The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor
by William A. Clark
Rating – 6/10
Summary – Now this is an odd little true-crime book. On the surface, it’s an account of the 1968 murder of a young Ohio woman. But on another level, author Clark’s attempts to solve the crime lead him into the murky world of ESP. Though not bad, this book is one that you can “take or leave.” It’s worth a look if you are a true-crime fan and you run across a copy.
Review – A while back, I came across an online database that The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) have established that lists all of the books that have been nominated for the MWA’s Edgar Awards over the years. (The website is: http://www.theedgars.com/edgarsDB/index.php). I was intrigued by the title of The Girl on The Volkswagen Floor – a 1972 nominee for the Best Fact Crime Award – and read about the book online.
A few months passed. Then, the day after Christmas, my wife, sister, and I headed over to Atlanta and I found an old, dogeared copy of Volkswagen at The Book Nook in Decatur. (One of my favorite bookstores). When I scanned the book, I saw that the first few pages quoted glowing reviews from heavy-hitters such as the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and writer Stanley Ellin. My high expectations went even higher. When I checked out, the clerk couldn’t find a price, so he charged me a quarter. Happy Day! 🙂
So after all of that buildup, how is the book itself? Perhaps my expectations were too high. While, Volkswagen is “pretty good,” I would say that it never gets into high gear.
The murder covered in the book is tragic, but such stories are far too common. In 1968, a young teacher named Barbara Ann Butler was found murdered in her Volkswagen Bug outside a store in the Dayton, Ohio-area. Crowds of shoppers contaminated the crime scene and the small police department was unused to handling such cases. Soon the case went “cold.”
Stymied on all fronts, police told Clark that he could contact some Dayton locals who claimed that they had knowledge of the case through ESP. (The police wanted Clark to make the contact so that they would not be open to criticism). The paranormal angle plunges Clark into a strange world and heightens the story’s drama. The book concludes with a nice “twist”, though readers will have to decide for themselves how well Clark handles it.
Clark can “turn a phrase” and the book includes some nice writing, but, at times, he is insensitive to the victim, Barbara Butler. For instance, the following passage starts with an offhand reference to Clark’s murder, but ends with a vivid description of the pool area at her apartment complex:
“I… walked over to the pool to see what was going on in the recreation area that Barbara Butler had left three days before to go to the store and die. … It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon and the pool area was crowded with swimmers and sunbathers. They all had the look of unmarrieds-under-thirty. Several young men were having a game of water football; several young girls appeared sound asleep as they worked on their tans; no one seemed frightened; no one seemed to care that one of his or her former co-tenants and poolside regulars was on an embalming table being prepared for burial” (p. 22).
The worn paperback that I bought has a tasteless cover. The front cover depicts a body lying under a cloth in a parking lot with a VW in the background. The back – also shot in the parking lot – has a photo of an arm dangling out the front door of the same VW. To add insult to injury, neither picture accurately depicts what happened.
Unless you are a fan of the paranormal, Volkswagen is not a book that you should make an effort to find. Still, true crime fans can enjoy this one – provided that they don’t get their hopes up too high.