Jennifer Lyon

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
Judging nonfiction by fiction?

I’m listening to a true crime novel about a serial rapist, and it’s such a disappointment. I really wanted to love it when I read the blurb, but it’s stuffed full of pointless backstory right down to the history of the first female cop in one of the departments working the case. And to make it worse, it’s poorly organized. You know what I keep thinking as I slog through this thing? The author needs to read J.D. Robb’s IN DEATH series to learn how to organize a true crime story.

Umm…J.D. Robb writes fiction not true crime! I know that, of course. Yet, I can’t help myself, the J.D. Robb crime solving is tight, focused and chronological with just enough backstory that we understand the character, science (even if it’s made up, it’s still consistent and understandable) and motivations.

I know I shouldn’t judge a non-fiction by fiction, but it’s where my brain goes every time I listen to the book. Anyone else ever do this?

6 comments to “Judging nonfiction by fiction?”

  1. B.E. Sanderson
    September 30th, 2020 at 7:15 am · Link

    Non-fiction needs to be written in such a way that it is interesting to the reader, so yeah, I think they should approach their books like fiction authors do. They need to ask themselves the same questions we do – does this work, is this necessary to the story, etc.? They need to weave the wording just like we do to capture the attention of the reader. Sure, we’re making stuff up and they aren’t, but there’s no reason non-fiction has to be boring. We’re all telling stories. Our jobs are to make the stories interesting.

    I think Ann Rule does a nice job of writing true crime. But it’s been years since I read her and I only read her book on Ted Bundy, so I could be wrong. I really want to read Joe Kenda’s book on his time as a homicide detective. A neat NF to read is Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow.

  2. Silver James
    September 30th, 2020 at 8:31 am · Link

    I only very seldom attempt a true crime. Most of them were written by reporters who think they are journalists/writers (most aren’t!) and their editors? I have no clue what they were thinking! The only true crime I’ve considered in recent memory is Michelle McNamara’s I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK*, about the Golden State Killer, and that’s more due to a slightly morbid interest due to her death before publication. Anyway.

    And I totally agree with you about the In Death books! Especially as I’m doing a marathon listen to the entire series for the first time in 3 years. True crime writers could take a page–or 300–from Nora!

    *Unless that’s the one to which you refer…

  3. Viki S.
    September 30th, 2020 at 2:52 pm · Link

    I haven’t read a true crime in years. Sounds like you have one very annoying read right now. It’s surprising that you didn’t just stop and go on to another book. Get it though, you really wanted it to work.

    The weather has turned here and I love it. It’s windy and cloudy and in the upper 50’s – in other words, my type of weather. I made chicken soup yesterday which has gone nicely with the weather.

    I think I’ll switch out my warm clothes for cool/cold tomorrow after cleaning the bathrooms.

    Tried to get my Shingles shot today and they are out of it. Should get a call when it’s back in stock. They haven’t had it in 3 weeks and are blaming the “hurricane.” That is too old and excuse.

    I hope you’re having a nice day :).

  4. Jenn
    September 30th, 2020 at 3:33 pm · Link

    B.E., yep, I agree. I read Ann Rule’s book about Ten Bundy decades ago when I was living alone in a small apartment. I recall that vividly.

    I don’t think I read Inside the Criminal Mind, the book doesn’t look familiar on Amazon. I’ve read a few books by FBI profilers, which were interesting and disturbing.

  5. Jenn
    September 30th, 2020 at 3:42 pm · Link

    Silver, nope, it’s not that author! I looked at that book as I’d read an interesting article about that book. I chose not to buy it then, and this book I bought in a two for one credit deal :-) Just an aside here: I somehow ended up listening to, and physically reading, two seperate nonfiction books. That was a mistake. Fiction is such a good escape from reality, and way to reset.

    I really like the In Death series, and it’s a good way to use police procedure without weighing down the book with too much detail. We don’t need ALL the author’s research in the book.

    Enjoy your J.D. Robb marathon!

  6. Jenn
    September 30th, 2020 at 3:47 pm · Link

    Viki, the two reasons I haven’t DNFed it are: 1) It’s on audio, and I listen as I’m doing other stuff, so I have slightly more patience. And 2) There’s one aspect of the investigation I want to understand wherein some of the cops accused the first victim of lying and under pressure, she recanted. As a writer, that fascinates me. I logically know how that happens, but I want to hear her story about it. So that’s what keeps more going.

    What a nice change in weather! It’s 105 here as I type this.

    That’s really frustrating on your shingles shot. Everything is such a challenge right now. Hope they get it in soon!

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