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27 April 2012


I think all of your groupings have merit. I suspect that many readers of historical true crime are coming in from other interests. So I'll have a reader who picks up everything with a female killer might pick up something about Lizzie Borden, or there's my history buff father who's fascinated by the Chicago World's Fair and so stepped outside his comfort zone to read Larson. Interesting topic to consider!

I know several people who dislike true crime who will read it when it's set in a period they're interested in. I'm thinking specifically of the many fans of Victorian lit who read and enjoyed Suspicions of Mr Whicher a few years ago. My guess is that the historical distance makes the crime easier to cope with. And crime stories seem to involve lots of details about the period that might not come up so easily in others kinds of histories.

As for me, I enjoy true (and non-true) crime, whatever the time period, because it gives me a glimpse to a side of human nature that I'm lucky enough not to have much first-hand experience with.

Hmm. I agree about the time period thing (for instance, true crime during WWII which is an understatement I know).

But then, there are - serial killers, famous detectives, unsolved crimes, capers (!) - so there are categories as well.

BTW 25% of Fed Ex deliveries are finished by the Post Office. Enough said.

I think time period more than types of criminals -- I'm fascinated by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Europe and the U.S. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale is still the best I've read, by the way. I'm always a little surprised that people who read historical crime fiction don't get more into this but I think they might be scared off by the contemporary tawdriness (Ann Rule school) of the true crime label.
I hope you'll post a link or reference to this project when you're done!

Sarah(s), Teresa, Nan,

Thanks so much for the great insights. I very much enjoy learning why people "enjoy" (never the right word to use, but there you have it) true crime in general, and learning about everyone's take on the historical aspects is great.

I'm also glad to hear that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher really found an audience. It wasn't for me--I thought it was kind of dull, personally--but I also didn't care for Larson's The Devil in the White City, which everyone and their brother seems to have read and enjoyed. I particularly enjoy hearing why people like books I didn't--helps me broaden my mind. It needs it!

I think I would also read a book more for the period rather than the crime, but I can be weird. I also wasn't as impressed by Devil in the White City as most others were. I thought it straddled the non-fiction/fiction line a little too much and there was too much detail at times.

For me I am interested in types of crimes. I am most interested in sex trafficking, child abductions/ sex crimes/ murders, ritual sexual abuse and crimes by clergy.

Marmota, Dan:

Thanks for the insights. I'm learning there's lots of ways readers find true crime. It's fascinating--very rarely did I get these types of questions at the library reference desk. Are True Crime readers kind of "help themselves" patrons?

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who thought TDITWC was a bit overrated. I found it both horrifyingly detailed in the crime bits and really boring (and too detailed) in the historical bits. I remember after reading it I couldn't believe what a bestseller it was becoming.

Hmmm, I never liked true crime until I read Capote's In Cold Blood. Suddenly, I was a fan, even though I never thought I would be - very squeamish and easily freaked out! Anyway, I prefer more 'literary' true crime or immersive journalism type true crime (like Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets or Restless Sleep).

I'd be interested to read some historical true crime. I'm a HUGE fan on historical fiction, but I haven't really ventured into nonfiction as much. I prefer the adventure of invented characters, like in one of my favorites, "A Tainted Dawn" by BN Peacock (http://www.bnpeacock.com). I think I'll check out "In COld Blood" as Laura suggested. Thanks!

I think true crime readers are "help yourself" plus the books are helpfully shelved together for the most part -- good old 364.152, one of the first call numbers I memorized when I started working here at the library. So once the readers know where to look, they don't need us to guide them. I think I prefer historical true crime because 1) I enjoy history in many forms and 2) it's safely past so you don't have to imagine it happening to you or near you or in your time. Probably why I prefer historical crime fiction to contemporary, too.
I was amused to see the Edgar awards use the term "fact crime" instead of true crime http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html. And this year's winner, Destiny of the Republic, which I read and liked very much, I didn't really think of as crime at all, but as popular history.

I'm a true crime reader who picks books based on a crime or a criminal rather than a time period. I'm more interested in what happened and who did it rather than when it happened.

I'm also a "help yourself" reader at the library. I think there's a slight embarrassment on my part that I read such tawdry (as another commenter put it) material. That's also why I like the self-checkouts at the library!

There are quite a few very good works of historical true crime fiction. "In Cold Blood" would be a good place to start, as Truman Capote used a lot of "novelistic techniques" to write it. I also just finished Paul Collins's The Murder of the Century and would recommend it--it almost read like a novel too what with the murder and the love triangles and everything else.

Yes, I agree that they are probably "help yourself" readers. I think they'd be surprised, though, if they knew how many library staff members also read true crime and could probably make some great suggestions for further reading!
I TOTALLY agree that the Candace Millard book about James Garfield getting shot was fascinating, but not really true crime. And I think the Paul Collins book, which I mention above, should have won that award!

Word Jar,
Thank you for the continuing insight into true crime readers. Readers find books for all kinds of reasons, and I always like hearing the motivations behind the book search.
Don't be embarrassed--even slightly. I think you'd be surprised if you knew how everybody reads at least one "tawdry" genre. If not more than one! (At least in my case.)

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