True Crime Books: More than Just the Facts, Ma'am
July 17, 2012
Call it what you will - entertaining, fascinating, salacious, or exploitative - true crime books are popular and, if you get reeled in, difficult to put down.
Far beyond Joe Friday's request for "just the facts, ma'am," the true crime genre not only explores horrendous crimes in unblinking detail, but the personalities, backgrounds, and psychology of the perpetrators and their victims. If you've never read any true crime, think NBC's Dateline on steroids.
A good place to start is with the book that tops most true crime fans' all-time best lists, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. The book, credited with launching the entire genre, chronicles the murder of the Herbert Clutter family in their rural Holcomb, Kansas home and the subsequent manhunt for their killers. Capote's literary style draws the reader into the lives of the Clutter family, their community, and those of the criminals, Perry Smith and Dick Hickok. When it was published in 1965, it became a bestseller and the basis for three movie adaptations.
A round up of other usual suspects in the all-time best true crime list turns up:
- Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry recounts the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders and answers the question why Charles Manson can never quite convince the California parole board he's ready for release.
- Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss tells the chilling the story of a green beret who murders his entire family and the unlikely alibi he invents to get away with the crime.
- Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule shows how even a mother can be as cold and calculating as any man.
- The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer tells the story of multiple murderer Gary Gilmore from its beginning to its end in front of a Utah firing squad.
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, bestselling true crime author, shares her account of how she volunteered with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy at a crisis hotline not knowing his true identity.
- The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale weaves the tale of the first modern detective, Jonathan Whicher, and his investigation of the 1860 murder of 3-year-old Saville Kent.
Curious? Investigate at your own risk.