How did you get interested in true crime?
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My favorite true crime -- although it strikes me as rather awful to say "favorite" -- is Serpentine by the late Thomas Thompson, a Texas journalist who also wrote the best treatment of the Joan Robinson Hill/John Hill/Ash Robinson case that stunned Houston, Texas in the 1970s. It is titled Blood and Money (but when I try to make a touchstone out of it, it gives another book with the same title).
I am actually most intrigued with historical true crimes, such as the Ratcliffe Highway murders (P.D. James & T.A. Critchley's The Maul and the Pear Tree), Jack the Ripper, Crippen, and famous Hollywood murders.
What was your first true crime? And what are your "favorites"?
My mother turned me onto true crime. She easily read one or two books a day until macular degeneration took away her ability to read at age 93 (she's now 96 and as spry as ever). She also got me interested in fiction about medical doctors, more like romances or thrillers. I still (guiltily) like them.
As for favorites, I can name several authors with Ann Rule being the all-time Queen of true crime. I don't think she's ever written a dud. besides, she writes her own website, answers her own email, and when she came to my town for a book reading, dressed like a suburban hausfrau. How could I not love her? I also read anything by Carlton Stowers. Check him out if you haven't already. Also Facing the Wind by Julie Salamon. That one will really make you THINK.
I have several of Ann Rule's books and I like the way she relates the sad stories she tells, always keeping the victims in mind as well as the murderers. The one that hit me viscerally was Small Sacrifices. I recall seeing an Oprah show with Ann Rule that also had Diane Downs by remote from prison. Downs was still at it, talking about the "stranger" who killed one of her children and maimed the other two. Rule really didn't have to counter Downs at all: Rule just let her marinate in her own lies.
I'm not familiar with Carlton Stowers. I'll check out both him and Julie Salamon. Thanks!
I notice that you and I are the only holders, so far, of Principal Suspect. Have you read Joseph Wambaugh's Echoes in the Darkness and Loretta Schwartz-Nobel's Engaged to Murder? The Main Line murders still baffle me. I haven't heard or read any updates lately so I wonder if it will ever be known what happened to Karen and Michael Reinert, or for that matter, Jay Smith's daughter Stephanie and her husband Eddie Hunsberger.
Wambaugh has a new books coming out November 28 called Hollywood Station, his first in 20 years.
The problem being the age I am (actually, I've had this problem all my life) is that I rarely remember the details of a book after reading it unless it made such an impression on me that it took up residence in my head ever after. Ann Rule's books do that for me, and Tommy Thompson's, and Joe McGinniss.
I don't know many criminals first hand (good thing!) but I've been trying to get Ann Rule to write a book about Bobby Durst, the man who impersonated a woman and hacked his neighbor to death in Galveston, Texas a few years back (and then jumped bail only to be re-arrested trying to pilfer a sandwich at Wegman's in Pennsylvania). He was a sort-of friend of my brother's in high school and the woman he impersonated was our next-door neighbor. But more than that, it is believed by many people that he murdered his wife (a medical student in New York City) almost 30 years ago but no one ever found a body or any other evidence (a very botched investigation ala JonBenet Ramsey -- because the Dursts are fabulously wealthy). But Ann won't write about anyone until they are safely behind bars for many many years.
Any other suggestions?
I remember the news of Durst murdering his neighbor (I lived in Houston so it was all over television there). You're right; it would make an interesting book.
Looking through your catalog, kageeh, I notice that you primarily have contemporary, or late 20th-century, true-crime cases. And most of them seem to be American. I have some of those as well, but I need to let some time pass before I feel comfortable enough to read about most crimes. I guess that's why I favor the historical variety, with a good portion of them happening outside of the U.S.
I now live in Hawai'i for much of the year and I've gotten interested in this state's crime history, particularly the infamous Massie Case. My favorite is still the first one I read, The Massie Case by Peter Packer. The touchstone came up with David E. Stannard's book and that's a good one too.
Do you have a favorite locale? California really has had some doozies, thus many of the books I find most interesting are about that state. Internationally...well, it's hard to beat England.
On the other hand, a psychopath is a psychopath so it shouldn't matter from whence he or she comes. But 20th-century crime is significantly more fulfilling because so much more is known about the forensics of crime scenes and criminal behaviors, the law is more complex, and general investigatory techniques are more sophisticated. Reading about older crimes, even those in America, is somewhat frustrating when I can't help but think how much better it would be were the crimes committed in more modern times.
It's not true crime, exactly (or maybe it was), but have you read Arno Karlen's Napoleon's Glands? I like biomedical speculations, and I'm also fascinated with anthropological/archaeological reconstructions, such as in Making Faces: Using Forensic and Archaeological Evidence by John Prag.
Actually, I really like best to mix up the old and the new. When the new stuff gets too gruesome for me, I can retreat to the clinical and technical, or to the somewhat muted horrors of the past, simply because I can't -- lifting your words -- "insert myself into the story and relate to it."
Is there a particular recent, say, 21st-century case that has captured your interest? Is there a book about it yet?
Kageeh, I want to respond to your other question about psychopaths, but I will wait until things are a little more stable. I hope others will join in this conversation, too, and add their insight.
I have read all the books you mentioned. I too love Ann Rule and have read a lot of Carlton Stowers also.
I read In Cold Blood when I was in high school. The book I think that got me hooked was The Shoemaker.
I also like Jack Olsen and Jerry Bledsoe.
Some of the best true crime I have read lately have been Cold Storage by Don Lasseter, To Kill and Kill Again by John Coston.
You should also try Robert Graysmith's Sleeping Lady: The Trailside Murders Above the Golden Gate Bridge.
I love your library and have printed out a lot of book titles to read. We seem to have a lot in common!
teenager and read with great fear, In Cold Blood.
I appreciate your discussion of Ann Rule and have
now added her to the list of books I want to read.
Can someone suggest a great true crime book to
read to begin with?
Well actually my favorite is not a book but the internet. You can get much more view points then. For example:
I read Helter Skelter (the book) but also visited web sites about Manson. There is so much information out there. And on YouTube you can see videos of him and his followers. Reading only a book doesn't give the full picture.
Last week, I finally gave up on Popular Crime, having read about 2/3rds of the book. Initially, Bill James unconventional style was fresh and interesting, but, for me, his ego became prohibitive and I put the book down. This morning, I finished reading A Rose For Mary. I spent two hours yesterday sifting through WorldCat and now have a list of fresh material to explore.
Your comment about an author's ego getting in the way struck a chord. I find that's quite common in the genre. So many writers seem to have 'THE ANSWER' when it comes to violent crime and criminals. If only!
Haven't read any true crime for a while but recently picked up Thomas Thompson's Serpentine. It's not a subject that would usually hold my interest (Charles Sobhraj was as much a con-man as a killer, with a very exotic, jet-setting lifestyle) but it is very well written so I'm getting along with it.
So how did you make out with your project? :)
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