True crime

True crime

True crime is a non-fiction literary and film genre in which the author examines an actual crime and details the actions of real people.

The crimes most commonly include murder, but true crime works have also touched on other legal cases. Depending on the writer, true crime can adhere strictly to well-established facts in journalistic fashion, or can be highly speculative. Some true crime works are "instant books" produced quickly to capitalize on popular demand, while others may reflect years of thoughtful research and inquiry and may have considerable literary merit. Still others revisit historic crimes (or alleged crimes) and propose solutions, such as books examining political assassinations, well-known unsolved murders, or the deaths of celebrities.


Origins of the genre

According to Joyce Carol Oates:

Accounts of true crime have always been enormously popular among readers. The subgenre would seem to appeal to the highly educated as well as the barely educated, to women and men equally. The most famous chronicler of true crime trials in English history is the amateur criminologist William Roughead, a Scots lawyer who between 1889 and 1949 attended every murder trial of significance held in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, and wrote of them in essays published first in such journals as The Juridical Review and subsequently collected in best-selling books with such titles as Malice Domestic, The Evil That Men Do, What Is Your Verdict?, In Queer Street, Rogues Walk Here, Knave's Looking Glass, Mainly Murder, Murder and More Murder, Nothing But Murder, and many more…. Roughead's influence was enormous, and since his time "true crime" has become a crowded, flourishing field, though few writers of distinction have been drawn to it. [1]

The works of author Yseult Bridges about British cases; Inspector Dew's I Caught Crippen (1938); and the Notable British Trials series were all works that can be regarded as true crime. Jack Webb's 1958 The Badge (recently republished with an introduction by James Ellroy) embodies elements of the modern true crime story, but Truman Capote's "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood (1965) is usually credited with establishing the modern novelistic style of the genre.

The modern genre

Many works in this genre explore (and sometimes exploit) high-profile, sensational crimes such as the JonBenét Ramsey killing, the O.J. Simpson case, and the Pamela Smart murder, while others are devoted to more obscure slayings. Prominent true crime accounts include Helter Skelter by lead Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry; Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me, about Ted Bundy; and Joe McGinniss' Fatal Vision.

The modern genre, which most often focuses on murders, is frequently marked by biographical treatment of the criminals and victims, attempts to explain criminal psychology, and descriptions of police investigations and trial procedures. An example of such a modern true crime book is Mark Coakley's Tip and Trade: How Two Lawyers Made Millions from Insider Trading.[2]

Although true crime books often center on sensational, shocking, or strange events, a secondary part of their appeal is social realism, which describes events too mundane, risqué, or deviant for other non-fiction media, including descriptions of the lifestyles of working-class or socially marginal people.[original research?]

After the success of the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, a subgenre of true crime has focused on methods of "profiling" of unidentified criminals, especially serial killers.

In the early 1990s, a boom of true crime films began in Hong Kong. These films ranged from graphic Category III-rated films such as The Untold Story and Dr. Lamb (based on serial killers Wong Chi Hang and Lam Kor-wan respectively) to more general audience fare such as the film Crime Story (based on the kidnapping of businessman Teddy Wang Tei-huei) which featured action star Jackie Chan.

See also


  1. ^ Oates, Joyce Carol (1999), “The Mystery of JonBenét Ramsey”, The New York Review of Books, Vol. 46, No. 11, 24 June 1999.
  2. ^ Penny, Damien. "Insider Trading Can Be So Easy". Canadian Lawyer. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 

Further reading

  • Capote, Truman, In Cold Blood ; Vintage; ISBN 0-679-74558-0 (paperback reprint, 1994)
  • Casey, Kathryn, She Wanted It All ; HarperCollins/Avon; ISBN0-06-056764-3 (paperback reprint, 2005)
  • "Cold Case OKC," Oklahoma unsolved crimes at [1]
  • Crain, Caleb, "In Search of Lost Crime," Legal Affairs 1.2 (July/August 2002), pp.28–33.
  • Fanning, Diane, Written in Blood, St. Martin's Press ISBN: 978-0312994037 (paperback 2005, Edgar Award nominee 2006)
  • Geis, Gilbert and Leigh B. Bienen (1998), Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O.J. Simpson, Northeastern University Press.
  • Jackson, Constance, Blitz Attack: The Andrea Hines Story (2005), documentary film about the Nicole Brown Simpson copycat murder.
  • Moore, Kelly, Deadly Medicine, St. Martin's Press; (reprint, 1989)
  • Olsen, Gregg, Starvation Heights, Three Rivers Press ISBN: 978-1400097463 (reprint 2005)
  • Porta, Carles, Tor: tretze cases i tres morts; La Campana; ISBN 978-84-95616-71-5 (paperback reprint, 2005)
  • Russell, Sue, Lethal Intent, Pinnacle ISBN: 978-0786022267 (paperback 2002, Edgar Award nominee)
  • Schechter, Harold (editor), True Crime - An American Anthology, The Library of America (September 2008), ISBN 978-1-59853-031-5.
  • Scott, Cathy, The Killing of Tupac Shakur, Huntington Press: ISBN 978-0929712208 (paperback 2nd ed., 2002).
  • True Crime Book Reviews,
  • Wambaugh, Joseph, The Onion Field ; Dell Publishing; ISBN 99944-3-768-2 (paperback reprint,1984).
  • Webb, Jack, The Badge: The Inside Story of One of America's Great Police Departments ; Prentice-Hall; (hardback, 1958)
  • Whittington-Egan, Richard, Editor (1991), William Roughead's Chronicles of Murder, Moffat, Scotland: Lochar.
  • Janis, Stephen, Why Do We Kill? ; ISBN 978-1463534806 (paperback, 2011)

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