Now This is Making Money Off Murder I hate it when people say that true crime authors "make money off murder." You'd never say policemen make money off crime, or doctors make money off disease, or soldiers make money off war, or social workers make money off child abuse, or reporters make money off tornadoes.
Even if there were a litmus test for every book -- that the families had to give permission - not many books would be pulled from the shelves, because in the majority of contemporary accounts, if not the vast majority, the family of the victim cooperates with the author.
That's not to say there aren't some problems with the true crime genre today. For one thing, some books rely only on secondary sources when primary sources are available. Lazy. Two, I wish there were a different paradigm besides the catchy three-word titles, black/white/red cover, and the "16 Pages of Shocking Photos!" sticker on the back. Regrettably declasse.
But that's the publisher's doing, and not without a reason: to telegraph to bookshop browsers that it's non-fiction. Have you ever bought a gallon of milk only to get it home and find it's expired? That's what it's like for me to buy a book, get it home, and find out it's fiction. Dump it down the drain and lament my $7.
Recently in Canada, someone did make money off murder, quite directly. Yvonne Johnson, a convicted killer who helped torture a man to death, cowrote her memoirs with author Rudy Wiebe and gets half the proceeds. The deal was struck before a 2006 Canadian law made such deals illegal. Is it okay if she's remorseful? Not to me -- not if the check goes directly to the murderer, who spends it on herself when any reasonably remorseful person would give the money to the victim's survivors or to charity. Maybe we can all agree -- now that is making money off murder.
True Detective cover art, Via
Insulin Murders: True Life Crimes is a new book out from the UK's Royal Society of Medicine Press. The book goes beyond Claus von Bulow and into dozens of other murder cases in which a drug that saves lives also takes them. From the foreword: "a lot of people died to make this book possible." I enjoy encyclopedic treatments of crime stories, as we've much to learn from so many examples, and the heavily credentialed authors lend promise to this one.
Otto Penzler on True Crime My only regret is that he's been seduced by the fiction Muse, though Melpomene sometimes slips in a kiss. Otherwise he's the reincarnation of Edmund L. Pearson, delightfully sarcastic ("we have a case of sarchasm" '-- "the gulf between my sarcastic wit and the reader who didn't get it") in his eloquently stated thoughts on books. He recently penned a column for his New York Sun (since rendered inaccessible) touching on true crime and Patricia Cornwell's curious correspondents. It's so short I only dare excerpt one paragraph:
Patricia Cornwell received some surprising e-mail, and she's not happy. It seems that Ms. Cornwell, one of the best-selling writers in the world, has a big readership in prisons. Some inmates have written her thank you notes, claiming that her novels have provided them with some good tips about how to cover their tracks when they get out of the slammer and resume their criminal careers.
My, my, do they skip the last chapter in which the bad guy gets his?
True Crime Reclassified Terri Jentz's Strange Piece of Paradise, nominated for an Edgar for Best Fact Crime, exhaustively chronicling her search for the man who nearly killed her, has been repackaged for the paperback edition, and while they were redoing the cover, they also reclassified the book -- it's not true crime any more, now it's memoir/women's studies. Whatever. The author also plans to convert it into a screenplay. For an eight-part miniseries, unless it's heavily edited.
Sex Crime! When Women Attack Men He hasn't yet found a publisher, but Philip W. Cook certainly has an interesting idea. He describes the project as a "true crime book presenting true and often shocking accounts of women sexually assaulting and raping men. Yes, it happens but is generally not reported." I promise not to scoff (depending on how it's written).
ForeWord's List of Best True Crime Every year, ForeWord Magazine, dedicated to news and book reviews from the world of independent book publishing, chooses from among well over a thousand books to compile a list of the best books put out by independent publishers. The list of best books of 2006 includes four true crime titles:
- Badge 149: Shots Fired by Gary P. Jones (Infinity Publishing) - read about this book on Clews;
- Death's Door: The Truth Behind Michigan's Largest Mass Murder by Steve Lehto (Momentum Books) - this book concerns the Italian Hall Tragedy, set against the backdrop of bitter copper miner strikes, in which 73 men, women, and children died on Christmas Eve 1913 in Calumet, Michigan when someone shouted "Fire!" and caused a panic; the author has a blog.
- The Good-Bye Door by Diana Britt Franklin (Kent State University Press) - read about this book on Clews, and a Clews interview with the author;
- Three Boys Missing by James A. Jack (HPH Publishing), a book by the detective who worked the case of three children murdered in Chicago in 1955.
Winners will be chosen on June 1.
And a tad bit off topic I recently saw what has to be the cleverest website ever put together by an author. Not true crime, but certainly entertaining.