I've been out of town for a few days, visiting with relatives. And though I have a copy of Kafka's The Castle in my suitcase (because about a dozen people, in inquiring about my new novel, have asked how direct the influence is, and I have had to say a dozen times, in total humiliation, that I have never read it), I've mostly spent my time reading true crime books.
Rhian loves true crime, and typically that's what she's reading when I'm reading police procedurals. But this time I'm all over it. Man, the writing is often quite bad. But these things are fascinating. The thing that really gets me about them is the utterly bizarre, unpredictable details. No matter how desperately the author wishes to adhere to the conventions of the genre, all these ridiculous elements of real life keep intruding.
I just read a few by Joe McGinniss--they're really not bad, by the low standards of the form. In one, we watch the aftermath of a husband's murder-for-hire of his wife, from the point of view of their three teenage sons. The kids' grandmother's friend moves in to become their unofficial guardian; she's a loony Bible-thumper who invites the accused gunman's wife to live with them, out of charity. Imagine--the wife of the guy who probably just killed your mom is there in the kitchen when you get up every morning.
Or, in another McGinniss book, a wealthy wife murders her wealthy husband during an affair with a home theater installer. While she rots in prison, the home theater installer marries a blond woman with "a silver sports car," as a Chinese news magazine reports. The article ends with this man mowing his lawn: "The sweating Michael took off his shirt and walked around with his fat belly bouncing around."
Bad crime fiction is all cliché--the bad writer doesn't have the skill to stray from the norm. But bad true crime, in all its coarseness, can't help but let life spill out all over the place, like Michael's fat bouncing belly. I'll take a good novel over a good true crime any day (with the possible exception of the stupendously awesome Black Dahlia Avenger), but when only the bad is available, give me the truth.