Last Book on the Left Review: Podcast Horror Companion
When Marcus Parks and Ben Kissel began the podcast Last Podcast on the Left in 2011, they surely couldn’t have predicted what was to follow. The early episodes were loose and casual. They didn’t feature the heavy research of current episodes. It was just a conversation between two friends. Their friend, comedian and actor Henry Zebrowski didn’t even join until episode 3. Now, over nine years later, episodes number in the 500s. They’ve completed successful tours and have released their first book. So here’s our review of the Last Book on the Left.
But First, A Brief Guide to the Last Podcast on the Left
image via Last Podcast Network
A very brief guide would be: It’s a true crime/comedy podcast. And while the podcast started with a fuzzier focus, the hosts have shaped their vision over the past almost-decade. They’ve gone from freer-form shows to intensively-researched episodes. The episodes cover topics that range from the silly to the serious–aliens, occult history, serial killers, and other oddities are frequent subjects, for example. So are deep dives into the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
With help from assistants, Marcus does the bulk of the research. He also shapes the script. Henry does his own research, adding commentary and doing impressions, as well as inventing characters. One of those characters, Detective Popcorn, is so
buttery and delicious popular it’s even spawned its own plush doll.
Ben, meanwhile, plays the role of the audience, learning and asking questions listeners might have. In addition, he and Henry host “Side Stories,” the weekly Last Podcast episode that covers strange news stories, listener letters, and other unscripted matters. All episodes of the show are available exclusively on Spotify.
What’s the Last Book on the Left?
Jeffrey Dahmer mugshot via public domain
Although the show’s topics are eclectic, the book is more focused. As the subtitle reads, it’s full of “Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers.” As you can tell from the cover art (seen in this post’s featured image), these are what the Last Podcast hosts would call “Heavy Hitters.” While that doesn’t always denote the most famous killers, Last Book is devoted almost exclusively to guys with whom true crime aficionados are very familiar. These include infamous bogeymen like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy, alongside somewhat lesser-known murderers like Richard Chase and Andrei Chikatilo.
The book’s format reads almost like a transcript of a LPotL episode. Marcus wrote the majority of the book, while there are little funny asides from Ben and Henry. You can tell who’s speaking when thanks to cartoon icons of their respective heads. Each chapter details a different killer, with Marcus telling their stories from beginning to bloody end.
Last Book on the Left: Review
It might seem weird for me, specifically, to be the one to review this book. Not only am I probably the only regular LPotL listener at Comic Years, but I also describe it as my favorite podcast. Nevertheless, I believe myself to be objective. I mean, horror’s my favorite genre, but that doesn’t mean I take it easy on horror films. (Read literally any of my reviews.) If anything, I’m more stringent with the things I love. I expect more.
And with this book, I was expecting a lot. Although the podcast has certainly served as entertainment for me, it’s not just something that helps pass the time when I’m folding laundry or walking my dog. I’ve also learned quite a bit from it. And it’s helped me in other ways. For instance, as a true crime fan, I’ve heard all manner of terrible stories. Most of the time, I’m able to shake them off.
But when I first heard about Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, the horror of their crimes left me with an ugly feeling. Through LPotL’s series on them, though, I was able to reassess my perspective. I still think of them as awful, but thanks to the boys at Last Podcast, I also now see Lake and Ng as the miserable losers they were.
That’s the same feeling reading the book will give you. The Last Podcast hosts have never been unsparing about the evil men do. (That’s why some episodes are labeled “Gold Star,” because that’s what you earn if you’re able to make it through them.) While these details may seem designed for titillation, they can also be necessary. After all, if you want to understand crime, then it helps to know exactly who criminals are.
The Bottom Line
That’s a very fancy way of saying that this book isn’t for everyone. Like the podcast, they don’t hold back the gory details. If you’re a more casual true crime fan, then you’d probably prefer something else. (For example, if you believe like some folks that Last Podcast mocks victims–something I don’t believe they do–then this is obviously not for you.) And if you don’t like a dose of humor with your true crime, then this is definitely not for you. (This fan-animated clip of an episode on the Enfield poltergeist–the inspiration for The Conjuring 2–will let you know which kind of true crime connoisseur you are.)
(Would that all our coughs these days only be rag lung.) But what if you’re already a fan of the show, like me? Is this just the same ol’, same ol’? Thankfully, no. Marcus, who must have the energy of a thousand bonemen, somehow dug up new information on each killer. If you’re well-versed in serial killers, then it still might not be enough newness for you. But for most fans, it’ll make a cool addition to the coffee table. So hail this book and hail yourselves.
Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers is available from Amazon and other booksellers on April 7, 2020.
Are you a true crime podcast fan? Are you planning on picking up this book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
featured image via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.