Our society is obsessed with true crime. The current John Edwards case is a prime example. We have a politician, a mistress, and the illegal exchange of money. The only thing that’s missing is a murder. Although many would argue (and I’m inclined to agree) that cheating on your dying wife isn’t that much higher on the ethical ladder.
We spend hours discussing high-profile cases — Casey Anthony anyone? — and the conversation doesn’t end with the verdict. Then the debate ensues on whether the jury was right in their decision. All the true crime shows out there — 48 Hours Mystery, Snapped, American Greed and Friday night episodes of Dateline — are a testament to this obsession. I’m sure psychologists could name a litany of reasons why this is: we like to see rich people fail, we get satisfaction from knowing the truth, we have a sick curiosity about the underbelly of society, among others.
Whatever the reason, our fascination with true crime existed long before the surge of these television shows. Consider the thousands of books in this genre. With so many to choose from I’d like to offer my opinion on what books will gratify all of your expectations.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry
Celebrities, sex, drugs, and, most importantly, a cult led by a homicidal maniac. Who could ask for more? I might be embarrassed to say how addicting I found this nearly 700-page story of gore (with photographs of the crime scene!) and crazy cult members, except I haven’t spoken to anyone who felt differently.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Who says true crime stories can’t be works of literary genius? The creepiest aspect of this genre-defining “nonfiction novel” is the realization that lingers long after you close the book. If such a senseless murder could happen to an unassuming, small-town family, it could happen to anyone.
It’s an unlikely combination — the diabolical serial killer H. H. Homes and the construction of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. But it works. Maybe because it’s so disturbing to think a man charming and then read as he viciously kills young women, all while the rest of Chicago remains clueless preparing for the greatest event the city has ever seen.
Sin and the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott
The name says it all. It really is difficult to pass up a book that promises so much. The Everleigh was the infamous “high-class” whorehouse operated during turn-of-the-19th-century Chicago and owned by two debutante sisters. Wealthy and famous clients, reformers battling the “white slave trade,” and a murder provide everything we desire in a tawdry tale.