Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ripped From the Headlines

by Holly West

My love of true crime is one of the reasons I write crime fiction.

But before I get into that, I'd like to announce that THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER, edited by Otto Penzler, is now available. It includes my Anthony Award-nominated short story, "Don't Fear the Ripper," and other contributors include Anne Perry, Lyndsay Faye, Harlan Ellison and Jeffery Deaver. Clearly, I'm in good company.

Has there ever been a serial killer more fascinating than Jack the Ripper? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no. THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER anthology includes a good deal of fiction on the subject, but it also has a non-fiction section, making it unique among the crime anthologies I've been a part of. Which brings me back to the subject of this post: True Crime.

I've probably written about this before, but I'll touch upon it again, briefly. As a kid, I was an avid reader. One of my quirks, however, was that I tended to re-read the books I loved, which meant that I'm not as widely read as I might've been had I not read ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT'S ME, MARGARET umpteen times. I've skipped so many of the classics that I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit how many books I haven't read, especially given the devotion I had for books.

In my twenties, I slowed down considerably. When I did read, it tended to be chick lit or romance. In fact, I didn't become an avid crime fiction fan until I was in my early thirties, thanks to an introduction to Sue Grafton's Alphabet series by one of my online friends. What can I say? She had me at "A."

It's accurate to say that crime fiction re-ignited my love for reading and now you'll never see me without a book (well, my kindle).

Once I discovered crime fiction, it didn't take me long to get around to reading true crime. Up until that point, I still hadn't begun to write my first novel, but I knew that when I did, it would be crime fiction. My interest in the genre was enhanced greatly by the true crime sub-genre (or is true crime a genre in itself? So confusing. As Josh Stallings says, F*ck Genre).

When I finally sat down to start writing the book that would become MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, it was based on the real life unsolved 1678 murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Likewise, "Don't Fear the Ripper" is a fictional take on the solving of the Jack the Ripper crimes. I like to think of them as true crime brought to life through fiction.

Here are some of the true crime books that have influenced my fiction:

1) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
My favorite true crime book of all time, and one of my all time favorite books in general.

2) MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by John Berendt
This is probably the first narrative non-fiction book I ever read and it hooked me on the genre.

3) DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson
Ahhhh, Erik Larson. This book began my love affair with his writing and while I haven't enjoyed his two most recent (IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS and DEAD WAKE) quite as much, I eagerly anticipate every title.

4) THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson
As much as I loved DEVIL (above), I loved THUNDERSTRUCK more.

5) MY DARK PLACES by James Ellroy
I have a confession to make. Besides THE BLACK DAHLIA, MY DARK PLACES is the only other Ellroy book I've read. I love them both, so I suppose it's time for me to delve into his other work.

6) THE STRANGER BESIDE ME by Ann Rule
This was a more recent read, even though the book came out decades ago. And I'd say it's a must-read for any lover of true crime.

7) UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer
I couldn't turn the pages of this book fast enough. It combines my fascination of religion and true crime and it provides an in-depth look at what it calls the "violent" origins of the Mormon religion.

8) Pretty much anything about the Black Dahlia

Tell me what I've missed. What are your favorite true crime books?


7 comments:

Art Taylor said...

Congratulations again on your Ripper story, Holly! As I said before, I loved it--and I'm so pleased to see it honored in this new anthology now, and in such good company!

Love the list of true crime books too--and I'm glad to recommend a favorite of mine, though it's in a slightly different direction (mixing in memoir not as explicitly about crime): Beverly Lowry's Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir. And I also think that Dave Cullen's Columbine is tremendous in its scope and its emotional power.

Thanks for the post here--sharing soon!

Holly West said...

Thanks, Art. I really appreciate how supportive you've been.

And thanks for the true crime recommendations! Cullen's book has been on my list for awhile, although I suspect it will be a painful read. I've never heard of the Lowry book so I'll add that, too.

Art Taylor said...

The Columbine book is indeed painful at times--I remember talking to my wife at dinner about it the first time I read it (I've taught it too) and getting so choked up I couldn't speak. But it's also full of information and revelations. I had NO idea about some of the story here, and it was fascinating--start to finish. Can't recommend more highly, though recognize/understand the hesitation.

Scott Adlerberg said...

I LOVE Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Great storytelling and a book that brings Savannah completely to life. The book got me so fascinated in the city, I took a two week trip there some months after reading it.

Kristopher said...

Huge fan of both Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Devil in the White City here. Did you read Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove? Erin Mitchell recommended this one to me - bought it for me, in fact, and I was blown away.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Shot in the heart mikal gilmore

Holly West said...

Scott--Savannah is high on my list of vacation destinations due to that book. You're making me think I need to make that happen!

Kristopher--haven't read Devil in the Grove but I'll add it to my list. Same with Shot in the Heart, Patti.