St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Rating – 7/10
Summary – Rodney Alcala’s life and awful crimes will interest readers but the book could have been so much better.
Review – Rodney Alcala certainly is a story. By all accounts, he is charming; he went on “The Dating Game” in 1978 and was selected over two other bachelors. He is also smart, having earned degrees from UCLA and New York University. But – in a bizarre twist – police believe that he may also be the most-prolific serial killer in U.S. history.
The Dating Game Killer is author Stella Sands’ account of Alcala’s life and crimes. Alcala is one of those sociopaths who fascinates as much as he repels; in that sense, he brings to mind Ted Bundy. The passages on Alcala’s life on the run during the late-60s and early-70s are particularly interesting. During that time, he adopted the name John Berger, moved to New York City, and graduated from NYU. Eventually, his appearance on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List led to his arrest in New Hampshire, where he was working as a camp counselor.
Also, Sands deserves credit for bringing Alcala’s victims to life. The book reminds the reader of how much suffering Alcala brought to the world; the details of how Alcala tortured his victims are the stuff of nightmares. Finally, Sands details how slanted the California justice system is against victims – and how Alcala has been able to use the system to his advantage.
For all of its strengths, The Dating Game Killer is only a so-so book for many reasons. First, the writing is poor, there are lots of typos and choppy, awkward prose. Second, there are many factual errors. For instance, Sands states that Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was popular in 1968 (page 3); it wasn’t released until 1971. Also, she writes that the LA Dodgers beat the NY Yankees 7-2 in the sixth game of the 1978 World Series (page 107); in fact, the Yankees won that game 7-2. (I read an advanced galley; I hope that the errors were corrected before final publication).
Other errors are more serious. Police initially believed that Alcala’s victims had been killed by the men known as The Hillside Stranglers, when – in fact – the two cases were separate. However, Sands still spends much time recounting the Hillside Stranglers case. She also includes exhaustive, tedious accounts of Alcala’s many trials. The overall impression is that she is trying to fill pages – whether the material is interesting or not.
The Dating Game Killer is a mediocre account of an interesting case. Perhaps, someone will publish a better account of the story in the future.