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True Crime: An American Anthology by Harold…

True Crime: An American Anthology

by Harold Schechter

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This was a fun read! Only a few of the pieces (e.g., Cotton Mather) were not good. Most were highly entertaining. ( )
  untraveller | May 21, 2014 |
a lot were endless. some were interesting. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 13, 2012 |
The Library of America's "True Crime: an American Anthology" - a fascinating 'past-to-present' anthology containing much of the best American true-crime writing spanning the 350-year period from way back in the 17th Century down to the present-day.

Given the vast body and range of true-crime literature in existence, editor Schechter sets limits that narrow the central focus of his true-crime selections to Homicide cases - and also excludes excerpts from classic crime books (like the groundbreaking In Cold Blood) in favour of self-contained pieces on, as Schechter puts it, "particularly horrific and unsettling crimes that erupt into ordinary lives". Included in this killer collection are many notorious real-life homicide cases (Son of Sam who terrorised New York, a profile of the Menendez brothers who brutally murdered their parents) as well as some gripping lesser known murder cases (the Halls-Mills murder mystery 'affair', involving the murder of a minister and his lover).

James Ellroy, Gay Talese, Dominick Dunne and Anne Rule are contemporary true-crime practitioners included standing shoulder-to-shoulder with writers (some of whom are not normally associated with the true crime genre) such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, James Thurber and Truman Capote (generally regarded as the inventor of the first non-fiction novel, the classic true-crime book In Cold Blood). Schechter's expertise in the True-Crime genre is apparent from his excellent introduction to the anthology, full of insight into how true-crime reportage evolved over time. And there's a bonus! Preceding each selection, Schechter includes concise, informative 'lead-ins' full of references that open doorways to further reading for those readers who wish to dig deeper.

One colorful piece, Calvin Trillin's offbeat "A Stranger With A Camera", set in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, involves the shooting dead of a journalist by a local 'hillbilly'. Mountain people living in isolated mountain pockets and up remote hollows in ramshackle, dilapidated shacks harboured deep-rooted suspicion and distrust of strangers and outsiders: a breed of people who follow their own rule of law - the law of the mountains, the code of the hills - and quick to dispense their own brand of justice when it comes down to protecting their property from transgressors and "smart-alecks come to hold us up to ridicule", even if it means running them off at the end of a loaded gun. Equally fascinating is "The Trial of Ruby McCollum" arising from the shooting dead of a leading physician (and respected state senator) by his mistress, an African American woman who had one child by him and was pregnant with another - and her subsequent murder trial in a County in which the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful presence.

Other gripping real-life homicides in this blood-soaked murder anthology include: a tense, minute-by-minute action replay of a shooting spree massacre stemming from an explosion of resentment the killer felt over disparaging remarks made by neighbours; an account of the crime, incarceration and execution of a convicted murderer who was hanged twice over; a series of murders involving passing travellers who stopped over at a family-run Wayside Tavern in 1870's Kansas, never to see the light of day again; the psychological motivation that spurred a psychopath and his homosexual lover to kill for the thrill. Also included: Mark Twain writing on violence in the Old West where the rule of law, gun-law, dictated that a man is not respected "until he has killed his man"; H.L.Mencken's scathing denunciation of what he sees as worthless lowlife criminals being treated with kid-gloves; Cotton Mather's accounts of criminal executions, containing exhaustive execution sermons (31 pages that could and should have been trimmed IMO); a selection of murder ballads.

The theme of Homicide is well-served by this excellent compilation. Good editorial choices and writing of a high calibre in most cases in a killer collection that will satisfy anyone with a vicarious passion for murder. ( )
  michaelmurphy | Apr 15, 2010 |
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The charm of the book is that it appeals to both the culture vulture and the plain old vulture in us, while constructing an oblique, perverse history of America.
added by Shortride | editThe Nation, Lorna Scott Fox (Mar 18, 2009)
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