"True crime writing is a very delicate and difficult genre and not to be undertaken lightly."
I must say up front that I love Ann Rule and am utterly incapable of objectivity. From a girl born and raised in rural Michigan, she grew into a smart, educated woman deeply interested in true crime who relaxes with gardening, beachcombing, and Reno 911--in each respect a writer after my own heart.
As a true crime writer for three decades, she has swimmed upstream, shunning the type of work that results in anti-hero worship of depraved killers. She grabs readers by the face and forces them to take a long, hard look at the victims and families devastated by violent crime. Throughout her two dozen books (including one fiction novel, Possession, based on a true story), you can count on Ann Rule for three things. One, she will relay the tale in a simple, straightforward narrative told from the victim's point of view with sensitivity and emotional intensity. Two, the flatteringly portrayed heroes of her books are the police officials and prosecutors who bring down the culprits--never the killers themselves. Three, she'll tell you a story you probably haven't heard before; you're never going to find a book by her about BTK ("he deserves to die forgotten") or Laci Peterson ("over-covered"). So if this type of crime writing isn't your cup of tea, then Ann Rule is not for you. So don't try to read her work and then peevishly bad-mouth it online.
Though Ann Rule became famous for her book about Ted Bundy--The Stranger Beside Me, now and forever a true crime classic--and recently dominated the non-fiction bestseller lists with Green River, Running Red, despite bad reviews--you're unlikely to see more serial killer books from her in the near future. She generally stays away from the sexual sadists and child rape-murderers and gory butchery, which gives her another star in my opinion. Her book about Gary Ridgway in particular was a heartbreaking read. If you have the least tendency toward depression (or the occasional recession), it may well be one to skip.
Rule more often focuses on crimes between intimates, asking why... and she appeals to true crime fans who ask themselves the same question. Says Ann: "I am always looking for cases where the suspect is the last person on earth anyone would suspect. When the mask is peeled away, it makes for a fascinating story."
And millions of people across the world wholeheartedly agree. Her website boasts nearly a million hits to date. For every critic who decries her work as "one-sided," "trashy," "formulaic," "boring in its details," or "pounded out" (and she has been nominated three times for the coveted Edgar award but has been a bridesmaid every time), there's a thousand people waiting in line for her next one because she can't write them fast enough.
Katherine Ramsland's Crime Library interview with Ann Rule includes a complete list of titles. My favorites are about mothers who kill--notably Dr. Debora Green, the subject of Bitter Harvest, who burned down her house and killed two of her children, and Diane Downs, subject of Small Sacrifices, who shot her three children. And it is the "boring detail" that makes such cases so memorable. Who can forget that Diane Downs took a gun to her kids while listening to Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf on her car stereo? (In a fascinating postscript to that book, Downs herself appeared alongside Ann Rule on a memorable episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show that only made Downs look like the [expletive] that she is.)
If only she would write historicals... but I guess nobody's perfect.