Review: A killer podcast

WBEZ Chicago

What were you doing exactly six weeks ago today? Where were you? How did you get there? Who did you speak to? So begins the true-crime podcast that has taken the internet by storm. The difficulty we experience in remembering accurately, and our natural inclination to trust this faulty mechanism, is one of the themes of Serial (www.serialpodcast.org). A spin-off from an American public radio service, Serial began broadcasting in October last year, and is released weekly via iTunes and on the website.

A friend told the journalist Sarah Koenig about the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. Hae died in Baltimore, on 13 January 1999. The friend said that the man currently behind bars for the crime, Hae’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, was definitely innocent. Adnan was there because his lawyer, later convicted for corrupt practices, had deliberately botched the case to earn more money on appeal. Koenig’s interest was caught: and so began a year-long investigation that has spread far beyond a possibly dishonest lawyer.

Each episode of the podcast offers us fresh details, through current interviews, archive recordings (including some of the original police interrogations of Adnan), examination of court records and attempted reconstructions. Phone records are pored over, but so too are motives. No stone is left unturned, from the days leading up to the murder, and the day of the murder itself, to the weeks and months after. We hear many voices and many different recollections. Some people cooperate with Koenig; frustratingly, others do not. Multiple and contradictory viewpoints are teased out, as Koenig attempts to construct a story to resolve the inescapable conflict at the centre of the case: someone must be lying.

Serial reflects our basic human desire for a story: for Adnan to be innocent, there must be another, different, story. At one point, she worries that she is being taken in by a charming sociopath. We have to draw our own conclusions. And whilst not specifically either a psychological or even forensic study of a murder, Serial is fascinating for anyone interested in the stories we tell ourselves.

- Reviewed by Kate Johnstone, who is a postgraduate student at University College London

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