My favorite niece, Jacqueline, listens to lots of podcasts. She recently invited me to listen to a National Public Radio (NPR) podcast about a popular high school girl in Baltimore who was murdered, and I quickly got hooked on it. The story would be perfect for a novel, but this story is true: Hae Min Lee was murdered and her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was charged with the crime based largely on the testimony of a casual acquaintance named Jay who said he reluctantly helped Adnan bury Hae’s body in a shallow grave. Adnan was convicted of the crime in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. Jay obviously knew something about the murder because he was able to lead police to Hae’s abandoned car, but his story of exactly what happened, and where and when it happened, kept changing. And he was caught in (and admitted to) a number of lies during the investigation. Yet a jury accepted Jay’s account of what happened that January day over Adnan’s.
The story of the murder and the incarceration of Adnan Syed was brought to the attention of Sarah Koenig, the narrator of the 12-part series, by someone who believes Syed was wrongly convicted. Koenig spent countless hours reviewing the facts of the case, and interviewing the people who were involved. She tells the story in such a fascinating way that you’re sure to become addicted to Serial before the end of the first episode. She recorded most of the interviews she did, so you get to hear the voices of the people involved. They all seem sincere in what they claim happened and in what they believe. The problem is that they have somewhat contradictory stories. Also, Koenig has developed a bond of trust with Adnan Syed who often spoke with her via telephone from prison. Listen to him talk about what happened and then see if you can imagine him being Hae’s murderer.
Koenig gives you the facts, then tells you that there’s something else that you need to know. That “something else” never fails to make you wonder if what you’ve come to believe is even close to the truth. Then she tells you one more thing that you need to know, and that further complicates matters. Koenig clearly wants to believe Syed, but she vacillates between believing him and feeling that perhaps he is a master manipulator – and, perhaps, even a psychopath. But then again . . .
Serial is radio at its finest. Believe me.