Friday, July 31, 2015

Ann Rule's true crime books: what made them so compelling?

She may not have been the best writer, or the sharpest assessor of psychology. But she had a gift for tapping into our collective obsession with crime

Ann Rule: went back to the dark well again and again.
Ann Rule: went back to the dark well again and again. Photograph: Betty Udeson/AP
Usually, when a writer as widely read as Ann Rule dies, the internet gets papered over with heartfelt tributes. That didn’t happen for her – there are obituaries everywhere, but few eulogies – and I’ve been ruminating on why. My own adolescent bookshelf held battered paperback copies of some of her books – I must have read The Stranger Beside Me and Small Sacrifices at least 10 times each – and I was hardly alone: she was the kind of writer whose sales counted in the tens of millions.

In other words: she was doing something that inspired devotion. It just wasn’t the kind that people have been willing to cop to, now or ever. Even I wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, exactly.

Rule never claimed literary status. She never seemed to mind, either, that she wasn’t accorded it. She told one interviewer that as far as she was concerned, “financial success is critical acceptance”, and she certainly did make money.

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