New Dark Passages Column; Bryant Park Event Announcement

My newest “Dark Passages” column at the LA Times shifts away from crime fiction into crime non-fiction:

WHEN I WORKED at one of Manhattan’s independent mystery book shops a

few years back, a prospective customer came in every so often with a

request for a true crime book. The first time this happened I bounded

from behind the cash register to hunt for a section that, much to my

surprise, was nonexistent. The disappointed customer left (presumably

for the nearby chain store) and I conferred with one of the store’s

owners. True crime doesn’t sell very well in store, she explained, so

unless it’s a blockbuster title — think Patricia Cornwell’s “Portrait of a Killer” or John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man” — stocking a full section makes no economic sense.

This reality check served as anecdotal confirmation of the prevailing

truism: that crime fiction readers and crime nonfiction readers are two

distinct camps separated by a chasm not unlike the River Styx. That

chasm has always bothered me. If a premise is so potent, characters so

vivid and an author’s way with language and voice so unique, why should

it matter whether the crimes described actually happened or are a

product of someone’s imagination?

My attempt to bridge chasms is to offer my take on three narrative crime nonfiction tomes worth reading: THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE, by Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi, THE GIRL WITH THE CROOKED NOSE, by Ted Botha and THE FORGER’S SPELL, by Edward Dolnick.

Speaking of Preston & Spezi, they will be in New York on June 11 as part of Word for Word, the lunchtime summer series sponsored by and held at Bryant Park. I’ll be interviewing the duo on the still-unsolved serial murder case, the often unbelievable theories, twists and turns, and how each of them got caught up in the case’s vortex. So please do stop by if you happen to be near the Park on your lunch hour.