Why do women read true crime? Well, men read it too, but mostly it's women who go for it. This is true of virtually everything, but a new study (available online for free for a limited time) sets about proving that women read and enjoy them more and asks that old question: Why?
Unfortunately, the authors begin their supposedly scientific work with a goofy fallacy. They claim that true crime has become extraordinarly popular "since the publication of In Cold Blood." That is ridiculous. True crime has been extraordinarily popular in English for at least 500 years.
Setting aside this absurd beginning, the study has some interesting things to say. This paper points out that women read true crime to:
1) Learn the motives and methods of murderers and to prevent becoming victims; some books contain defense tactics and escape tricks. The Stranger Beside Me is cited. I think this is true, at least for younger readers.
2) Learn about the psychology of violence and understand the warning signs. (This is true, too. As Diane Fanning wrote in her latest, Mommy's LIttle Girl: "We want to know why, because until we do, we cannot do anything to prevent it from happening again to another child. We have to believe there is a way to prevent such a death, or we slide into an endless pit of despair. Our only hope is knowledge, awareness of the red flags that portend disaster and an ability to recognize the warnings in real time.")
This study was fascinating but I was a bit disappointed. It contains a lot of assumptions about women and a lot of assumptions about this genre.
The true crime genre is vast. It is older than the printing press. It has had many a heyday.
It also has many discrete sub-genres. Fans are very specific in their reading tastes. The reader who snatches up the latest biography of Al Capone does not reach for the latest Ann Rule. Some eschew serial killer books, or outgrow them.
Speaking for myself, I'll happily plunk down $7 cash for any spousal murder story, but you'll have trouble getting me to read even a free book about a big heist. What strongly appeals to one true crime fan is snubbed by the next.
This study also does not attempt to explain the popularity of Snapped or the enduring fascination with such anti-heroines as Belle Gunness or Lizzie Borden.
Bottom line: True crime is older than some experts think and it's too big for generalizations.