In Murder, Madness and Mayhem: Twenty-Five Tales of True Crime and Dark History, Mike Browne, host of the popular Canadian Podcast, Dark Poutine, recounts some of his favourite true crime stories. His book, which features episodic, compelling writing that reminds the reader of a podcast, is a must-read for true crime lovers looking for a wintertime read full of little-known cases!
Browne’s text is divided into four separate sections: “Murders with a Twist,” “Perpetual Puzzles,” “The Madness of Crowds,” and “Notable Disasters.” Browne therefore widens the scope of his book beyond tales of murder to recount the troubling and devastating effects behind some of the world’s most memorable events. It is also notable that all but two stories in Browne’s book are entirely new; in other words, they have never been covered on the podcast, making this book a wholly unique one. What’s refreshing about Browne’s text is his focus on recent cases that have yet to be covered/adapted by more popular true crime media outlets. Several cases from the last four years are all relevant aspects of this book. If you recall seeing something on the news about the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped underground after a collapse in 2010, Browne recounts all the crucial details of the case. Or if you’ve never heard of the 2018 abduction of Jayme Closs, Browne devotes one chapter of his book to her case.
There is something for everyone in this book, and its focus on recent cases make it an important staple for any true crime reader’s shelf. Personal favourites of mine in this book were the stories of Jayme Closs (“Girl Gone”), “The Oak Island Mystery,” “Children of Thunder,” and “The Eruption of Mount St. Helens.” Each of these were stories I either had never heard of or didn’t know much about. This is a rare feat as I am an avid true crime reader, and I deeply appreciated the chance to learn more about these cases. Truthfully, Browne’s book was difficult—if not impossible—to put down! It’s episodic structure made for interesting and educational reading on a variety of subjects.
What was also crucial about Browne’s text is the degree to which he incorporates his own perspective into the writing. In his introduction, Browne not only recounts his own his own status as a survivor of assault and trauma but contemplates the way true crime helped him to do that. He writes that
“I have been able to use my experiences as a survivor of two assaults and recovery from mental illness and addiction to give Dark Poutine a unique perspective on true crime and dark events through compassion and understanding. This empathetic approach shows in the numbers, with millions of episode downloads over the past four years period what I am most proud of, though, is that we have built a dedicated community of listeners” (xx).
Browne’s thoughtful and empathetic voice certainly comes through in Murder, Madness, and Mayhem. I highly recommend this book for lovers of Dark Poutine, true crime podcasts in general, and true crime readers looking for a refreshing and current anthology of stories.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.