Saturday, May 2, 2009

You're Weird Sir.

This post is dedicated to the people who write noir fiction in all it's gloriously hideous forms, because they certainly have made my world a little stranger and a little darker because of it. Thanks.

My mind wanders a lot. Usually when I'm bored, and especially if I"m bored AND at work.

So the other day my mind was wandering, as its apt to do at work, when I came up with the brilliant idea of writing a blog post. Problem was, I didn't have clue on what to write.

Enter Elaine Ash's blog. The other day, she made a post about the Museum of Death located in Hollywood. That post led me to make a rather strange comment about myself, which in turn led in a roundabout way, to the general topic of this post: Books, specialized topic: Genres, sub-topic: True Crime.

Note: the comment was about perusing old coroner reports while working off site at the library.

One of the genres that I got hooked into at an early age was true crime. I believe the first thing I read was "Helter Skelter" (didn't everyone read that when they were young?). I think was intrigued me the most, was the censored crime scene photos, because it was the first book that I could recall that had those kinds of photos.

In any event, I was hooked. I read what I could, when I could. As I got older, my tastes got a little more mundane. I never really got into the sensationalized true crime stuff, but preferred to keep with the seldom known and the historical.

In that vein, here is a sample of what I have in my bookcase from that time period of my life (1970's to about 1995):

True Crime Series by Time Life Books (defunct); How to try a murder by Michael Korland; The Encyclopedia of Modern Murder by Colin Wilson & Donald Seamans; New York Notorious by Paul Schwartzman & R. Polmer and Death in the Priory by James Rudchuck.

As you can see, most of this is PG-13 at best, and I have no problem in actually letting my 16 year old son read this. However, the stuff that I bought in the last five years, is something I keep tucked away in my room, because quite frankly, the stuff would give him nightmares.

I also haven't, until now, told anybody about them, simply because I don't want people to get the wrong impression about me. So, like I do with my music, I'll do with my books. I'll give you a brief description about them, tell you why I bought them and any other tidbits I can dig up about them.

1} Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive by James Ellroy. This one I found while I was perusing Border's one day, trying to decide on how to spend some lottery winnings. This one is pretty decent. It has a nice intro by Michael Bratton, a nice essay by James Ellroy and a slew (no pun intended) of crime scene photos. All are captionless, but there is a fine epilogue and a lengthy detailed case description for the crime scenes. Published in 2004.

2} Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook text by Katherine Dunn. Some of you may have seen a glimpse of this through a link from David Cranmer's excellent blog, The Education of a Pulp Writer. I found this one, again wandering through Border's. This is put out by Feral House Publishers, and if you go to their website, you can purchase an autographed copy for about $150. They specialize in this type of graphic stuff (one particular title covers the Mexican gore tabloids. You actually have to sign an age consent form in order to buy it). Anyways, this is definitely one of the more creepier ones out there. An excellent research aid covering California crime in the early 20th century. Not for the faint of heart. Published 1996

3} Killers by George Grant. Once again, found it going through Border's (see a pattern here?). I was always fascinated by serial killers, and this book covers over 200 of the most notorious gangsters, serial killers and murderers on both sides of the ocean. Pretty tame stuff, as the photos are PG-13 as well as the captions. Published 2006.

4} Texas Death Row by Bill Crawford. This I found in the aforementioned place. I got this one, simply because I'm pro-death penalty. It covers every single execution in Texas from 1977-2007, in chronological order. It's somewhat dry reading, as it's presented as an effective analytical research tool. Basically, a typical entry reads like this: name of prisoner, crime he/she was convicted of, how long they spent on death row, any last statement, and any last meal. Published 2008.

5} Shots In The Dark by Gail Buckland and Harold Evans. See previous titles as how I found. This one like the others, appealed to me simply because it was about crime scene photography. This book gives a very good overview of the history of crime scene photography, with a heavy focus on New York. The book is very balanced throughout and is broken down in chapters such as: Looking Crime Squarely in the Disturbing Eye; Crime Scenes; Killers and Sensational Cases, just to name a few. Published 2001.

I enjoy reading most genres, but true crime has always been my favorite to read. Haven't read much of it lately, since most of it nowadays is stuff that has been squeezed drier that a rock.

That said, I do hope that this small glimpse into what I like to read, doesn't change your opinion about me.


  1. My favorite movie when I was little: Poltergeist.

    Favorite game my brother and I played when we were little: Who can scare the crap out of your siblings friend and make them scared enough to call their mom and go home.

    In our house we liked to scare ourselves and others. Your book collection doesn't scare me or change my opinion, lol.

  2. I'm glad.

    I should elaborate about the comment I made on Elaine Ash's blog.

    When I used to work at the library, one of my duties was to retrieve various records and materials from our offsite Archives.

    One of the many collections we have there, are the county coroner records. Until 1976 when the state Medical Examiner's office was created, all of the counties (Hartford, New Haven/Waterbury, New London, Middlesex, Tolland, Litchfield) in the state had separate coronor's offices.

    When that office was created, all of the old coroner's records were donated to the library. They have about 400 or so boxes of material covering from the early 1900's through the early 1970's.

    So to kill time while waiting to do retrievals, I would peruse the the crime scene photos and the coroner's reports.

    Their was only two boxes that I never, never looked at in the last two years of working at the library. I'll leave it up to the good people who read this blog to figure out what they were.

  3. I've always had a very hard time with true crime. I just can't hardly make myself read it. And I never watched it on TV until Lana. She likes those court TV shows and I catch one with her once in a while. Just too horrendous for me, I guess.

  4. Sorry about your computer woes! Been there.

    I enjoy crime fiction and often watch those true crime shows, such as American Justice on TV. I've never tried to analyze that - just fascinated sometimes with how people got their criminal behavior in the first place.

  5. Charles: I sometimes found it extremely tough to watch any episode of "America Undercover" that had anything to do with children.

    True crime is a tough genre to read. I personally stay far away from anything that smacks of pop culture true crime (early 90's forward). My speed has been more of the historical true crime stuff as of late, which I got back into when I was working at the library.

    If you want a good perspective on historical true crime, forget about the books and delve into the old newspapers of the time period that wrote about. Lot more intersting than todays journalistic dribble.

    Lynn: Thanks. This is my first major computer related problem since the summer of '07, when my refurbished Dell crashed and burned and it took me about a week and a half to get my new one (ASUS).

    I got into shows like "American Justice" and "City Confidential" as well. Still watch them to a small degree, but now most of my true crime stuff is in the written form nowadays.

    The psychology of it can be quite fascinating. That Time Life series I listed covers the pyschological aspect to a reasonable degree of thoroughness.

  6. Reading true crime doesn't seem any weirder to me than reading mysteries. But I have to say, your title cracked me up! As a writer, I often have these moments where I realize I'm weird, LOL.

    They're always so startling, because I feel so normal to myself, LOL!

  7. I always liked that particular "Peanuts" reference. A former co-worker used to say that to me whenever I came back from a particularly strange tangent.

    I've always been drawn to strange reading material ever since I was a kid (I like reference encyclopedias as an example), so these particular titles are right up my alley.

  8. I enjoy watching true crime shows but have only read two or three including Helter Skelter and The Stranger Beside Me. And I enjoyed them but oddly don't go out of my way to purchase more.

  9. If you're going to write about crime then I think it's a good idea to read some of these books - whilst a lot can be left to the imagination having a look inside the minds of some of these people can be very interesting. I've got a number of books on forensics, true crime and profiling. Generally I find the profiling ones more interesting though - I prefer understanding what makes people tick rather than the blood and guts.

  10. I don't I'll be writig crime, true or otherwise. I just find this type of stuff fascinating, mostly from a historical perspective and to a lesser degree the cultural aspect.

    I did find a book similiar to the LAPD Archives one tonight (5/3), that was written by a psychologist and published through Powerhouse Books. Covers most of what both of us just stated and then some.

  11. I missed it...what was in the last 2 boxes?

  12. Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive by James Ellroy...

    I used to have a copy of this. I loved it. I had a party and it went missing. Can you believe it? can't trust anyone these days...

  13. Interesting.

    You would figure that's not exactly a book in high demand by the general public.

  14. Georgie, your reading list about mirrors my husband. It fascinates him too. And just 'cause you read about crime doesn't mean you'll go out and do it!

    Jim and I both love those Crime scene investigation shows, the real shows, not the CSI fictions.

  15. Same here. About the only fictional one that I follow (at least in reruns) is Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

    Yeah, my reading material is a bit odd. Always has been and always will be.

    I am getting a little more interested in the historical/psychological/cultural side of things though, which is probably why I'll be buying that particular book I mentioned in one of my last comments by the end of the year.


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