True Crime: Book Genre Explained

True Crime is a genre of literature that explores real crimes, focusing on the details of the crime itself, the investigation, the criminal, and the legal proceedings that follow. This genre has seen a significant rise in popularity in recent years, with numerous books, documentaries, and podcasts dedicated to exploring real-life crimes.

True Crime: Book Genre Explained

True Crime books can range from in-depth investigations of single crimes to broader explorations of crime trends or criminal psychology. They can be written by journalists, investigators, lawyers, or even those personally involved in the case. The genre is known for its attention to detail, its focus on facts, and its commitment to uncovering the truth.

Origins of True Crime

In Cold Blood (Vintage International)

The origins of the True Crime genre can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries, with the publication of broadsheets and pamphlets detailing sensational crimes of the time. These early forms of True Crime literature were often sensationalized and focused on the more gruesome aspects of the crimes.

However, the genre as we know it today began to take shape in the 20th century, with the publication of books like Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood“, which is often credited as the first True Crime novel. Capote’s book, which details the brutal murder of a family in Kansas, set the standard for the genre, with its meticulous research, narrative style, and exploration of the criminal mind.

Early True Crime Literature

Early True Crime literature was often sensationalized, focusing on the more gruesome aspects of crimes. These stories were often published in broadsheets or pamphlets and were popular among the working classes. They often focused on murders, robberies, and other violent crimes, and were often accompanied by graphic illustrations.

These early True Crime stories were often moralistic in tone, with the crime and its punishment presented as a cautionary tale. They were also often used as a form of social commentary, highlighting the social inequalities and injustices of the time.

Modern True Crime

Modern True Crime literature has evolved significantly from its early origins. While the focus on real-life crimes remains, the genre has expanded to include a wider range of topics and perspectives. Modern True Crime books often focus on the investigation process, the legal proceedings, and the psychological aspects of crime.

Modern True Crime also tends to be more fact-based and less sensationalized than its early counterparts. Authors spend years researching their subjects, interviewing those involved, and sifting through court records and police reports to ensure the accuracy of their work. This commitment to factual accuracy and detail is a defining characteristic of the genre.

Subgenres of True Crime

Like many literary genres, True Crime has a number of subgenres, each with its own unique characteristics and focus. These subgenres allow authors to explore different aspects of crime and criminality, providing readers with a wide range of perspectives on the subject.

Some of the most popular subgenres of True Crime include investigative True Crime, which focuses on the process of solving a crime; legal True Crime, which explores the legal proceedings following a crime; and psychological True Crime, which delves into the minds of criminals.

Investigative True Crime

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Investigative True Crime focuses on the process of solving a crime. These books often follow detectives or journalists as they piece together the evidence, interview suspects and witnesses, and work to uncover the truth. These books often read like detective novels, with the added element of being based on real events.

Examples of investigative True Crime include “Helter Skelter” by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, which details the investigation into the Manson Family murders, and “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” by Kate Summerscale, which explores a famous Victorian murder case.

Legal True Crime

The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson

Legal True Crime focuses on the legal proceedings following a crime. These books often explore the trial process, the strategies of the defense and prosecution, and the final verdict. They may also delve into the aftermath of the trial, exploring the impact of the verdict on those involved.

Examples of legal True Crime include “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by Jeffrey Toobin, which explores the famous O.J. Simpson trial, and “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, which details the author’s work as a lawyer for those wrongly condemned or not afforded proper representation.

Psychological True Crime

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

Psychological True Crime delves into the minds of criminals, exploring their motivations, thought processes, and backgrounds. These books often use psychological theories and research to provide insights into why people commit crimes.

Examples of psychological True Crime include “Mindhunter” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, which explores the FBI’s development of criminal profiling, and “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule, which details the author’s personal relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy.

Impact of True Crime

The True Crime genre has had a significant impact on society and culture. It has influenced the way we think about crime and criminality, and has shaped our understanding of the criminal justice system. It has also sparked important conversations about justice, morality, and the nature of evil.

True Crime has also had a significant impact on the publishing industry. The genre’s popularity has led to a surge in True Crime books, podcasts, and documentaries, creating a thriving industry dedicated to exploring real-life crimes.

Societal Impact

True Crime has had a profound impact on society. It has sparked important conversations about crime, justice, and morality. It has also influenced public perceptions of the criminal justice system, highlighting its strengths and exposing its flaws.

True Crime has also played a role in solving crimes. There have been cases where information presented in True Crime books or documentaries has led to new leads in cold cases, resulting in arrests and convictions. This aspect of the genre has led to debates about the ethical implications of True Crime, with critics arguing that it can exploit victims and sensationalize crime, while proponents argue that it can serve as a form of justice.

Cultural Impact

True Crime has also had a significant cultural impact. It has influenced popular culture, with True Crime books often being adapted into films, TV shows, and podcasts. The genre’s popularity has also led to a surge in True Crime festivals, conventions, and fan communities.

The genre has also influenced other forms of media. Many crime novels, films, and TV shows now incorporate elements of True Crime, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. This has led to the creation of a new subgenre, known as True Crime Fiction, which combines the factual accuracy and detail of True Crime with the narrative structure and character development of fiction.


True Crime is a complex and diverse genre that has evolved significantly over the years. From its origins in sensationalized crime pamphlets to its current status as a popular and respected literary genre, True Crime has captivated readers with its detailed exploration of real-life crimes and its insights into the human condition.

Whether it’s delving into the mind of a serial killer, following the twists and turns of a high-profile trial, or exploring the societal implications of crime, True Crime offers a unique and compelling look at the darker side of human nature. As the genre continues to evolve and expand, it will undoubtedly continue to captivate readers for years to come.

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Kathryn Taylor