Today we are shamelessly stealing an AMAZING idea from Baltimore County Public Library’s Maureen Roberts. Maureen masterminded the library’s “Read With” feature wherein an author curates a virtual book display of 10-20 titles. Maureen’s first test case: Henry Holt author, Mikita Brottman.
Maureen said, “We’ve been talking about AN UNEXPLAINED DEATH at our fall book buzzes and our customers are so intrigued, especially because the Belvedere Hotel is an institution around here. We would love to share Mikita’s recommendations.” And of course, Mikita BROUGHT IT. Here are her all-time True Crime favorites:
True crime combined with memoir can be especially compelling, especially when the writing is strong. These are some of my favorite true crime memoirs, in no particular order. Although they’re all written in the first person, each author’s involvement is different. Some were directly affected by the crime; others got involved after the fact by attending the trial, or interviewing the participants. What they have in common is skillful writing, and a gripping story.
THE ADVERSARY: A True Story of Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrère (Picador, 2002). The tale of a wealthy, successful doctor with a loving family who turns out to be an epic imposter. Carrère describes the tragedy that unfolds when eighteen years of lies come undone.
THE RED PARTS: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf, 2016). Nelson, along with her mother, attends the trial of a man accused of murdering her aunt Jane 35 years earlier. Although Nelson never met her aunt, she’d always been fascinated and horrified by the murder. Woven into her observations of the trial are family memories, reflections on a broken relationship, meditations on the nature of violence, and much more.
WHO NAMED THE KNIFE: A True Story of Murder and Memory by Linda Spalding (Anchor, 2006). In 1982, Spalding was the second alternate on the jury in the trial of a woman named Maryann Acker, who was convicted of murder. Eighteen years later, something compels Spalding to revisit the case. She begins writing to Acker, who is serving a life sentence, and the two women become friends. Spalding’s quest to reverse the conviction is interspersed with reflections on the nature of memory. The New York Times described the book as “creepily fascinating.”
THE STREETCLEANER: The Yorkshire Ripper Case on Trial by Nicole Ward Jouve (Marion Boyars, 1986). Jouve, a French academic and essayist, was living in Yorkshire in the 1970s, when a series of violent murders took place. A close analysis of the case rather than a traditional true crime narrative, the writing is driven by feminism, psychology, linguistics, and myth. (Out of Print).
I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle MacNamara (Harper, 2018). The author, who died unexpectedly in 2016, was a true crime addict who always been fascinated by a violent psychopath who committed a series of rapes and murders over ten years in California. An amateur sleuth, McNamara got deeply involved in the case. After her death, the book was completed from her research notes.
IPHIGENIA IN FOREST HILLS: Anatomy of a Murder Trial by Janet Malcolm (Yale University Press, 2011). A smart and scrupulous narrator, Malcolm observes the 2009 trial of a woman accused of arranging the murder of her dentist husband, who had recently won custody of the couple’s four-year-old daughter. Malcolm’s interviews with participants in the case, along with her reflections on the trial, add to the power of this engrossing book.
BLOOD WILL OUT: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn (Liveright Publishing, 2014). A brazen imposter who called himself Clark Rockefeller won the trust and friendship of the author, a disarmingly honest narrator. Kirn admits to being easily impressed by wealth and a family name; his entanglement with a sociopathic con-man is bizarrely thrilling.
MY FRIEND DAHMER by Derf Backderf (Harry N. Abrams, 2012). In the form of a graphic novel, the author relives his schooldays, when one of his classmates was the future serial-killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Backderf depicts Dahmer an unhappy kid beset by problems and driven by a desperate need for attention. Jeff is different from other teenagers—but not all that different. When, in 1991, an old friend calls Backderf and asks him to guess which one of their former classmates has been found with body parts in his fridge, Dahmer’s name is definitely on the list—but it’s not at the top.
THE SPIDER AND THE FLY: A Writer, a Murderer, and the Story of an Obsession by Claudia Rowe (Dey Street Books, 2017). The author, a journalist, was living unhappily in Poughkeepsie, New York when she began writing to a serial killer named Kendall Francois. Among other things, she wanted to understand why and how Francois had hidden the bodies of his eight victims in the of the home he shared with his parents and sister. Rowe describes how her fascination with Francois grows out of her own insecurities and unfulfilled needs.
THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF: The Story of a Murder Trial by Helen Garner (Text Publishing, 2014). In September 2005, an apparently loving father drove his car into a dam, causing his three children to drown, although he escaped unharmed. Unsure if the event was a tragic accident or a well-planned murder, the Australian author Helen Garner attends the trial and interviews family members. As a narrator, she is discreet and stays in the background, yet gradually wins our sympathy and trust.
LIFE PLUS 99 YEARS by Nathan Leopold, Jr. (Doubleday, 1958). This is a real rarity—an intelligent, engaging, and sympathetic book by the perpetrator of a terrible crime. Leopold, of the Leopold and Loeb case, was arrested and imprisoned in 1925, and spent 35 years behind bars. This is the story not of the crime, but of what came afterwards: the grind of cell-block life, described in day-by-day detail (Out of Print).