True Crime is not for everyone and that is understandable. Naysayers, however, should consider that the genre has been elevated in recent years. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, for example, was one of the most popular and talked-about books of last year. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann was huge in 2017.
These books are true crime, but a new breed of true crime; one that is read by a more general audience (not just serial killer buffs), critically acclaimed, and are said to have some literary merit. If you are turned off by the smarmy paperbacks that come to mind when you think of true crime, these new options below may change your mind about the genre.
The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman is as much a book for literary nerds as it is for true crime aficionados. It actually presents two mysteries intertwined into one. The first is the story of eleven-year-old Sally Horner, who was kidnapped in 1948 by Frank La Salle and subsequently taken on a twenty-one month journey from Camden, New Jersey to San Jose, California. The second is the relationship between Sally and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which was said to have been inspired by Sally’s half-forgotten story. Nabokov never admitted to how much he pilfered from Sally’s horrific experience, but there is evidence presented in this book that seems to confirm a connection. Perhaps Lolita is even darker than you remember it being?
A few years ago I was engrossed by the book Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital, 1959-1984 by Michael Arntfield. The author, a cop turned criminologist from Western University, explains why unsuspecting London, Ontario was actually the serial killer capital of the world between the years of 1959 to 1984. It is jaw-dropping how much horror has been unleashed on this small Canadian city, how much of it has been forgotten, and how likely it is that one or more of the killers is still living. The Forest City Killer: A Serial Murderer, a Cold-Case Sleuth, and a Search for Justice by Vanessa Brown is a brand new book that tackles the same topic, but mostly focuses on the Jackie English case and the decades long investigation by Detective Dennis Aslop. It doesn’t delve into some of the more far-fetched theories presented in Atntfield’s book; it is more focused on the whodunit rather than the why. It is, however, equally compelling. Look for it when it is released by ECW Press in October.
Written by award-winning investigative journalist Maureen Callahan, American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century delves into the under the radar story of Israel Keyes, a serial killer active in the 90s and early 2000s. You’ll be shocked that you haven’t heard of him considering the magnitude of his crimes. Hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of previously unreleased documents, Callahan has compiled an account of Keyes and how he finally slipped up. It also considers the limitations of traditional law enforcement, especially in isolated areas like Alaska where the majority of this book takes place. Be forewarned that this book is very unsettling.
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark is a strange little book. Written by the women behind one of the world’s most popular podcasts My Favorite Murder, this is more a compilation of personal essays than it is a true crime book. That being said, it does occasionally draw upon true crime cases where it ties in to the advice they are giving readers on how to stay safe both physically and mentally. The authors mostly discuss their insecurities, anxieties and how they navigate these things in a world that can sometimes be pretty scary. I mention it in this article because the authors are at least partially responsible for the true crime “moment” we’re having in popular culture these days.
All of the books mentioned here can be reserved from your branch of the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries or online at www.CountyLibrary.ca.