True Crime: Stranger Than Fiction

And At Least As Engaging

The Old Man and the GunIn my last Solve blog, I explored how post-9/11 thrillers capitalize on the fears and reality of our new normal, thus incorporating real-life events into fiction. Now, inspired by the opportunity to review THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN by David Grann and read by Mark Deakins, I feel like I am taking a step further away from fiction and into true crime audiobooks. This audiobook collects three of New Yorker staff writer David Grann’s true-crime articles, each about very different crimes and the characters who perpetrate them. Narrator Deakins provides a straightforward narration that’s easy to listen to, which feels like the right approach for Grann’s journalistic style. Although Grann personally interviews the criminals and their victims, friends, and family, he himself always remains outside of the story. All three stories are great listens.

Ill Be Gone In The DarkMichelle McNamara takes a very different approach in I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, which weaves together memoir, narrative nonfiction, and reporting. The curiosity about this book is heightened by the intrigue that surrounds it: First, tragically, author McNamara died in April 2016 from an accidental drug combination; second, the Golden State Killer was finally arrested in April 2018, shortly after the publication of the book (which her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, had another author complete). The audiobook is read by Gabra Zackman, who has narrated many fiction and nonfiction books. She masterfully delivers McNamara’s story, her investigations, and the horrific details of the crimes through the viewpoints of the victims, their families, and the investigators. Watch Gabra Zackman’s Behind the Mic video on recording this audiobook. GONE GIRL author Gillian Flynn reads her introduction of this book and astutely points out that the listener/reader of true crime books is “actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy.” Perhaps that is why it is easier for mystery/thriller fans to listen to fiction.

In Cold BloodMany true crime and thriller authors point to Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD (1965) as the trigger for their interest in the genres. Golden Voice narrator Scott Brick recorded the 2006 release of the audiobook. This is the book that set the bar for narrative nonfiction, and listening to Brick’s well-paced and engaging narration makes it clear why it’s worth going back to. Capote draws deeply detailed and evocative pictures of the victims and the more or less prosaic lives they lead. Listening to Brick voicing the teenage girl and the depressed mother and knowing they are about to meet their violent ends in the form of the two creeps who he also deftly voices creates unremitting tension. I have never seen the movie based on the book. I honestly don’t think I could watch it. But as an audiobook, the masterful, calm narration allows the quality of the writing to come through, and I can listen to it at my own pace and fast forward as needed.

Next up for me is THE REAL LOLITA: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman, read by Cassandra Campbell. Look for the review in October.

Mystery/thriller fans, I would encourage you to dip your toe into the true crime genre. Check out the reviews of other true crime audiobooks under the Contemporary Culture category in AudioFile online reviews.

Ellen Quint
A mystery writer, audiobook reviewer and Audies judge. Ellen is currently the program chair of Sisters in Crime-NY and has published two crime short stories: Crossing the Line (Family Matters); Taking the Brooklyn Bridge Back (Where Crime Never Sleeps).

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