is the proof and not the “official” finished form of the book. However, it is puzzling.Overall, this is a compelling and fascinating account of an investigation into a murder in Mississippi. However, if you dislike the author, you may not like this book since he so thoroughly places himself within the center of his own investigation. Despite that, I enjoyed the book—much to my surprise.

  • Calzean
    2019-05-20 02:19

    John Safran is Australia's Michael Moore with the addition of a tendency to go to the occasional very overboard and tacky stunt. I was surprised in this book that he did not deviate too far from the norm as he investigates the death of a white supremacist and the black man who was the murderer.Safran shows a real human side as he first tries to to prove the murderer innocent, then to find a solid motive for the murder. His investigation all revolves around the strange background of the victim, the violence of the perpetuator, their families, neighbours, lawyers, police and the racism of the deep South. There is no amazing break through revealed in this book, just Safran finding a lot of damaged people and how people can always find a tribe to belong to.

  • Sam Still Reading
    2019-05-07 04:04

    Most Australians have probably heard of John Safran. His television shows tend to attract controversy and letters to the editor – me, I find them insightful and willing to tackle the big issues, such as race and religion. So how does John Safran on the page compare to him on the screen?Very, very well. In fact, I’d go so far to say that I enjoyed his writing more than the television programmes (except for the lack of Father Bob). Safran picks a big topic for his first book – true crime. To make things even more complex, a white supremacist John interviewed for Race Relations has now been found murdered. The murderer’s identity isn’t in doubt – but what makes the crime more curious is that it was a black man. What was the motive? Was it race?John travels to Mississippi to find out more. He tells his story of tracking down and meeting the victim’s associates (Richard didn’t really have friends) and family. Things get even more odd when Richard’s will is revealed – how are the beneficiaries linked to Richard and why is the government of Iran on there? John’s investigations lead him to think that this wasn’t a race-motivated murder – was it related to homosexuality? Was it just an argument? John tracks down the murderer’s family and even befriends Vincent in gaol. Armed with a plethora of Walmart Green Dot cards, he’ll find out why Vincent changed his story of what motivated him to murder.While the book isn’t an expose of a murder or miscarriage of justice, it’s a fascinating insight into Mississippi, past and present. John details previous race-related crimes in the state and how they were dealt with (or swept under the carpet). His descriptions of the people, both black and white, poor and rich are fascinating. I found it really amusing when one of his interviewees asked about the Australian Aboriginal people and John just about jumped out of his skin, as most people seemed determinedly fixed on Mississippi prior to that. John also provides an insight into his own Jewish heritage in Melbourne.As stories go, it’s not exactly a three act narrative because it’s real life. If you like your true crime stories to have a secret murder uncovered and the wrong person incarcerated before being saved by a heroic journalist, you won’t enjoy this. If you enjoy the unfolding of the details behind a crime with a marriage proposal by proxy, you’ll like this. The book is injected with humour (including the use of the word ‘murble’ for when John doesn’t understand a word said) and I enjoyed the way it was told, diary style as events unfold. The language is easy-going and engaging; the pace quick enough to maintain interest without becoming overwhelmed with names and motives.Kudos must go to the cover designer(s) of this book. In real life, the cover almost looks three dimensional, with parts of it burned out. The text is a little dramatic, but it’s all part of a conversation he had with Richard’s murderer.John’s included his contact details at the end of the book for leads for his next true crime story – I hope you find something John, because I’ll definitely read the book!Thank you to Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for the copy of this book.

  • Liviania
    2019-05-11 06:55

    GOD'LL CUT YOU DOWN is not the gritty true crime tale you might expect from the title. John Safran is an Australian documentarian who specializes in fairly juvenile pranks. He takes a fairly light approach to murder. I enjoyed seeing an outsider's approach to Mississippi and US racial tensions, and appreciated that Safran was pretty open about his various biases. But I often found him pretty annoying, the sort of guy who isn't half as funny as he thinks he is. I kept reading, however, because he does have a clear and engaging style, and the details of the crime itself are fascinating in their murkiness.In 2010, Vincent McGee murdered Richard Barrett. Barrett was an infamous racist, the founder of the Nationalist Movement. Vincent McGee was a young black man, in and out of prison, who Barrett hired to do yard work and then stiffed him on the payment. McGee's story about the murder changed several times. It might've been about money, it might've been about Barrett making a sexual pass at him. The media got excited - it was about race, it was about sex - but then the story fizzled.Safran got interested because he'd played a prank on Barrett years before, getting a DNA sample and announcing in public that Barrett was part black. (It's not the triumph it might seem - Safran admits to switching the sample.) He's also not popular at the time, so he heads off to Mississippi and talks to anyone who will talk to him about the case, and tries to find anyone who knows anything real about what happened. This leads to GOD'LL CUT YOU DOWN having a meandering but roughly chronological order. The first half seems to focus more on Barrett, the second half more on McGee. Personally, I think things really start moving after Safran talks to McGee's cousin Michael Dent, who ended up in prison as an accessory.Sometimes, the interesting parts of the story are about the culture around the murder. Safran finds that on a day-to-day basis, gayness is preferable to blackness, because it can be hidden. Yet most people he talks to would prefer it to be about race, that that would be less shameful to Vincent. Either way or neither way, it's an ugly side of our culture.If you can stand the narrator, GOD'LL CUT YOU DOWN is a pretty fascinating read. It isn't a neat one, but it is a fascinating attempt at trying to track down the truth of what happened between two men one night, that resulted in a death.

  • Travis Starnes
    2019-05-13 03:17

    The premise of the book caught my eye and I had to check it out. In the book the author compares his work to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and it is an accurate comparison. Or rather I can see that the author struck out to get the same kind of story when he stumbled upon a murder with a similarly interesting set of characters. The problem comes from people he has contact with. While they are almost always interesting these people feel like they were edited to fit a mold. The way they are are presented in comes off as only showing a limited portion of their true personalities. It feels like either these people were wholly and singularly focused on the one thing the author was interested in or parts of their personalities were edited out by the author to increase their readability as characters in his book. Of course I understand that John Berendt did some of this in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil also and this book was never sold as a biography or history. It was designed for entertainment and like any reality show good editing is what makes reality worth actually watching.I do commend Safran on being an engaging writer. This style of book lives or dies by the author’s ability to spin an entertaining and enjoyable yarn, and Safran totally succeeds. The book is all in the first person which totally works. Safran is an engaging writer with a good sense of humor and whit which comes out when reading his writing. He does a good job of painting a picture and you do get a real feeling of being in the moment, something I would credit to his documentary and film experience.Unfortunately I blame that same experience for the structure problems I had with the books. There are several places where he throws in emails or other media relating to the section he is talking about. I can see where this would work in a video production as a drop in but in a book it is distracting and at times confusing. It completely destroyed the pacing of the book and at times made me put it down for a while as my interest waned.I enjoyed the voice this book had but not the way it was put together. I would definitely give a John Safran book another shot but with my fingers crossed for better editing next time.

  • Christie Thompson
    2019-04-25 07:59

    Murder in Mississippi takes the reader on John Safran’s intrepid travels through America’s deep south (mostly Mississippi) poking his nose into a case involving the murder of a white supremacist by a black man.The narrative is peppered with Safran-isms and pop culture references; it made me wonder if you would get as much out of the book if you didn’t have some understanding of John’s television character. I’ve watched most of his documentaries keenly, am something of a fan, and found the descriptions of self in MiM hilarious; ‘I lisp aggressively to camera’ ‘the salivating rodent’ etc etc I could vividly picture John’s thinly-veiled glee as he makes the white supremacists squirm with the hard questions. But narrative voice aside, the content of the book is incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking. I have to give all credit to the personal investment Safran has placed into his investigation; his enthusiasm and interest is admirable and infectious. I quickly and easily forgave the often clumsy writing style, and the numerous glaring errors that were overlooked by the editing process. This book is highly recommended- absorbing and compulsive reading.

  • Liz
    2019-05-21 04:06

    John Safran is such a little shit. I mean, that's kind of his thing, right? It's not like he's exactly trying to make himself look good. But isn't that annoying in itself? Like the so-called "brutally honest" frenemy who, not satisfied with saying something rude and getting away with it, also demands moral accolades for their commitment to unvarnished truth or whatever. But I can't deny I really wanted to know what happened.

  • Michael
    2019-05-19 07:17

    When John Safran was filming Race Relations he was going to include a segment where he announced at The Spirit of America Awards that Mississippi’s most notorious white supremacists Richard Barrett has an African heritage. This was no stretch as all bloodlines will eventually lead back to an African ancestor but the threat of legal action meant it was never aired. A year later this white supremacist was murdered and the killer African American. Safran heads back to Mississippi to find out just what happened.’ve been a fan of John Safran’s documentary series l highly recommend John Safran Verse God if you have never experienced his style. He is not afraid to push the boundaries and his mind works in an interesting way. This makes for great documentaries that are funny, entertaining, informative and will leave you thinking. So when I found out he wrote a true crime book, I needed to read it.This isn’t just a standard true crime book either, this is part memoir. You get to learn about what happened to Richard Barrett and befriending the accused, but you get to read about Safran’s journey too. From the filming of the segment to deciding to write this book you will follow John Safran as he learns what happens and tries to work out how to write a True Crime book.Written in the style that John Safran’s documentaries follows, Murder in Mississippi is part true crime and part memoir. I enjoyed the memoir side more than learning about the crime, I liked following Safran’s train of thought as he tried to work out the best way to approach the research and execution of the book.John Safran’s writing style is a little weak but I didn’t expect a masterpiece for a first book. Hiss style feels more visual focused and might have worked better as a documentary but I still enjoyed the read. The journey is fascinating and Safran’s unique style was what made the book work. Fans of documentaries, John Safran or true crime, I think you might enjoy this one as well.This review originally appeared on my blog;

  • Tracey
    2019-05-23 06:54

    "I feel like I've been tied to a piece of elastic my whole life that's finally pulled me to Mississippi." (p62)Controversial issues and John Safran go together like the American South and a mint julep. Since streaking through Jerusalem and breaking into Disneyland during the first series of Race Around the World, he has gone on to ask documentary subjects uncomfortable questions, primarily about religion and race. When filming his TV series Race Relations, he spent some time with Richard Barrett, a Mississippian white supremacist, and tricked him into thinking he had African blood. Barrett subsequently sent 'cease and desist' letters to the ABC and the segment never aired. Twelve months later, Richard Barrett was killed in his home by a young black man. There were whispers of disputes over money and of disputes over sex. John Safran jumped on a plane to Mississippi to cover the trial. Reading Murder in Mississippi is like listening to a John Safran documentary. Like the cameraman running behind him, the reader follows Safran to meetings with district attorneys, lawyers, white supremacists, journalists, the victim's family members, the accused's family members, the accused's girlfriends and the accused himself, Vincent McGee. You feel the stifling heat, the bumpy roads, and parochialism and the suspicion of Mississippi, and though he is aware of all of this, Safran continues to plot his course, curiosity and dogged determination leading the way.Part-way though the book, Safran realises that this is not going to be the uncovering of a grave injustice, but there remains a sense that there is a lot of action beneath the surface in Rankin County. Richard Barrett was not a particularly likeable or liked man, but, as it turns out, neither is Vincent McGee. The fact that the story continues to hold the reader's interest long after any empathy or interest in the two main characters is gone is a tribute to Safran's storytelling style.

  • Deborah
    2019-05-16 08:56

    John Safran, the author of God'll Cut You Down, is described by his publisher as "a young white Jewish Australian documentarian," and there is no question that his style is better suited to the medium of video, with its rapid cuts (transitions) and its segment titles which manage to be simultaneously hokey and belittling (e.g., "The Ballad of the Creepy Old Man"). As a native of the Deep South (albeit Georgia, not Mississippi), I was interested in seeing my neck of the woods from an Aussie's perspective, but Safran never rises above his (acknowledged) pre-judgment of white Southerners:My feet squelch on my untied shoelaces as I jerk my luggage across the car park at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.Mississippi doesn't waste any time. That Jackson is President Andrew Jackson, pro-slavery campaigner and master to three hundred slaves. That Medgar Wiley Evers was a black activist who collapsed and died outside his house in 1963 after a Kansman had shot him in the back. You land straight in a race war.And Mississippi wants to get something else out in the open, too. Tennessee Williams is looking down at me like I'm a piece of dirt. John Grisham wants to stab me. William Faulkner sneers.YES, WE CAN READ, says the headline on the welcome billboard. A FEW OF US CAN EVEN WRITE.Way to try to psyche me out, Mississippi. Why not just put up a sign: John, a book is a little more difficult than a comedy TV show? All up, a dozen Mississippi writers scorn me from the billboard, glowing in the night, as I steer out of the airport.Despite the titillating suggestion that Vincent McGee's murder of Richard Barrett was prompted by a gay overture, Safran ultimately wastes a large chunk of the book in chasing this story. Fans of Jon Ronson or true crime should find better ways to spend their precious reading time.I received a free copy of God'll Cut You Down through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

  • Heather Fineisen
    2019-05-09 07:51

    This is not your typical true crime book and John Safran lets you know this right up front. He's somewhat of an Australian comedian known for pranks who has a comedy show. He first meets "white supremacist" Richard Barrett when he travels to the state of Mississippi in the US to interview the unknowing subject for one of these pranks. As a non-practicing Jew, can he join the we hate almost everyone who isn't white, male and Christian organization, (no, not THAT political party) the KKK. The story takes off from there and develops into an actual book when Safran hears Barrett has been murdered by a black man and heads back to this southern state to find out what really happened. What results is a mash up of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with The Daily Show, Django Unchained and a dash of Scooby Doo. Safran provides a decent snapshot of the history of civil rights and race relations in Mississippi and brings the characters to life. The southern small town becomes the caricature that it often is. At times humorous, ironic and sometimes just plain sad, God'll Cut You Down is the right read for the right audience. Here's a favorite quote from Safran: "Mississippi. Where even our homosexuals are rednecks." Yes? You're the right audience. Provided by publisher

  • David Beards
    2019-05-23 09:18

    John Safran's literary debut is a sensational, irreverent and absorbing book about the murder of white supremacist Richard Barrett, his killer Vincent McGill, and the eclectic cast of Mississippi characters he meets along the way. The 'book about writing a book about a murder' narrative makes the reader feel as though they are along side john for his 6 month Mississippi journey. One quote sums up the tone of the book: "Two pitch-black teenagers are joylessly filling balloons from a helium tank. Those caramel people you see in New York and other cosmopolitan cities , those caramel people you get when black and white people fuck each other, are largely absent from Mississippi. Most everyone here is either pitch black or luminous white". - Murder in Mississippi, By john safran, pp. 114-115.Though a wonderful debut from John that details what Southern America is like for the outsider, my only criticism is that sometimes he becomes a little overly verbose with the detailed reproduction of conversations.

  • Eryn Grant
    2019-05-18 01:09

    I enjoyed reading this...loved the ballad sections where Safran recounts peoples stories and histories. The picture of the South is etched in people's real lived experiences that Safran doesn't have to explain how Mississippi works. I've been to America's south and it is so different to the rest of the country. Safran picks up on this difference well and also demonstrates how one could become used to the subtle aspects of segregation in this context. However I felt uncomfortable at how close Safran and Vincent seem to become. Is this part of the danger of authoring a true crime story? Or do you become suitable corrupt to gain entry to a world you would normally be denied? Despite this I still loved it.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-07 08:20

    This felt a bit pointless, or if there was a point it was just to explore the crime and surrounding circumstances and not to provide any insight or answers. Safran quotes a book early on that suggests that true crime reflect the prevailing existential point of view of the time: this gave no such point of view even a nihilistic one. Also, while I understand that Safran has a unique "voice" some of the book needed some editing. The "fade in fade out" construct at the beginning was irritating and eventually faded out itself; in my opinion it could have been patten rid of altogether.

  • Isobel
    2019-05-08 01:10

    John Safran investigates a brutal murder, and issues of race, homophobia and family surrounding it. It was very hard to put this book down. Although the investigative side of the story is fascinating, the highlight for me was the transcription of the phonecalls between Safran and the killer - the exchanges were hilarious and horrifying in turn. Safran's empathy and sense of humour disarm prickly characters and win trust, and it's great to see that happen.

  • Jillwilson
    2019-05-21 01:08

    “I’ve heard the expression: ‘The Jews are like everyone else, only more so.’ Mississippians are like this too. Like in my hometown, in Jewish Melbourne, everyone doesn’t know that they’re slightly mad. Race and history and suspicion courses through Mississippians. Everything gets back to race in Mississippi as surely as everything gets back to AFL in Melbourne. Everyone’s a little broken. They value parochialism, not cosmopolitanism. They don’t ask you about kangaroos and Aborigines, like everyone in New York and LA does. There is extreme self-segregation, all done quietly, and only getting more pronounced. The city of Jackson is black. The neighbouring Rankin County is white.”This is John Safran on the topic of Mississippi and his exploration of the murder of a white supremicist in 2010. Safran had interviewed the man a year prior to his death and, intrigued by some of his actions and the circumstances of the murder, he returned to Mississippi for a six month period to become a “true-crime” writer. This focus is the best aspect of the book which I enjoyed quite a lot. In true Safran style, there is a meta-narrative happening at the same time as the “real-life” events. He references other writers in this genre: What would Truman do now? What would Janet (Malcolm) have to say about his interview with the murderer? This deconstruction of the MO of the true-crime writer is clever. Of the topic of true crime, he says: “The reason we read true crime, suggests John Safran, is because it "tells the story of how the world works". Where once crime was thought to be motivated by the devil, and after Freud by repressed childhood trauma, the cultural consensus today is that crime is probably the outcome of complex structural inequalities.” ( Another reviewer noted: “To my mind, true crime is an intense study of events at a certain time, a microcosm of society and the values a key set of ‘players’ have in that space. Whether or not there’s actually CRIME in the tale is secondary to me – it’s the people, their values, and the slow-reveal of what the author perceives his subjects’ motivations to be that is of interest.” ( am intrigued by these books: by Helen Garner, John Berendt, Capote, Erik Larson, The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper, Helter Skelter. They are more interesting to me than any great crime writer. I think what it does for me is confirm how curiously interesting and idiosyncratic most things are. Safran says of the murder victim: “I needed a loudmouth overt racist as my foil for the prank. He was so evasive and careful and wouldn’t quite say things. This evasiveness transformed into a positive, investigating his murder and writing a book.”We find out a lot about Mississippi and the most incredible range of characters in this book. Safran is probably a better film-maker than he is a writer; it jumps from “clip” to “clip” without the kind of atmospherics that a more experienced writer might use. But this is a small quibble; what we get as readers is a slice of life in this very different American state. About learning the “trade” of writing true crime, this reviewer writes: “Vincent McGee, another complexity, speaks to us for the majority of the book from jail. A cocky, troubled and violent youth, Safran struggles to capture basic information from McGee during their many phone calls. He filled me in on a trade secret in combatting this: “With Vincent, there were a lot of conversations at the start where I was like, ‘What were you like when you were young?’ or ‘When you were young, did you get in trouble at school?’ and nothing would come of that. But then I realised the trick was, I went to him and I said, ‘Michael Dent [a friend of McGee] said this, and he’d be like, ‘Bullshit! Michael Dent’s full of it, that little faggot, blah blah blah’. So I cracked that riddle – you come to people with what someone has said, preferably about them, and then they talk. And then through that, all the themes you want to deal with become apparent.” ( Safran does with McGee is interesting, and maybe pushes the ethics of the trade a little (which he acknowledges). He is in a bind; he wants to hear from all the players (who are still alive). It’s not dissimilar to the issue that Helen Garner and Chloe Hooper grapple with in their narratives too; how do you ensure that you get at the truth if people can’t or won’t talk. What if you have to pay for their narrative (in Safran’s case)? Safran writes a bit about Janet Malcolm’s seminal work on these questions, “The Journalist and the Murderer”. ”Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."Safran of course loves a bit of a moral quandary. If you like him on TV, you will like this. I did.

  • Ami
    2019-05-14 03:52

    I think...He lost one year in Mississippi, while I lost three long months of my life. Ugh.

  • Kel
    2019-05-08 02:52

    It’s been over ten years since John Safran first exploded onto my radar in his hilarious and confronting John Safran’s Music Jamboree. While the brilliance and daring of that show has stuck with me (as well as snippets from his subsequent documentaries and shows) it was with some hesitation that I approached his debut book, Murder in Mississippi.Hesitant not because it was a true crime book, but because my previous exposure to Safran’s work showed a certain bulldozer subtlety when it came to him presenting what he saw as the facts and motivations of those he interviewed.If Safran’s television work is his wielding of a bulldozer, Murder in Mississippi is his driving through the Dandenong Ranges in a sleek, responsive luxury car; powering through corners, coasting for the scenic reveals, and performing perfect handbrake turns in gravel to get the adrenalin pumping. In short, Murder in Mississippi is exhilarating, stunning and leaves you unsure which way is up or out when you’re done.It’s an odd premise for a book, summarised succinctly on the cover “The true story of how I met a white supremacist, befriended his black killer and wrote this book.” Already Murder in Mississippi was sounding a little surreal and quirky like Safran’s previous work, but curiosity had me opening the book and fascination had me reading it at 0315 in the morning. A quick synopsis: Safran met Richard Barrett (the white supremacist) while filming Race Relations, toured his offices, attended an awards ceremony and then pulled a stunt that is jaw-dropping in its intent and bravado. A year later Barrett was murdered by a young black man named Vincent. Murder in Mississippi details the history between Safran and Barrett, and then chronicles Safran’s travel to Mississippi (passive-aggressive airport signs and all); his meeting of key law officials, the accused’s family, white supremacists, black journalists/activists and assorted Southerners, all before he is contacted by the confessed murderer, Vincent. Transcribed telephone conversations between Safran and Vincent are included, and are a source of bafflement and fascination for both Safran and the reader in trying to work out how a man ended up dead and another ended up back behind bars.Through the weirdness, the zigzagging opinions and lack of easy answers in Murder in Mississippi, Safran’s prose is liquid, sharp, surprising, precise – like cutting your tongue on a piece of ice in your drink. He shares his confusion, amusement and stubbornness at the proceedings and spectacles he is part of in Mississippi – he also presents his own conclusions and observations with a subtlety, clarity, depth, humour and consideration that make Murder in Mississippi an outstanding debut, as well as a phenomenal true crime and humanistic read.Recommended to: Bigots, racists and close-minded individuals (wishful thinking, I know)Humans over the age of twelve (eight with some careful omissions)Readers of engaging, thought-provoking booksTrue-crime genre novices to aficionadosNot recommended for: Bigots, racists and close-minded individuals (realistically)Pollyanna-type personalitiesPeople who are allergic to laughingAnyone who cried during Milo & Otis or any tissue product advertisementRated: PG (some vulgar slang, racist comments, and frank, mature discussion of racism and stereotypes)Note: I was absolutely delighted to be part of a combined interview Q&A with Murder in Mississippi author John Safran and other Murder in Mississippi readers through The Reading Room – watch it here:

  • Chris
    2019-04-28 08:01

    There is something off about this book. I have no doubt that Safran really wants to do his best, though his methods are not kosher. I think that is for me the problem. There is that and the sense that Safran seemingly overlook things - like the accusation of violence towards the girlfriend, that set my teeth on edge.