28 June 2008

It's True - Well, Almost

I'm not a great fan of the "true crime" genre and that is probably reflected in the ratings I have given the books I've listed here. However I also concede that many crime fiction authors get their ideas and even a considerable part of their content from true crime files. What I generally dislike about the true crime accounts that I have read is what seems to me the unacknowledged fictionalisation that occurs as the content is padded out and interpreted. The lines between fiction and fact become blurred to the point where the reader is likely to accept everything as "the truth."

This posting is prompted by the fact I am currently half way through THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke which is crime fiction based on the crime wave caused in Louisiana by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This posting will give me some reflective background for my eventual review.

The author at whose door the blurred line accusation can be laid is Truman Capote and so my first mini-review is about IN COLD BLOOD, which is generally recognised as founding a new style of writing.

IN COLD BLOOD, Truman Capote, published 1966
This reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and their two children by 2 amoral young killers. The book presents the true-fact story almost as if it were fiction with descriptive passages where truth and journalism are inextricably intertwined. The structure that Capote chose for the book gave him the leeway to use the facts to explore the circumstances surrounding the murders, and to consider why they happened, and what the effects were on those who not only remained but investigated the crime.
My Rating: 4.2

True crime story that traces the case of a young woman murdered in Sydney late in 1991. Her body remained unidentified for a number of months and was referred to in the press and publicity as Jane Doe. It was to be a case crucial to the career of a young detective senior constable handling his first homicide investigation. The book recounts the story of the discovery of the body, the steps taken to identify it, the final break-through, and then the eventual tracing of the murderer and his extradition back to Australia. Written by two Sydney journalists, the book also contains an epilogue by the detective, now a detective superintendent. The final chapter is the judge's summing up as he delivered his verdict. A rather "no-frills" account, it will be popular with those who look for something that is easy to read and yet factually accurate.
My rating: 4.2

Author Stacy Horn spent two years working with New York City’s Cold Case Squad. THE RESTLESS SLEEP in written in the true crime genre pioneered by Truman Capote. It follows four main cases that began as far ago as 1951, and brings them through to the present day. Horn focuses on the methodology of cold case investigations, reconstructing investigations and interviews from dusty archival boxes and public record. In each of the cases Horn had access to the Cold Case Squad detective who worked the case, the commanding officer of their unit, and commanding officer of the Cold Case Squad.
My rating: 3.2

Do you really know your neighbours? What happens in their house? In their backyard? Would you be living next door to people like this anyway? In 'Killing for Pleasure' Australian journalist Debi Marshall tells the stories behind the grisly Snowtown "bodies-in-the barrels" serial killings, carried out over seven years in South Australia by three killers and their accomplices, both knowing and unwitting. The book took Marshall five years to write, synthesising thousands of hours of interviews with the families of the victims, with neighbours, and with close members of the families of the murderers. What she describes pushes the boundaries of credibility, both in relation to the nature of the murders, and in the slowness of the South Australian police system to begin an investigation into the disappearance of the victims.
My rating: 4.5

DONE LIKE A DINNER, Jennifer Cooke & Sandra Harvey.
The authors tell us in the preface that DONE LIKE A DINNER “is the result of ten years of eating at bistros, brasseries, cafes, pizzerias, coffee shops, clubs, pubs and restaurants, all in the name of research.” The focus of these stories is particularly on gangland wars in Sydney and Melbourne from the 1980s to the first decade of the twenty first century. The ten stories are pieced together from newspaper reports, trial proceedings and through talking to family and other people who remember the incidents. Each chapter begins with an identification of the restaurant, night club or bar and includes in the first pages a recipe that might once have been served there. A Very Fishy Murder, the first story, describes how Andrew Kalajzich of K’s Snapper Inn at Manly came to put a price on his wife’s head and eventually to kill her. In Chapter 2 Ducky O’Connor is killed in a crowded Sydney restaurant by mobster Lennie McPherson. McPherson re-appears in later stories. Chapter 3, Siege at the Spaghetti Speak-Easy, recounts how aboriginal juvenile delinquent Amos Atkinson, panics and holds thirty people hostage at Melbourne’s Italian Waiters’ Club. Finally in the last two stories we see Melbourne at the mercy of extended gangland wars culminating in the cold-blooded murder of Lewis Moran in 2004, and the impact of two decades of bikie gang vendettas in Sydney.
My rating: 3.8


Marg said...

Every now and again I will read a true crime story. It's not my genre of choice though!

Kerrie said...

Not mine either Marg. And I don't think I understand why. Perhaps crime fiction writers are just better writers. What happens though in real crime often is very shudderful. I think it is also that crime fiction rarely pretends to be "true", whereas true crime writers don't seem to have any hesitation in embellishing with supposition to fill in the gaps, and then you are not sure what is verifiable fact and what is not.

Marg said...

I think that you have hit the nail on the head. Part of the hard thing to read in true crime is that it really happened. Take the bodies in the barrel case. If someone had of written that as a crime fiction novel then you would say wow - that is a truly gruesome criminal that the author has come up with. Make that a true crime and it is far more than gruesome - it is disturbing, it has to shine a lot on our society to think how is it that someone was able to do that, and how was it that it took so long to find the victims etc etc


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