“I loved secrets, even terrible ones,” writes Erika Krouse in her debut memoir, Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation. “Especially terrible ones. When people told me things, I felt happy. The more they didn’t want to tell me that secret, the happier I felt when they did.” When a lawyer unexpectedly offered the fiction writer a job as a PI in 2002, she found herself investigating members of a Colorado university football team who had raped their female classmates. Unbeknownst to the lawyer, Krouse had also experienced sexual abuse from the ages of 4 to 7 by a man she calls X. Krouse explores both the legal case and her own emotional minefield in compelling, precise prose.
For legal reasons, and to protect the victims, Krouse changes some identifying details about those involved with the case and never names the university, although a few well-placed clues allow readers to deduce the specifics. Thanks to Krouse’s sleuthing, one victim received a $2.5 million settlement in 2007 and another received $350,000. The football team, she discovered, had a history of institutionalized misogyny and had been using drugs, alcohol and sex as recruiting tools. After these revelations, the team’s coach was suspended and later fired.
With utmost care and consideration for the victims, some of whom chose not to come forward, Krouse gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the complications of pursuing a Title IX case. Her narrative voice is engaging, and she effortlessly relates legal complexities in succinct, easy-to-follow passages. As a result, learning how Krouse and her legal team patiently unraveled the scope of the university’s involvement reads like a detective novel. Particularly riveting are the scenes in which Krouse speaks with various witnesses, often in bars or restaurants, trying to parse out what happened on the night of that ill-fated party. Instead of fancy surveillance equipment, Krouse relies on the lure of free beer and nachos, noting, “Alcohol made football players arrogant enough to tell the truth; it made women sad and angry enough to trust me.”
Alongside the story of her investigative work, Krouse explores her personal life: falling in love with an acupuncturist, reflecting on her childhood and navigating difficult family relationships. Her mother refused to address Krouse’s sexual abuse even after Krouse was an adult, and their relationship remains a live grenade throughout the book.
Both the true crime and memoir components of Krouse’s book are extremely successful, and her reflections on the injured party’s difficult choice to make their pain public are crisp and on point. “Maybe I . . . was splashing around in other people’s pain just to avoid drowning in my own,” she writes. “Maybe I was only trying to help them because nobody helped me.” Tell Me Everything is a memorable, highly personal account of a landmark legal case, as well as a thoughtful examination of the long-lasting damage of sexual assault.