The true crime podcaster as investigator is continuing to trend in crime fiction. Recent examples include Benjamin Stevenson (Greenlight), Amy Suiter Clark (Girl 11) and Charlie Donlea (Don’t Believe It). In Double Lives Kate McCaffrey, if anything, doubles down on this trend, as many of the chapters are podcast episode transcripts.
Amy Rhinehart is a radio journalist looking for a way to help her station win the ratings war. She does this by pitching a “real time” podcast where she explore a cold case and learn things at the same time as her listeners. The case she decides to pursue is the murder of Casey Williams. Casey’s boyfriend Jonah Scott pleaded guilty to her brutal murder but Amy feels there is much more to the story. And there is, including the revelation to Casey was transgender and the fact that Jonah was the member of a religious cult run by his father. As Amy investigates she finds the truth is more complex and nuanced than she initially believed.
The plot of Double Lives allows McCaffrey to dig deep into two contemporary hot button issues. The central issue in this story is around the way society treats (and often mistreats) transgender people. The story of Casey’s childhood in a rural Western Australian town is heartbreaking and no doubt reflective of some very real experiences. And the difference in the ways in which Casey is treated by family and friends is illustrative as are some other related strands of the story. Layered over this is an exploration of the still very real problems surrounding cults – what they are, how they work and the power that they can exert over their members.
Even when they have a narrative thread, many true crime podcasts are mainly exposition. People tune in to them to have things explained and discover the “truth” about an issue. While McCaffrey effectively demonstrates that the “truth” in podcasting can be illusive, what she cannot get away from is the expositional nature of the form. As a result Double Lives is a little too discursive and the presentation of most conversations in script form strips them of a bit of their power. So that while Double Lives is an interesting tale with some important issues on its mind, it is not always a fully engaging one.