Once in a while I go on a crime spree. I binge on true crime novels.
It reads like a novel. In fact, when I first read it, I didn’t realize it was nonfiction. Truman Capote spent over 6 years on that book. Some critics complained that he took a little too much “artistic license” with the story. The literary quality of the book, though, is what makes it so good and what made In Cold Blood the first of the genre we now know as True Crime.
If Truman Capote is the father of True Crime, Ann rule is easily its mother. She is best known for The Stranger Beside Me the story of the Ted Bundy serial murders. Incredibly, Rule had actually worked with Bundy on a crisis hotline in Washington in the 1970s, years before his arrest and probably during the time he was killing young college girls across the country. That chilling story became wildly popular and was made into a mini-series.
Ann Rule went on to write many more true crime stories, my favorite is Bitter Harvest. It takes place in Kansas City and features a brilliant, but absolutely batshit doctor intent on poisoning her ex-husband and who eventually murders two of her three children by setting her house on fire.
Rule’s titles tempt you like a pulp fiction paperback: If You Really Loved Me; Heart Full of Lies; Every Breath You Take; Green River, Running Red…etc. And pictures are included. This is one of the bonuses of true crime. Actual photographs are usually found right there in the middle of the book. Readers get a glimpse of all the story’s players before, during, and after the horrible fate they meet. We know what’s going to happen as we gaze upon smiling newlyweds or a girl on vacation with friends. Rule writes about each of the victims and their families with depth and charity — both the innocent victims and the obvious dipshits alike.
Because we already know the outcome of these stories, there are no spoiler alerts in true crime. We read for the gory details. Readers read true crime not to be told a new story, but to make sense of grizzly stories that have already played out. The task of the true crime writer is to tell how the what happened. At this task, Rule rules.