When Mandy Matney and Liz Farrell started working together as reporters in Hilton Head, South Carolina, they bonded while covering an episode of “The Bachelorette” that was filming in the area. Before long, they began calling themselves Thelma and Louise. As Matney writes in her riveting memoir, co-authored with Carolyn Murnick, Blood on Their Hands: Murder, Corruption, and the Fall of the Murdaugh Dynasty, “Looking back now, I could never have realized how apt that Thelma & Louise comparison would end up being; while the film starts as a buddy comedy, it quickly turns darker.”
In 2019, Matney and Farrell were among the first to report on the boating accident that killed teenager Mallory Beach when a drunk 19-year-old Paul Murdaugh was at the wheel. The reporters quickly realized that the Murdaughs, a prominent family in the coastal Lowcountry, “seemed to be like the Mafia.” Nonetheless, they kept digging, undaunted even in the face of possible danger and the lack of support from their misogynistic editor. “When you’re a journalist,” Matney writes, “you’re sort of like a cross between a treasure hunter, an archaeologist, and a heat-seeking missile.”
Matney also covered the 2021 murders of Paul and his mother, Maggie, for which father and husband Alex Murdaugh was charged and convicted—and delved into other heartbreaking cases in which Murdaugh, an attorney, stole money from his clients. Early on, Matney predicted, “I knew this case could be as big as any Netflix documentary. . . . It could be life-changing for my career.” While the book offers plenty of fodder for true crime enthusiasts, Matney wisely focuses her narrative within the framework of her own journalistic trajectory, including the popular “Murdaugh Murders Podcast” she created with David Moses, now her husband. Journalists, especially those new to the field, will find these details not only inspiring, but also empowering, as Matney finds success in the face of the changing media landscape despite how the corporatization of journalism negatively affects reporters’ abilities to do their jobs.
Part memoir, part true crime story, Blood on Their Hands is an up-close-and-personal narrative that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Fans of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, as well as Rebecca Makkai’s I Have Some Questions for You, take note.