Reviews

The Last Book on the Left Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zabrowski

I will preface this review by saying I’m a pretty big fan of The Last Podcast on the Left. I’m listening to an old episode about the “Satanic Government” as I write this. 

I’ve been listening to the show for a few years now. At first I found them very irritating. 

The podcast covers all the weird and strange things. Serial killers, UFOs, cryptids, curious characters and events (L. Ron Hubbard, The Mormon Church, The Donner Party, Madame Blavatsky, etc.) among other topics. 

Information is poured through a strainer of comedy and hosted by the following authors. Marcus Parks, who wrote the majority of this book, tells the story and comes off on the show as relatively serious. Henry Zabrowski is a comedian and actor, who does characters in relation to the story and does his share of research for each show. Ben Kissel generally serves as the audience’s stand in. He seems to know nothing of the story and tries to fit in some levity for some of the darkest corners. 

It took me a few episodes to crack a smile. Especially in the early episodes there is a “bro” aspect to the show that really turned me off. But the topics fascinated me and I kept listening. As the years have gone on they have mellowed and some of the rougher edges have been shaved off. The stories themselves are just as gruesome or terrifying as they ever were, and they’ve become better storytellers. 

The Last Book on the Left is the first book they’ve put out. It covers some of what “the boys” call “Heavy Hitters.” This term is reserved for the most infamous and vile of serial killers: men like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein. Each chapter covers the story and commentary on a different case. For the most part this is well worn territory for creeps who follow true crime, especially Bundy, who’s had at least three movies about his crimes released in the last two years. From the business side this book makes sense. This is a book that will sell. True crime is very popular right now. 

I have a theory that this began as a book written by Parks and at some point, for whatever reason, Zabrowski and Kissell were brought in to add commentary. Each of the hosts… er… authors, has his likeness turned into a Crypt-Keeper like ghoul. Parks’ part is presented in traditional book form and each chapter starts with his Crypt-Keeper indicator. As it goes on there are interjections by Kissel and Zabrowski denoted by their own indicators and with a different color print for each. This appears to be an attempt to mirror the podcast’s format. It’s also the biggest drawback to the book. It doesn’t work very well on the page. At first it was very jarring and while I did get used to it the jokes left me pretty cold, as did the cartoons which accompany some of them. 

On the episode I’m listening to right now while discussing what might have been a  real child sex ring within the US Henry says, “The only reason we’re making jokes about this is (because) this is a comedy podcast.” Marcus adds, “We gotta get through this shit some how.”I agree that the show works from this point of view. I just don’t know if print media needs the same thing. 

Parks’ writing is well researched and concise in its prose. If you are new to true crime or looking for a less romantic view of these bastards then this is a great book. There is a type of true crime book, which some of us will remember from a time when super markets had book sections, which are questionable in tone, exploitative in nature, and poor in writing. This is not that kind of book, although the book does not wince at the sight of blood. Maybe I’m weak of heart but reading this book straight through was a little rough. Much like an extreme horror movie after reading accounts of Andrei Chikatilo’s rape and murder of children, Richard Chase’s blood drinking, and Jeffrey Dahmer opening up the insides of a dead young man and fucking the hole I was very glad to be finished with it. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book but because it was such an endurance test.  

It was a lot to take in over the couple of days it took me to read it. Maybe make this a bathroom book, where it can be read and then put down and returned to a little later. The jokes might work better that way too.