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Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
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A-True CrimeHarold Schecter, a professor at Queens College–City University of New York and author of true crime sagas, presents 350 years of "dark deeds" in 50 true crime tales.

The Topic: Dick Wolf, the creator of Law and Order and its various spinoffs, has described each of his shows as one-half murder mystery and one-half moral mystery. This True Crime anthology suggests that this mix of murder, morality, and an engaging plot has been going on even longer than Law and Order’s nearly two decades might suggest. Schechter’s story begins with the first recorded murder in the American colonies in 1651 (as described by that shining example of Puritanism, William Bradford) and ends with a description by Dominick Dunne of the 2001 Menendez brother slayings. In between, one can find not only writing on crime from well-known figures such as Mark Twain, Gay Talese, and even Abraham Lincoln but also many tales of dastardly deeds that, were it not for this anthology, might never have seen the light of day.
Library of America. 788 pages. $40. ISBN: 1598530313

Charlotte Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"True Crime provides both a fascinating look at crime from colonial America through current times, and insight into the evolution of nonfiction writing. … What’s not to love about an anthology whose authors include the likes of Cotton Mather and Truman Capote, Abe Lincoln and Bonnie Parker (yes, of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ fame)?" Adam Bell

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The deeds chronicled, often murders, are indeed dark. … Mr. Schechter, himself an accomplished author of true crime sagas, offers an introduction worth the price of the book, as he places sagas of wrongdoing into multiple contexts within American society." Steve Weinberg

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"True Crime: An American Anthology, an outstanding collection of ghastly American crimes from Puritan times down to our own day, is evidence of the gruesome possibilities that truth can get up to when it comes to one human being dispatching another—or, usually, many others. … I could not stop at one selection." Roger K. Miller

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[E]ditor Harold Schechter tightens the focus of his selection to murder, and not just any old murder, but … crimes that erupt into otherwise ordinary lives and stick in the minds of the public. … This is not only a shocking, endlessly entertaining anthology, but a thoughtful, careful one too." Richard Rayner

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"There are many delicious tidbits here, but I think no one would accuse Schechter of base motives. … The anthology is almost obscenely entertaining, if one has a strong stomach and a certain mind-set, but it is also a searching look at the dark underside of American reality, at an aspect of the human condition that both horrifies and fascinates us." Patrick Anderson

Critical Summary

The Library of America is best known for its dedication to keeping obscure but worthy American authors in print. Critics noted that this collection affirms this tradition, drawing attention to authors and characters most readers would otherwise miss (James Thurber, Theodore Dreiser, Susan Glaspell, and Zora Neale Hurston, for example). Reviewers consistently emphasized Harold Schechter’s editorial discernment: as both a connoisseur and practitioner of the genre, he knew enough to skip the obvious (no excerpts from In Cold Blood), narrow his criteria (just homicide here), and craft a collection of 50 stories that say just as much about America as they do about murder. "One does not typically look to true-crime reporting for outstanding writing—just the facts will suffice—but there is plenty of class in this volume," concludes the Washington Post.