Long gone are the days when a true-crime author—like William Roughead, or Truman Capote more recently—waited until after the verdict to write the whole story (or, in Capote's case, after the hangings). In the instant era, books speed to release, and the publishers are becoming even quicker about releasing true-crime titles in particular.
Readers seem to be of two minds when it comes to quick releases.
Many say they won't read a book that comes out before the trial even starts. Others hold that a book can be quickly written and still be well done. But if put out early, the timing of the release will dominate all reviews forever.
Some readers are really unhappy.
On a book about Laci and Scott Peterson: "This was obviously written BEFORE the trial and has no pertinent information at all about what happened after Scott's arrest. Hardly the 'whole story' advertised."
On Robert Graysmith's book about Bob Crane: "We learn nothing about Carpenter's trial (an integral part of this entire story) because Graysmith and the publisher couldn't seem to wait until the trial was over, to send this book to the press."
On another true-crime title: "I also don't understand why this book was written before the trial."
The booksellers who specialize in true crime consistently tell me that many true-crime fans buy not the first book about any given case but the fourth or the twelfth or the twentieth. Many of us who study human depravity for a pastime or a career find a case that especially intrigues us, and we read everything we can about it. Some cases that have inspired such intense study are Lizzie Borden, Bruno Hauptmann, Jack the Ripper, and so on. So the first book a reader buys may well not be the last, particularly if the first isn't entirely satisfying.
Readers are fickle and inconsistent, simultaneously lamenting early books while snapping them up. . . . One writer recently picked up an early book out about Austria's Fritzl case and reports: "If you want to read Monster, I'm afraid I bought the last copy at Borders. But just wait a month or so, and I'm sure there'll be more comprehensive alternatives. It's perverse, I know. But I can't wait."
Though quickly produced true-crime titles will always have their critics, in the end it is the quality of the publication and not its release date that matters the most, don't you agree? Is there a line to be drawn? After the verdict? After sentencing?
Readers, writers, and publishers can't seem to make up their minds, but one thing is certain: more of these quickly produced books will be on the shelves in the future (and Kindles, and cell phones. . . .)