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Over the past few years, true crime in a variety of formats has flourished.  Although there’s always been a fascination with heinous murders, daring bank robberies, and hilariously inept criminals, it seems that the genre has seen a renaissance lately.  Not only are there books to read, but anyone with access to the internet can explore true crime websites, listen to true crime podcasts, and watch true crime documentaries and docuseries.

 

True crime has always fascinated people.  William Roughhead, a Scottish lawyer and considered the father of the true crime genre, began writing about murder trials in 1889.  Before that, from 1550 to 1700, the British upper and middles classes could read murder pamphlets and were known to create ballads, many from the murderer’s point of view. Judith Flanders investigated this period in her book The Invention of Murder. Our more modern ‘novel’ style of true crime writing is thought to have originated with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, published in 1965.

 

TV, film, and especially podcasts centering on true crime are a more modern invention.  TV and film can include both documentaries – some with reenactments, some without – and dramatic films based on the crime.  One of the pioneers in TV true crime is Forensic Files, a half-hour series that began airing in 1996.  Each episode is presented as a mystery and involves both reenactments and interviews with the real detectives and scientists involved with the case.  For Canadian cases in a similar format, there’s 72 Hours, which has 3 seasons and a couple of familiar faces in the reenactments.

 

True crime podcasts rose to prominence in 2014 with Serial, which broke records by the speed with which it reached 5 million downloads (and opened the door for books on the topic of Adnan Syed to be written). This was followed by other podcasts, including Dirty John, which also has both a documentary and a fictionalized series on Netflix, and My Favorite Murder, whose presenters are coming out with the book Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered at the end of this month.  Canada also has its own true crime podcast in Canadian True Crime, narrated by Kristi Lee.

 

Of course, books have always been a great source for true crime tales.  One of the most famous authors of the genre was Ann Rule, who not only wrote about some of the biggest murders in the world, but also worked with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.  Published in 1980, The Stranger Beside Me focuses both on Rule’s relationship with Bundy – which began in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic – and on Bundy’s childhood, murders, and eventual trials.  Personally I’ve always enjoyed Rule’s Crime Files books, which focus on a collection of different cases rather than just one.

 

While Ann Rule is the queen of true crime, there are many other books and authors out there, including Canadians.  In 2018 we had two Jerry Langton books about bikers – The Secret Life of Bikers and The Hard Way Out, which Langton wrote with Dave Atwell – and a book about our most infamous bootlegger, The Whisky King by Trevor Cole.  Coming this year, we have The Golden Boy of Crime, about bank robber and proto-Kardashian Norman “Red” Ryan; Why Don’t You Ask Mrs. Small?, featuring a millionaire who vanished from Toronto in 1919; and Highway of Tears, an examination of the Indigenous women found murdered – or who vanished – on Highway 16 in British Columbia.  And for those who need a break from the gruesome, there’s always Jack Kirchhoff’s The World’s Dumbest Criminals, which is exactly what it says on the tin.

 

So why do we love true crime so much?  According to a Global News interview with Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at UTP, we’re ‘just drawn to extreme cases of violence.’  Part of this is that we’re naturally curious, but also crime grabs our attention by being exciting and entertaining.  We also, according to Lee, like to feel like we’re part of the story, especially when it comes to cold cases that we might have a hand in solving.

 

In 2018, the book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published posthumously after its author’s, Michelle McNamara, death.  Roughly two months later, the book’s subject, the Golden State Killer, was finally arrested after 42 years.  McNamara’s colleague, investigative journalist Bill Jensen, credits McNamara with helping to keep the case alive when it had gone cold and the media attention on her book with putting pressure on the police to find the killer.

 

The true crime genre isn’t likely to go away any time soon.  There are always new crimes being committed, and the world will always be fascinated by them, especially in the current cynical, uncertain times.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Enjoy!

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