17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This was one of the rare books that I could not read close to bedtime. I'm fairly inured to horror and to the stories of other infamous murderers, but Zodiac really gives me the spooks. The story of Zodiac's attack on a young couple at Lake Berryessa is one of the most chilling things I have ever read--the stranger approaches, disappears, reappears wearing a black hood, converses with the youngsters, ties them up, then calmly and coolly says "I'm going to have to stab you people," and then goes about doing just that. I would rather meet up with Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper than I would Zodiac. I was initially worried about the author's presentation because he included a lot of unimportant details about events occurring before the time of the murders and made comments like the air was "exhilarating" on a particular day--things he couldn't have known and which don't matter at all anyway. However, he quickly settled in to a gripping narrative of events, and his own work on the case was presented fairly well and reveals to us the shifting thoughts and theories he had about the case and the perpetrator who was never caught.
Graysmith tells a good story, but his opinions on the case can be questioned. Also, I have to mention the fact that he was the editorial cartoonist of the San Francisco chronicle at the time and not an investigative journalist. I know this fact should not lead me to discount his conclusions, but it does make me wonder how he came to get as much access to this case as he did. The enigmatic ciphers the killer sent to the newspapers represent unique additions to an already mystifying series of murders, and this book published much of this material for the first time. The longest cipher was eventually cracked by the author; although it was verified by experts as correct, I myself did not feel 100% confident about every detail of the solution. In this and some other matters, the author seemed to make jumps that I could not fully justify; with countless suggestions and theories surrounding this case, it was sometimes difficult to see why Graysmith subscribed to one but not another. When he lists details about other possible Zodiac victims, he leaves the waters pretty murky. His remarks about astrological aspects and the moon perhaps determining the dates of Zodiac's actions are interesting but too vague in description for me to fully consider valid.
I first read this book several years ago, and I have recently seen allusions to the fact that Graysmith named the killer in this book. I did not remember him doing that, so I finally decided to re-read the book now. He does identify a suspect (pseudonymously) whom he believes to most likely be the Zodiac killer, but he has nothing beyond circumstantial evidence with which to "convict" the man. In the years since this book was published, facts have arisen which essentially exonerate this individual of the crimes. Thus, you will not find out who Zodiac was in these pages, but you will find a riveting story about one of the most infamous mass murderers in history. Graysmith's efforts are sincere and to be respected, but they cannot be accepted without a critical eye toward the evidence that has accumulated in the years since this book's publication.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2007
Without a doubt, the Zodiac killer is one of the scariest characters I've ever come across in fact or fiction!
The book is basically the result of years of investigation by the author into the still unsolved Zodiac murders. Robert Graysmith was a cartoonist who worked at one of the papers that Zodiac continually wrote to during his killing spree. Graysmith poured thousands of his own hours over a number of years into the case, determined to solve a case flooded with clues and suspects, but seemingly destined to go unsolved.
Graysmith sets the scene of the times so well, and his attention to detail (which although sometimes borders on the excessive) helps the reader paint a picture of the characters involved (victimes, detectives and suspects). As a result, at times the book is quite disturbing (descriptions of some of the murders are pretty gruesome) but because of the fascinating story behind the whole Zodiac thing and the passionate way it's told here, it's difficult to put the book down.
I finished the book wondering how a crime where there were so many clues, so many opportunities to catch the person responsible, is still officially unsolved to this day (although there is a prime suspect who is mentioned in the book) and despite the gruesome and just weird nature of the crimes, it leaves you wanting to find out more.
The book has now been made into a major film 'Zodiac' and it's also very good and quite true to the book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 1997
I was only a child when the Zodiac killings occurred. I saw just a brief mention about the book on a talk show several years ago. Being in law enforcement, it intrigued me, so I read the book. I couldn't put it down. How could this have happened without Zodiac being caught? How could Zodiac be so clever (or just so lucky)? After finishing the true crime thriller, I had to know more. I had to know just how accurate author Robert Graysmith was with this terrifying novel. Was he just guessing? Was it just HIS opinion? As an investigator myself, I had to learn for myself. What I found, still scares me to this day.
The book leaves the reader to determine whom THEY think the Zodiac was, based on the information the author provided. I spend months re-tracking the suspect(s) information provided in the book. I've been to just about every site the book mentions. I've interviewed police officers from the SFPD and the Vallejo PD. I spoke face-to-face with a then current SFPD evidence criminologist about the evidence. I listened to confidential telephone conversations of the SFPD discussing the case. I did it all.
At the end of my very lengthy independent investigation, I now know who Zodiac was. I have his close-up facial photograph. I had a sketch artist put horned-rimmed glasses on the photo and age he was supposed to be during his murderous spree. They matched the composite drawings in the book. The matched like a glove. I've been to the Zodiac's house. I've SEEN the basement where he undoubtedly wrote his taunting letters to the police and the newspapers. I spoke with his neighbors. I saw the car that he most likely used in his crimes (the white one with a large windshield that no one could seem to put a name to).It's registered to who I now know IS without a shadow of a doubt, the true killer.
Some of the businesses listed in the book are now gone. I learned through speaking directly to the property owners what had been there previously. It all matched. I'd say that 99% of the statistical information written is accurate, except for a couple of new renamed streets. Author Robert Graysmith spent years on collecting the true evidence and facts in this case. If the Zodiac were up to his "thing" in today's technology, he would have been caught. Unfortunately, the reader must understand that this was the 1960's/1970's, and the police technology wasn't one-tenth of what it is today. I took tons of photos and spoke with many people. This is the most factual book about a still "unknown" killer to the public I've ever read. I'm absolutely astonished that there hasn't been a movie based on the book. Brian Denehy would made the most believable Zodiac.
I'm not at liberty at this time to divulge the Zodiac by name, however, Graysmith and maybe a handful of others know. I wish to God there were a SECOND Zodiac book by Graysmith, giving up the Zodiac's true identity, however, for some reason, there hasn't been...and probably for a good reason.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in true crime. It'll blow you away, and leave you wanting more, such as in my case. It's terrifying, but true. Do yourself a favor and pick-up this gem!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 1999
We have reached the point where true-crime books are so common, the writing of them so inadequate, that the entire genre is plunging downhill, at breakneck speed. So, for readers newly-hooked on this arena, Robert Graysmith's "Zodiac" will be the masterpiece they will forever compare new books with. This story has all the essential elements of a gripping, impossible-to-put-down book: intimate knowledge of the crimes, a wealth of interesting dialogue from those who were most affected by Zodiac, forensic and scientific data that does not read like a calculus text, and, most important of all: the story is true!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 1999
This book opened my eyes. Before reading this, I was just a small town kid who had no idea things like this happened. Not to mention in the late 60's. Graysmith is a master at weaving the tale of a mysterious being who calls himself the Zodiac. The vivid descriptions and attention to detail he derives through his interviews with those involved in the case still haunt me at least once a week in my sleep. Graysmith is the king of true crime in my book and a master at non-fiction in general. He puts you there, and I suggest all of his books and I'm eagerly awaiting The Bell Tower.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2009
I became interested in the Zodiac case a few years ago after reading the short version of the story in a 100 unsolved murders book and decided to find out more. A little research led me to this book as having a reputation as being the most authoritative on the subject. On the plus side I found the book difficult to put down and read it in little over a day. Infact I finished Zodiac with the sense that the story was not finished, particularly in relation to Graysmith's prime suspect in the case and immediately orderd the follow-up work Zodiac Uncovered. However even a cursory look on the internet reveals glaring problems with Zodiac and Zodiac Uncovered. As another reviewer suggested it seems that Graysmith has started out with his prime suspect (a now deceased man called Arthur Leigh Allen) and distorted the evidence to make it fit his theory while omitting anything that suggests a different individual as being responsible. Indeed it is not mentioned that many of the 'reliable' witnesses cited in the book either gave a different story to the police in the immediate aftermath of the murders and subsequently added details years or even decades later or that some deny having ever said or done that which Graysmith attributes to them. Infact Allen has been subsequently effectively proved to not have been Zodiac by a combination of DNA evidence, handwriting analysis and search warrants which found nothing. Most convincingly for me Allen himself still denied being Zodiac in a letter only to be opened after his death. If Allen had of been the killer then this is one ocassion someone as publicity craving as Zodiac would have been expected to claim responsibility. That is my main problem with this book and its companion, it perpetuates a myth and rewrites history, the killer has been identified so we can all sleep safe in our beds. Except that he has not and could even still be out there laughing and thanking Graysmith for inadvertantly taking the heat off him rather much like the Yorkshire Ripper did with the Geordie Hoaxer who allowed him to escape justice and carry on murdering for another three years.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2011
I bought this book after seeing the film by David Fincher. The film, in my opinion, is excellent, holds your interest while telling a coherent story. That's where the book falls down, it's interesting but the story and the style are very up and down, some sections are filled with so many facts and names that they completely lose you, whereas other sections flow more like the film. Certain key film scenes are not in the book and the Robert Avery character is hardly mentioned. Obviously the book is real events and his interpretation on things whereas the film may have more license with scenes and also involve other people's recollections. I would say that if you are interested in true crime then it's a reasonable read, by someone who was involved in some way with the actual events, but if like me you were thinking about reading this purely on the strength of the film, then I wouldn't buy.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2008
The strap line on the cover of this book is so poignant "There is more than one way to lose your life to a killer".
Written by Robert Graysmith, the political cartoonist of the San Francisco Chronicle during a spate of murders in the area that spanned over a number of years through the late 60s and early 70s, it charts in great detail the events surrounding each murder and the subsequent police investigations which have, to this day, proved fruitless in apprehending the killer.
Graysmith originally became involved in the case as the killer, who called himself "Zodiac", wrote a number of letters to the newspaper which bragged about the crimes, made threats about future killings and included complicated codes and ciphers to fool the authorities. Graysmith clearly became so consumed with the murders and the identity of the serial killer over the years, that he has, literally, lost his life to the case. Although the author does go into mind boggling detail, the book is incredibly interesting, and all the more chilling as this actually happened. It provides fascinating insights into psychological profiling, cryptography and forensics.
However, you get a real sense of the frustration felt by all involved that they could not catch the killer. In fact, frustrated is probably an understatement. He taunted the police and families of the victims over a period of 10 years. He was repeatedly one step ahead of the police. He sent a series of puzzling letters to both the newspapers and the law enforcement authorities. He eluded the police on a number of occasions, even going so far as to give two officers directions following one of the murders, sending them on a wild goose chase. He may, which is even more unnerving, have been alone in the same room with the author some years later. Problems with information sharing arose from the bizarre way the different states and provinces in the US appear to be governed. Unincorporated sections of cities or areas of disputed police jurisdiction led to multiple agencies working the case, but not sharing any progress each had made. At times I wanted to scream as you realise how close they came to catching him...just not close enough.
I now can't wait to watch the film...
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2008
While no-one can doubt the hard work Robert Graysmith has done, the thousands of hours he's devoted to the investigation and the enormous number of facts he has collated from different sources, his investigation is topsy-turvy: he seems to have decided early on who he believes the Zodiac to be and then tried to make the evidence fit, rather than dispassionately looking at the evidence. Sure, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support his theory, but also an enormous amount of evidence that points away from his suspect. Anyone looking at the facts and also reading analyses from other investigators and psychologists will have genuine doubts about his conclusion. That said, his descriptions of the killings, his descriptions of the exhaustive police work and the characters of the detectives, and his ability to convey the fearful atmosphere in the San Francisco area during the Zodiac murders are superb - just a shame that he has massaged some of the facts, and chosen to ignore others, in order to point the finger at his preferred suspect. The case is far from solved.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 1999
A great read; very, very, engrossing. Along with The Black Dahlia, The Lindbergh Baby, and the JFK assassination cases, the Zodiac killings represent the most intriguing, baffling set of questions ever posed in the annals of American crime.
As morbid and as bizarre as The Dahlia killing was, it can't hold a candle to the sheer weirdness of all the evidence and twists and turns of the Zodiac killings. This book kept me awake for a few nights--because the crimes seemed so damn random. Graysmith is a good writer, if not great. But he puts everything he had into the story, so readers are hooked from page one.
One of the most incredible angles revealed in the book is how many single women were actually hitch-hiking in and around Santa Rosa, California AFTER several several people had already been murdered -- many probable Zodiac victims.
Please read this book and give it to 3 friends. It will keep you filled with stimulating conversation for weeks.