I am delighted that “Only Murders in the Building” has returned for a second season on Hulu.

True crime books, podcasts and series are wildly popular right now. Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short play neighbors who stumble upon unnatural deaths and broadcast narratives of them while (somehow) solving the mysteries, which are both fun and timely.

I’ve been a true crime aficionado since reading “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote, when I was about 14 — several years after it was published. I then remained in fear for years that murderous robbers would break into my house and slaughter my family and me.

That didn’t deter me from continuing to read in the genre. If asked why, which never happened, I’d have said I was interested in the psychology of murder. I like to read fictional murder mysteries as well. In a traditional mystery, the murderer always has a strong motive, and justice is served in the end, which is very satisfying to us righteous types.

A recent article on the “Digital Trends” website analyzed the allure of true crime stories. We may derive a “sense of relief that it is happening to someone else and not us,” or, as the Germans describe it, schadenfreude. Understanding how killers think helps us understand the nature of evil. Perhaps we feel we can better avoid the bad guys. True crime stories focus heavily on victims, survivors and loved ones left behind, which heightens our empathy.

Of course, “morbid curiosity” can also be a factor, although I do skip over the gory bits.


I’ve read four excellent true crime books in the past few months. Maine writer Kathryn Miles investigates the story of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders.” The two young women were camping in the Virginia national park when they were discovered brutally murdered. Investigators spent years chasing down the wrong man.

Miles invests herself in telling Winans’ and Williams’ story, and getting as close to the truth as she can. Along the way, Miles raises important questions about the safety of women in the wilderness, something I’d never thought about. She also looks at the history of women interacting with wild places, which I thought was fascinating.

The writer as an integral part of the story is definitely a trend in the true crime genre. Michelle McNamara unfortunately died before her “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” was published. It is as much a story of how McNamara focused her life on searching for the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer as it is of the crimes and investigations.

The GSK first raped 50 women in Northern California, moved south, murdered 10 people and then went silent, eluding all investigators. It’s a gripping account on all levels, told in a clear, engaging style.

McNamara did not live to see the GSK finally apprehended in 2018. But Paul Holes, a 27-year veteran investigator and forensic scientist in the San Francisco Bay Area, was involved in the long-awaited arrest. His book, “Unmasked: My Life in Solving America’s Cold Cases,” is also a personal story.

Holes is brutally honest about the realities of dealing with evil on a daily basis, and the toll it took on his family life. His first wife, for example, simply didn’t want to hear about his work life anymore. Holes also writes about McNamara, with whom he collaborated on the Golden State Killer case. “Unmasked” is definitely one of the best true crime books I’ve read.


“The Betrayal of Anne Frank: An Investigation,” by Rosemary Sullivan, is solely the story of an international team that took on perhaps the most famous cold case of the 20th century, rather than a reflection on the author’s need to solve the mystery.

But, I wonder, how many readers who have known Anne Frank’s story since encountering her diary as adolescents have lived with a deep-seated need to know who told the Gestapo that the Franks and their friends were hiding in the secret annex?

The elements of the genre are there as the investigators apply new technology and knowledge to the 78-year-old crime. But there’s also the story of the Franks, and of Otto’s return after the war, the only survivor. The Dutch helpers who kept the residents of the annex supplied with food and other necessities. The city of Amsterdam in wartime, a place of violence, secrecy and deception.

There is an answer, too. I found it shocking, not because there was a monstrous perpetrator to blame, but because of the seeming casualness with which the betrayal was committed.

I’ve also enjoyed (although that hardly seems the right word) the HBO Max series “The Staircase” (Colin Firth is excellent as accused murderer Michael Peterson), and Hulu’s “The Girl from Plainville,” the story of a teenager who encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide in my home territory, southeastern Massachusetts.

Which brings to mind my grandmother, Rose Raymond Soares. Her son, my Uncle Arthur, once shared some family memories with me. He wrote that his mother “liked to read the crime stories in the newspaper.”

So there you have it. My interest in true crime is literally in my blood.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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