What’s Wrong With True Crime? One could nitpick, but what’s really wrong with true crime today -- that hasn’t been the case for four hundred years? Ah, well, Scotland’s Sunday Herald is merciless:
TRUE crime pays royally, as a meander round your local bookshop will testify. Want to see yourself in print? There’s no easier way than murdering somebody. The public’s appetite for such half-cooked mince is, of course, insatiable, which is why publishers publish it.
If only they would acknowledge that. Instead, they come over all holier than thou and pretend that they’re an extension of the social services, their lurid titles examples to young people – ie scabbie-heided weans – of how not to behave…In fact, books about true crime are little more than DIY manuals for aspiring neds, a fact recognised by Borders bookshop which, apparently, trains its staff to spot punters who aren’t normally seen browsing in the belles-lettres section.
Well, true crime is the most heavily shoplifted section of the bookstore.
Not Entertaining Enough An article by Liz Porter, author of a manual on forensic science, on the website for Australia’s The Age delves into the “conventions” when it comes to story selection for true crime authors:
[T]rue-crime writers still have to entertain readers. They therefore find themselves drawn to transgressions that most resemble the material of crime fiction - stories featuring "hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate"… Real life does throw up such narratives, but only occasionally. Murder stories are more commonly either banal and sad or so bizarre and dysfunctional as to appear entirely unbelievable…
The author goes on to relay a case that was interesting on a forensic level, but too gross to function as “entertainment.”
Stephanie Barron, coming to paperback Or maybe it’s hardcover? A university professor in Texas is working with a county sheriff on a book about the murder of Carla and Stephen Barron, killed by their daughter Stephanie on Christmas, 1999. Stephanie Barron is incarcerated in Texas for the crime. I mentioned her on Clews during a retrospective on teen girls who murder their parents, and discovered that her interview on the TV program “Women Behind Bars” has garnered her a flock of male admirers. (One of these days, one of the cable shows will devote an hour to men who marry women in prison.) I think the story of the investigation of the crimes she committed will move more than a few copies.
Thunderstruck Hold your breath, here’s the New York Times review of Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. Headline:
How the invention of radio helped catch a pair of notorious fugitives fleeing on the high seas
Thunderstruck, Chapter One can be found here. This is a great story. Indeed every great crime historian has told it. I even fell prey to the story’s magical spell. Amazing that in the hands of a terrific writer, an old, tired story gets such a new life. America, meet Dr. Crippen.
Murder Memorabilia Supernaught.com, which bills itself as “the best online source for contemporary and historical artifacts from the underside of life,” was recently mentioned in the St. Petersburg Times and one can almost hear the horror in the reporters’ voices:
An industrious true-crime Web site is selling a letter that convicted killer Oscar Ray Bolin wrote from jail before his failed suicide attempt in 1991…
This week, as Bolin stood trial for the third time in the death of 17-year-old Stephanie Collins of Carrollwood, his defense attorney asked a judge to make sure no potential jurors had perused supernaught.com…
Rosalie Bolin, Oscar's wife, said she tried unsuccessfully to get the site to remove her husband's letter. Of course, any member of the public could get a copy from court records at a dollar a page.
That is a strange thing to try to sell and a strange time to sell it -- even I have to say it.
Weird Search of the Week Someone typed this combination of words into Google and reached my site. Sorry pal, that’s a subscription service.