To be placed in the “top 46” of any list is an honor worth noting. To be on a list recognizing 46 landmark true-crime books going back fifty-plus years is truly humbling. Many thanks to Open Road Media for putting us here… And to the late, great Maj. Walter J. Gilmour for pushing us into this arena in the first place. In case you haven’t noticed, 2018-2019 was very good to yours truly. Finding this list was just the topper (even if I was six months late to the party). [FULL LIST HERE]
Because a few of these works impressed me more than others — nobody writes in a vacuum — I share some of my top picks below.
I start with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It boggles me to think I was still in high-school when it was published. I’ll venture that every contemporary true-crime author worth her salt has read this one. Multiple times. Capote creatively challenged the rules of crime writing, so that the novelist’s instincts can emerge while staying faithful to the truth this genre demands. It’s worth noting that this book served as a touchstone while I was editing What Happened in Craig.
And the Bugliosi book about the Manson murders? It’s an insider’s delight, just like Butcher, Baker. Yeah, I was influenced by this book, too.
As a Northwest author, I’d be remiss not to mention Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, which documents her very personal insights into Ted Bundy.
It’s with Ann Rule that my personal anecdotes begin. In the earliest days of Butcher, Baker, I decided to contact her and ask for advice. It was a cold call. She generously offered some great insights.
- One, don’t use a lawyer to negotiate a book contract (she used a lawyer for The Stranger Beside Me and she regretted it). Instead, she advised, get a literary agent (we did).
- Two, don’t bother sending a completed manuscript. Instead, write six full chapters and then provide a detailed outline of the remainder (we did).
And then she asked me what my book was about. I already knew she had a habit of reclaiming stories as her own. That was a battle I didn’t want to fight. I gave a vague answer about “working with a cop on something in Alaska.” That seemed to satisfy her. She never tried to poach our contribution to The 46. Thanks, Ann!
Of course, that wasn’t my only encounter with the crazy, mixed up world of Ted Bundy. I lived in Seattle while he was active. The women of Seattle were afraid. Very afraid. In truth, so was I. There seemed to be no stopping him.
Then, a few years later, I worked in Olympia with a group of government folks who counted Ted Bundy among their former co-workers. Ted had only recently been arrested in Florida and all of them thought he was guilty as charged. Except one. That was Ted’s erstwhile girlfriend, who was in my carpool and, later on, gifted Ted with a son after a liaison in a Florida jail. You can’t make up this stuff.
Well, you can, actually, But then it’s not true-crime.
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