We’re drawn to true crime stories
People in general and Americans in particular adore true crime stories. We watch fictionalized accounts of popular cases. We watch documentaries highlighting investigations and prosecutions of crimes. More than that, we buy the books about curious cases by the truckload
But what makes true crime stories so compelling?
In 2011, Bill James published the seminal book detailing true crime stories. His task was to explain why they fascinate us. Of course, he chose his own curiosity as the starting point. Popular Crime (the book) inspired me to create Popular Crime the site.
Popular Crime tracks on-going investigations
Every crime has a story. And the first act of every story is the investigation. Maybe the cops are on-point. As a result, they catch the perpetrator early on. But many times, the investigation drags on. Then the case goes cold. And finally, someone goes back to look at what happened.
All of which draws us in. We look for news of the case. Sometimes, we’ll watch a press conference. But most of all, we’re hooked. We become invested in finding out what happened.
Therefore, when the police apprehend a suspect, we look ahead to the trial.
Criminal trials rivet our attention
Seems like every few years we have a trial of the century. That’s because the 24-hour news cycle demands constant stories. Certainly, other stories intrigue us. But nothing draws us in like a trial. Dating back to the 18th century, people followed remarkable trials with fervor.
In many ways, trials perfectly capture our attention. They involve competing arguments. Similarly, the stakes of capital trials cannot be higher. If you’re like me, you too enjoy the feeling of justice being served. Or on the contrary, you feel the sting of injustice.
Regardless of outcome, criminal trials provide a sense of closure. When the trial ends, we know the outcome. And even if there is a mistrial, we know we’ll eventually get a verdict. And that keeps us tuning in.
The best True Crime Stories
I can’t tell you when or how a story will catch fire. More often than not, a story just resonates with people. Then next thing you know, everyone is talking about it.
That’s why we specialize in covering every story that we can. It can be major something like the Jennifer Dulos case. But that case is a rarity. Most of the stories we follow stay under the radar. Like few people knew about the headmistress with the pedophile boyfriend case. Until they read about it here. (She was banned from teaching for life, in case you’re wondering.)
Because of that, we’ve decided to start a new feature on the site.
True Crime Stories Book Reviews
Beginning this fall we’re going to count down the list of the best long form coverage of true crime out there. First of all, we needed to compile a list. Thankfully, we have one that we like. Then, we need to get some books. Most of these are available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. But a local bookstore is always a good choice, too.
Next, we want you to participate, too. Maybe we missed a title that we need to read. Let us know in the comments below and we’ll add new books to the list.
Maybe you have your own thoughts. That’s even better. We’ll be sharing a means to enable you, our readers, to share your thoughts.
More than that, we’ll be announcing the book reviews via our mailing list. If you want an exclusive first look, all you need to do is sign up.
Now about that list
Popular Crime – obviously the standard bearer. Bill James brings his insights to the field of true crime stories. More an exploration of the phenomenon than any specific case. (this will be the first review, so get your copies now if you want to share your thoughts)
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote’s classic compels a reader forward even now.
The Stranger Beside Me – Few authors have the resume that Ann Rule does. Her initial foray into true crime stories is a classic.
Journey into Darkness – More than anyone else, John Douglas changed the way we as a nation looked at serial murder. His books take the reader into the early days of behavioral sciences at the FBI. We’ll have more from Douglas.
Harvard and the Unabomber – Out of print nowadays, but thankfully used books help. This book is dense and a difficult read. But the material makes it easy to pick it back up. Few books in the genre have as many concepts explored.
Last Rampage – James Clarke details the most sensational crime story in Arizona in the 20th century. It has it all. First, Gary Tison manipulated his sons to break him out of prison. Then, that jailbreak exposes deep corruption in Arizona’s criminal justice system. Next, Tison goes on that last rampage, resulting in half a dozen deaths. Then, a bloody shootout claims the lives of most of Tison’s gang. But he escapes into the Arizona desert. Just typing that makes me eager to re-read it. It sizzles from cover to cover.
The Brothers Bulger – The story of Whitey Bulger and his brother Billy. One was the infamous murder. The other a powerful political force in Massachusetts. Howie Carr details both Bulgers and how despite their different paths, both held sway over Boston and the State of Massachusetts and left indelible marks on the state and the nation.