This is Steve Miller’s fourth true crime book, the second set in the Detroit area. The case he’s chosen to write about this time around concerns the brutal murder of Jane Bashera, a blameless wife and mother from Grosse Pointe Park who was found dead in her SUV in a not great area of Detroit. If you live in Southeastern Michigan there’s a pretty small chance you didn’t read about this case and end up following it in the newspaper, as details of her husband Bob’s sordid sex life leaked out. It quickly became apparent that Bob Bashera had paid a guy who did odd jobs for him to kill his wife.
Those are the basics, but some true crime books are better constructed than others, and my husband and I have a rule: if the trial takes up too much of the book, not enough research and thought has been put into the rest of it. Miller’s book devotes only a tiny slice to the trial, so he’s following in the steps of other true crime greats like Ann Rule and Kathryn Casey.
While Ann Rule was actually requested by family members (and even in one case an eventual victim) to tell their stories, Miller has not so far been as lucky. The victims’ families in the cases he’s chosen have said they are writing their own books. What sets this book apart is that Miller had quite a correspondence with Bob Bashera, and on top of that, he’s a good and intelligent reporter and investigator.
While true crime as a genre is frequently looked down on and disparaged as trash, well done true crime writing illuminates the human condition as well as any other kind of writing; it’s often just not the inspiring or hopeful side of human behavior. It’s of course the extreme opposite. Steve Miller really gets to the heart of why Bob Bashera did what he did.
Often, as is proved by this book, evil isn’t grand or clever, it’s sadly banal. Bob Bashera is essentially a selfish man who could see no other’s side or point of view but his own. He did what he wanted to do and ultimately his wife stood in the way of what he wanted. Bashera’s sordid sex life as part of a culture of bondage and domination (he had a submissive partner, or “slave”), made him seemingly oblivious to his wife and children who were living a normal type of suburban life. Jane worked hard, the kids were being well educated; Bob goofed around managing apartment buildings and storefronts, but didn’t make a great living.
Miller as a writer is refreshingly non judgmental and fair-minded; he tries his best to figure out the way Bob was thinking, but in the end it’s too hard to accept that he stood next to his wife while another man killed her, something Bob continues to deny. Bob also tried to put a hit on the killer, but did it so ineptly that he was almost instantly caught. Bashera seems to think denial exculpates him.
While you may want to look away from this story, in the end Miller’s portrait of one man’s complete and utter selfishness is hard to forget. Add in some police bungling of the case and the salacious backstory, and this is a very hard book to put down, and another well done book for Mr. Miller.