The Last Book on the Left is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’ll say this right away: I love this book. It’s a great book and right in that sweet spot of informative and hilarious. However, one aspect nagged at me as I read and ultimately proved to be a problem for me.
The Last Book on the Left was written by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski. The illustrations in the book are by independent comic artist Tom Neely (The Humans). When I mention three authors, I should clarify that the bulk of the writing is on the shoulders of Marcus Parks; Kissel and Zebrowski are contributors who add a great deal, but this is firmly a project guided by the Texas ghoul.
What Works about The Last Book on the Left
How do you translate the format of the podcast to the written page? By just doing what the podcast is already doing. Marcus Parks writes down a chapter that covers one of the infamous killers while Ben Kissel and Henry Zebrowski pepper in their asides and occasional insights. Repeat this over nine chapters are you have The Last Book on the Left. This sounds a bit laconic, but that’s basically it. Throw in some pictures illustrated by the wonderfully talented Tom Neely and a final jokey item written by the authors (such as a letter from a “concerned neighbor” of Jeffrey Dahmer) and you have the entirety of The Last Book on the Left.
To the credit of the team, this works incredibly well. Marcus Parks’ writing provides the through-line of the chapter, balancing grim irony and shocking depictions of violent, abhorrent crime. Ben Kissel drops the written equivalent of drunk dad jokes and references. Zebrowski alternates between very messed up jokes and some solid insights. All of this is absolutely on-brand for the podcast and it translates to the page with paragraphs of Parksian description with interjections of his co-writers. It makes the book feel a lot like a textbook, only probably one of the most fun textbooks you’ll ever read.
The book covers nine fan-favorite “heavy hitters” from the podcast. This list includes such murderous luminaries as Ted Bundy, Richard Chase, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, BTK, Andrei Chikatilo, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Each profile ranges from around 20 to 30 pages and covers a little biography with an emphasis on the development of these figures as literal bogeymen. These are all figures who have been profiled extensively on the podcast and no information here is really brand new. The addition of Tom Neely’s illustrations, ranging from great splash pages, EC Comics style avatars for the podcasts (think Tales from the Crypt) to comic and cartoon parodies are some extra levity to the book.
However, the novelty of the book is to present something a little more refined and edited than the podcast (which is generally fairly thorough). The book works largely in the form of a “best of anthology” regarding content. Some stuff just ultimately feels missing, however. The insertions of jokes and comments by Kissel and Zebrowski are welcome and used an appropriate amount for the 20 to 30 pages per chapter (with the exceptions of BTK and Dahmer, who get the largest chapters). Ultimately, though this leads to a lack of one of the best parts of the podcast: the back and forth between the hosts. It’s not entirely possible here and something feels a little lost because of that. It’s not a complete one-to-one translation of the podcast, but it never could be.
Overall, the book largely succeeds in balancing the needs of appealing to fans and also being general enough for the casual book-buyer into murder. There is one major issue, however.
What Didn’t Work about The Last Book on the Left
As a whole, the book is excellent and mostly balances the tough challenge of being for the fans while also being general enough for anyone to enjoy. The voices of the contributors are quite clear even on the page, and for fans, it’s near impossible to read the book without hearing the voices of the podcasters describing every gold star moment and Bobby Bonilla reference.
The big problem for me with the book comes from me being a fan and having certain expectations. One great thing about the podcast is that the sources of the episodes are given relatively early into the first episode of a series. We are given information on the conducted research and it lends the podcast a certain level of credibility. Unfortunately, cited sources feel relatively few and far between in the different serial killer profiles. Parks does make references to certain texts but there is a lack of a resources section. This ultimately hurts the book for me because it seems like a huge oversight, particularly given the attention to detail on research presented in the podcast.
This leads to a larger issue: The Last Podcast on the Left is not necessarily an academic sort of production in a traditional sense, it’s ultimately a comedy-horror podcast. The same applies to The Last Book on the Left which is a comedy-horror book upfront. Regardless, the team at the Last Podcast Network has put out a lot of content that is generally well-regarded when it comes to research. It’s unfortunate that the podcast’s history of research isn’t so readily apparent in the book.
The Last Book on the Left is a worthy companion to the massively popular comedy-horror podcast and well worth picking up for a casual read on some of the most notorious killers in history. The book, despite the lack of documentation, is well-sourced and provides some very accurate recounting of the origins of these killers in the podcast’s signature comedy style.(4 / 5)
If you would like to buy a copy of The Last Book on the Left be sure to try ordering it through your local independent book store.