What Do We Like About True Crime?

Welcome to my blog post, Old Crime is New Again.  This blog is about true crime.  Since almost all good true crime stories are what we might call “old news,” I thought this would be a good title to capture the spirit of what I intend to write about.

Who doesn’t like a movie “based on a true story?”  And if the story is a whodunnit, people seem all the more interested.  You can find books, movies, podcasts, and blogs devoted to true crime literally everywhere.  You might notice that even though we tag the genre “true crime,” it might be more accurate to call it “true murder,” because murder cases make up the vast majority of true crime offerings, especially if they’re serial murders.

Why this fascination with what often are pretty awful events?  There are many theories.  Mental Floss posted an easy to read page on the subject in 2018 that is worth a look.

My own interest in the subject came from an early fascination with detective stories, notably the Sherlock Holmes books from Arthur Conan Doyle and the Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner.  It was a short leap from fictional crime to true crime.

Why do I like true crime?  For one, true crime stories are almost always about the investigation of a crime and, hopefully, prosecution of the criminal.  The puzzle-solving aspect of collecting evidence and putting together a court case appeals to me.

Crime, especially murder, is a messy disruption to the neat arrangement of life that offends my sense of order.  Reading (or watching or hearing) about the solution to the crime gives me a comfortable feeling that we can re-establish some semblance of order, even if things can’t be put back quite the way they were before.

It also helps that many true crime writers are quite good storytellers. If the story is good enough, even the most gruesome subject matter can be appealing.  And there are numerous examples of true crime classics that demonstrate superb storytelling.

Some credit Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood with being the first serious true crime book. Despite the factual problems that have emerged with this book recently, it remains a true crime classic. But true crime as long fascinated people. London’s Metropolitan Police Service established the Police Gazette in 1772 and the National Police Gazette debuted in America in 1845. These early publications along with numerous “true detective” magazines acquired a slightly seedy reputation over the years and often ventured into areas other than police matters.

Critics say non-fiction crime can be disrespectful to victims and their families. This is a valid concern, but factual reporting and some common sense can make it less of a problem.

At least one study suggests that consuming too much true crime can increase the fear of being a victim and cause a decrease in respect for the criminal justice system. Common sense is your friend here, too. As they say, everything in moderation.

So if you enjoy true crime, do so without guilt. Just don’t overdo it. And follow this blog for more posts on crime, justice, and the law.

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