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“I don’t care if I’m the one who captures him. I just want bracelets on his wrists and a cell door slamming behind him.” – Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

In this month’s post, we’re going to delve into another nonfiction genre: True Crime. True crime tales provide a nonfictional account of actual crimes and describe the actions and behavior of real people. Stories about murders and/or serial killers tend to dominate the genre, however there is a growing number of books and movies that involve heists, crime capers, and other non-violent offenses. Some of the appeal of true crime books arises from the fact that the stories often feature victims who are ordinary people, not unlike the readers themselves.

Some works in this genre recount high-profile, sensational crimes such as the JonBenét Ramsey killing, the O. J. Simpson murder case, and the Casey Anthony trial. Others may revisit historic or obscure crimes (or alleged crimes) and propose possible solutions, such as books examining political assassinations, well-known unsolved murders, or the deaths of celebrities.

While true crime is experiencing a renaissance, due to recent popular podcasts, books, TV shows and movies, the history of the genre dates back hundreds of years. People have always been fascinated by evil and have found vicarious thrills in reading about murderers and criminals. Between 1550 and 1700, British authors and printers produced an extraordinary number of “crime pamphlets” (short, unbound books) detailing horrific murders and crimes. In the 19th century, these sensationalist pamphlets, known as “penny dreadfuls,” continued to circulate in England and the United States.

Truman Capote is widely credited with originating the current iteration of the genre with his "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood (1965). The book was an account of the murder of a Kansas family in which Capote focused on the killers — not the victims, as was previously the norm — in attempting to explain why the killers acted as they did. While the facts of the case were basically true, some of the dialog was reimagined or paraphrased, as Capote was not present during the original conversations and had to extrapolate and interpret based on accounts from those who were present. There is also some speculation that he may have dramatized various scenes for literary purposes. Nonetheless, the book is considered a classic of the true crime genre. Another classic is Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (1979), a retelling of the case of Utah double murderer Gary Gilmore. Mailer’s book also has the distinction of being the first book in the genre to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Until recently, and despite a few notable exceptions, the true crime genre was generally considered a guilty pleasure that many indulged in but few would admit to out loud. For years, detractors of the genre criticized it as being distasteful, disrespectful, or voyeuristic. However, with the current rise in popularity and quality of true crime books, TV shows, and podcasts, the genre is now enjoying a certain level of respectability and critical acclaim. Many offerings today deliver cultural insight, historical understanding, and entertainment while also providing biographical details of the criminals and victims, explaining criminal psychology, and describing complex police investigations and trial procedures.

BCLS has a wide selection of true crime books, TV shows and movies to help you explore the darker side of humanity!

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