Friday, May 9, 2008

True Crime: Couples Who Kill

(Richard Glyn Jones, Ed., True Crime/Virgin, 1993)
If you purchased the book Killer Couples from Xanadu Publications back in 1987, you might want to avoid this book, seeing that it is merely a reprint under a new name. Otherwise, no matter under what title, the book is an entertaining perusal not just through fifteen true cases of killing couples, but of writing styles as well. Jones has culled his stories from numerous collections published over the last 82 years, the earliest being H. B. Irving’s A Book of Remarkable Criminals from 1918, the latest being reprinted from a volume of Jay Robert Nash’s notoriously unreliable (but equally readable) Bloodletters and Badmen, last revised in 1991. The writing styles are thus as equally varied, ranging from Nash’s pop sensationalism in his narration of the Starkweather & Fugate murders, A Little World All Our Own to the floridly verbose eloquence of Malcom Muggeridge’s The Terrible Fate of Mrs. Staunton or Charles Franklin’s moralistic "Alma Rattenbury. The older the source, the more obtuse the verbosity of the article (a sure sign of the degeneracy of the educational system), but that aside, all articles feature interesting characters, some famous
(The Krays, Bonnie & Clyde, Leopold & Loeb), some legendary (Brady & Hindley, Burke & Hare), others almost forgotten (The Papin Sisters, Rattenbury & Stoner, Snyder & Gray). Most have been immortalised by film versions of their crimes, the most famous films being probably Bonnie & Clyde, The Honeymoon Killers (Fernandez & Beck), Heavenly Creatures (Parker & Hulme – or, as they are now named: Hilary Nathan & Anne Perry) or Badlands (Starkweather & Fugate). Nothing is new here, all the cases being the staple of virtually any comprehensive reference books on True Crime, but more than one of the cases continues to amaze, no matter how often one reads of the story.
Images: All found on the web. Above: The Papin Sisters,
the inspiration for (among others) the following films: Les Abysses (1963), The Maids (1974), Sister My Sister (1994) and Les Blessures assassins (2000). Middle:
Parker & Hulme, immortalized in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. Bottom: Starkweather & Fugate, the inspiration behind, among others, Badlands (1973) and The Sadist (1963).

Non Fiction: Fatal Charms & Other Tales of Today

(Dominick Dunne, Bantam Books, 1988)
In the time since this book came out, Dominick Dunne has become rather a household name due to his presence on television hosting a regular show dealing with crimes amongst the rich, famous and privileged. Fun stuff on television, fun stuff as a book — especially since he has such a nice way with words. The thirteen pieces collected in this volume all come from Vanity Fair, and of varying quality and interest, but they are all a breeze to read – even if you don't give a shit about playing "Hide-and-Seek with Diane Keaton" or about "The Mortimer's Bunch." The Diane piece is pure fluff, as are most of the star-items included in the book. The article about Mortimer's, a NYC "in-place" for a type of person best described as "Amero-trash" — a race which might include "Euro-trash" but definitely has no "White Trash" — seems written for Middle America. (On the other hand, Amero-trash likes reading about itself, too, as such articles reaffirm their own importance to themselves.) But the crime coverage is definitely worth a gander. Dunne comes across like a literate, well-spoken and lightly bitchy gossip with all the right connections — which is what he is. It is almost hard to believe that he is (or at least was) a heterosexual.
Fatal Charms & Other Tales of Today is a regular staple on the shelves at most big secondhand stores, and the book is a pleasant bedside read for those who like their trash cultivated. The book might be out of date, but then, it doesn't include any information you'll ever need for a history test or on the average game show. But for the first story, Dunne's narration of the murder of his daughter and the farce of a trial that followed, Fatal Charms & Other Tales of Today is cotton candy but without the calories so enjoy.
Images: Both found on the Web. Above, the good book itself; below, the good author himself.
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