Crime, Fear, and the Law in True Crime Stories

Crime, Fear, and the Law in True Crime Stories

Crime, Fear, and the Law in True Crime Stories

Crime, Fear, and the Law in True Crime Stories


Anita Biressi examines the historical origins and development of true crime and its evolution into distinctive contemporary forms. Embracing a range of non-fiction accounts including true crime books and magazines, law and order television, and popular journalism, Biressi traces how they harness and explore current concerns about law and order, crime and punishment, and personal vulnerability.


This book examines contemporary true crime narratives produced in Britain since the late 1970s. It unpacks the relationship between true crime, its popular fascination and appeal and the moment of its recent commercial success. It argues that an analysis of the ways in which true crime picks up and works with discourses of law and order, crime and punishment, violence and vulnerability provides valuable insights into the production of the modern social subject. It maintains that the real experience of violence upon which non-fiction draws must be taken into account by cultural criticism if critique is to move beyond a purely relative textual reading of true crime.

This work begins by signalling the generic antecedents of true crime literature, arguing that new literatures of crime arise partly through new knowledges and new practices and partly through the collision of a range of mainly non-fiction popular genres. It charts the emergence of modern notions of ‘lawlessness’, the divisions between the criminal subject and the law-abiding citizen and the creation of the ‘dangerous individual’ demonstrating how these become the main objects of scrutiny in contemporary true crime literature.

The rhetorical division between the criminal and the good citizen is interrogated through an examination of the discursive relationship between British true crime and the social construction of crime and criminality since the late 1970s. Topical discourses about home security and rising crime are unpacked in order to demonstrate how these intersect with dominant notions of individualism, citizenship and social responsibility. This analysis emphasises how subject positions such as the ‘moral subject’ are constituted through a range of discourses about crime, and also considers the likely pleasures offered by true crime. Illustration, humour and a popular vernacular all contribute to an understanding of true crime as a popular reservoir of experience and knowledge about crime and its social context and that the pleasure of recognition is a significant one.

An examination of the newer collect and keep true crime partwork magazines demonstrates that anxieties about agency, progress and mortality, which are central to an understanding of true crime in general, are particularly pointed in the new true crime. For while true crime presents the development of modern technologies as inherently

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