Crime, Fear and the Law in True Crime Stories by Anita Biressi


This book, concerned as it is with the relations of crime and narrative, is itself situated in an interesting conjunction of narrative and metanarrative. It is both a commentary on the stories of crimes and criminals, and on the ways in which those stories have been read and represented by writers on them, so it stands already at a third degree of remove from what we could call the ‘real crimes’. Oddly though, in its presentation, this book is returned through the levels of discourse to something approaching the style of those texts upon which it commentates. The cover shows a man in a Cambridge Rapist-style leather hood, his arms and body tattooed with the words ‘murder’, ‘hate’ and ‘kill’, against a night landscape of winter trees; exactly the kind of image that accompanies true crime accounts in books and magazines. The cover also bears the words ‘Crime Files’ in the graphic style of a police case-folder stamp, this being the general title of the series within which Biressi’s book is published, and the brief overview of the series describes it as ‘offering scholars, students and discerning readers a comprehensive set of guides to the world of crime and detective fiction’. I comment on these details of the book’s presentation because it seems to me that they immediately raise questions about some of the difficulties that Biressi is attempting to unravel. What is the status of the writer on, or the reader of, true crime narratives? Wherein does the continued fascination with these stories lie and what is the nature of the pleasure derived from them? Further, in this context, how does an academic analyst differ from those other readers and writers of the genre? A suspicious police officer might be forgiven for being unable to see the difference between the isolated individual in a bedsit full of true crime books and newspaper clippings of grotesque murders, and the office of an academic containing exactly the same material. The ‘scholar, student and discerning reader’ defence hardly works, when this is the alibi that so many of the texts under examination themselves employ to justify the willing involvement of the writer and the interest of the reader in apparently indefensible material.

How to Cite

Hartley, H., (2016) “Crime, Fear and the Law in True Crime Stories by Anita Biressi”, Entertainment and Sports Law Journal 1(2), 7. doi:







Hazel Hartley (Leeds Metropolitan University)



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