True Crime: At the Intersection of Law and Literature

The true crime genre just keeps gathering steam. Serial has just kicked off its third season, Connie Walker's Finding Cleo podcast has become an award-winner, and one of the most talked-about books of the season is The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman, which delves into the connections between Nabokov's famous novel and the true-crime story of a young girl abducted in 1948. 

Weinman's book tops this list of titles at the intersection of law and literature. The list also features a number of true crime award-winners, as well as some innovative fiction and poetry that use court transcripts, historic record, and frameworks from the true crime genre to literary advantage. 

*****

The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman

About the book: A gripping true-crime investigation of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and how it inspired Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel Lolita.

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time, selling over sixty million copies worldwide to date. Yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was derived from a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner's full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, old news stories, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman establishes with authority how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita. As she walks us through Sally's story, Weinman takes us on an intimate and panoramic tour of mid-century America, from Sally's home in Camden, New Jersey, to her place of rescue in California, and back to the East Coast again.

The story of Sally Horner echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel's creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.

*

Zara's Dead, by Sharon Butala

About the book: Fiona Lychenko—now a woman in her late sixties—has spent years researching the death of her high school classmate Zara Stanley, who was brutally murdered at the age of twenty. Determined to solve the crime—something the police weren't able to do—Fiona interviewed everyone she could in her hometown of Ripley, but every trail led to the same dead end. She even published her findings in a book, hoping it would lead to anonymous clues from readers and outliers, and still—nothing. Now, a decade later, Fiona has finally given up hope that the killer would ever be caught.

That is until a brown manila envelope turns up under her door and Fiona once again finds herself embroiled in the midst of a controversy so intricate and tangled that one wrong move could be her undoing.

Based on the true story of the murder of Alexandra Wiwcharuk in 1962 in Saskatoon, Zara's Dead is the fictional retelling of a very real story, one that has captivated the public and eluded answers for decades.

*

The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, by Sue Goyette

About the book: In 2006, a four-year-old Massachusetts girl died from prolonged exposure to a cocktail of drugs that a psychiatrist had prescribed to treat ADHD and bipolar disorder; her parents were convicted of her murder. In The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, Sue Goyette strives to confront the senselessness of this story, answering logic’s failure to encompass the complexity of mental illness, poverty and child neglect (or that of our torn and tangled social "safety net") with a mythopoetic, sideways use of image and language. Avoiding easy indignation, Goyette portrays the court proceedings’ usual suspects in unusual ways (the judge, the jury, the lawyers, the witnesses and the girl’s troubled parents), evokes the ghost of the girl, personifies poverty as a belligerent bully and offers an unexpected emblem of love and hope in a bear. Like the utterances of a Shakespearean fool, Goyette’s quirky, often counter-logical poems offer a more potent vision of reality than any documentary account, her eulogy for a girl society let down renewing the prospect for empathy and change.

*

Book Cover Bastard of Fort Stikine

The Bastard of Fort Stikine, by Debra Komar

About the book: Is it possible to reach back in time and solve an unsolved murder, more than 170 years after it was committed?

Just after midnight on April 21, 1842, John McLoughlin, Jr.—the chief trader for the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Stikine, in the northwest corner of the territory that would later become British Columbia—was shot to death by his own men. They claimed it was an act of self-defence, their only means of stopping the violent rampage of their drunk and abusive leader. Sir George Simpson, the HBC's Overseas Governor, took the men of Stikine at their word, and the Company closed the book on the matter. The case never saw the inside of a courtroom, and no one was ever charged or punished for the crime. To this day, the killing remains the Honourable Company's dirtiest unaired laundry and one of the darkest pages in the annals of our nation's history. Now, exhaustive archival research and modern forensic science—including ballistics, virtual autopsy, and crime scene reconstruction—unlock the mystery of what really happened the night McLoughlin died.

Using her formidable talents as a writer, researcher, and forensic scientist, Debra Komar weaves a tale that could almost be fiction, with larger-than-life characters and dramatic tension. In telling the story of John McLoughlin, Jr., Komar also tells the story of Canada's north and its connection to the Hudson's Bay Company.

*

A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story, by Jeremy Grimaldi

About the book: From the outside looking in, Jennifer Pan seemed like a model daughter living a perfect life. The ideal child, the one her immigrant parents saw, was studying to become a pharmacist at the University of Toronto. But there was a dark, deceptive side to the angelic young woman.

In reality, Jennifer spent her days in the arms of her high school sweetheart, Daniel. In an attempt to lead the life she dreamed of, she would do almost anything: lie about her whereabouts, forge school documents, and invent fake jobs and a fictitious apartment. For many years she led this double life. But when her father discovered her web of lies, his ultimatum was severe. And so, too, was her revenge: a plan that culminated in cold-blooded murder. And it almost worked, except for one bad shot.

The story of Jennifer Pan is one of all-consuming love and devious betrayal that led to a cold-hearted plan hatched by a group of youths who thought they could pull off the perfect crime.

*

Tell: Poems for Girlhood, by Soraya Peerbaye

About the book: A collection of poems partially based on the Reena Virk murder case. Virk was an Asian adolescent whose drowned body was found in the Gorge Waterway in a Victoria, BC suburb, in 1997. Some of the poems use found material from court transcripts. The murder made international headlines due to the viciousness employed by Virk's assailants: seven girls and one boy between the ages of 13 and 16, five of whom were white. The poems examine in part the poet's remembrances of girlhood, the unease of adolescence, and the circumstances that enable some to pass through unhurt.

*

The Death of Donna Whalen, by Michael Winter 

About the book: When Donna Whalen is stabbed 31 times in her home on Empire Avenue in St. John’s, her friends, family, and neighbours believe the culprit to be her abusive boyfriend, Sheldon Troke. But the evidence is circumstantial, the testimonies tainted by personal bias and attempts at deception. Police and prosecutors face a daunting challenge, and the course of justice, with all its intricacies and failings, takes many unpredictable turns before the truth is finally revealed. 

In this extraordinary novel, Michael Winter has mined the records of Sheldon’s trial—thousands of pages of court transcripts, police wiretaps, newspaper reports, private letters and diary entries—and distilled their raw, naked truth into a mesmerizing work of documentary fiction that captures the myriad voices of the people involved.

*

Execution Poems, by George Elliott Clarke

About the book: Gaspereau Press's bestselling title, Execution Poems, is George Elliott Clarke's complex lament for his late cousins, George and Rue—two Black men who were hanged for the murder of a taxi driver. After the overwhelming interest generated by the original limited letterpress edition of Execution Poems, Gaspereau Press released this trade edition which went on to win Canada's highest literary honour in 2001. The jurors of the Governor General's Literary Award called this book "raging, gristly, public—and unflinchingly beautiful," and remarked on Clarke's "explosive, original language."

In 1949, George and Rufus Hamilton were hanged for the murder of a taxi driver in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Fifty years later, Clarke has written, in his abundant style, a series of poems that embody both damnation and redemption, offering convoluted triumphs alongside tragedy and blurring the line between perpetrator and victim. What Clarke presents in Execution Poems is uncomfortable. He reminds us of racism and poverty; of their brutal, tragic results. He reminds us of society's vengefulness. He blurs the line between the perpetrator and the victim—a line we'd prefer remain simple and clear. At the heart of it, Clarke is frustrating the notion that society deals any better with these issues today than it did in the 1940s.

*

Dead Reckoning, by Carys Cragg

About the book: When Carys Cragg was eleven, her father, a respected doctor, was brutally murdered in his own home by an intruder. Twenty years later, and despite the reservations of her family and friends, she decides to contact his murderer in prison, and the two correspond for a period of two years. She learns of his horrific childhood, and the reasons he lied about the murder; in turn, he learns about the man he killed. She mines his letters for clues about the past before agreeing to meet him in person, when she learns startling new information about the crime.

With gripping suspense and raw honesty, Dead Reckoning follows one woman's determination to confront the man who murdered her father, revealing her need for understanding and the murderer's reluctance to tell—an uneasy negotiation between two people from different worlds both undone by tragedy. This is a powerful and emotional memoir about how reconciling with the past doesn't necessarily provide comfort, but it can reveal the truth.

*

The Girl From Saskatoon, by Sharon Butala

About the book: In 1961, Alexandra Wiwcharuk was found murdered on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. As Sharon Butala writes, all of Saskatoon “came to a stop,” stunned by the brutal death of an attractive young woman who was a graduate nurse and had been crowned a beauty queen in local pageants. The murder became a touchstone moment for Saskatoon. More than 40 years later, it still haunts the residents, especially those who, like Butala, were Alexandra’s friends.

Compelled by her memories of Alex and her time, Butala returns to that still-unsolved murder. In The Girl in Saskatoon—a title taken from a song that Johnny Cash sang to Alex at a concert only months before her death—she faces the horror of those past events to create a portrait of friendship and remembrance, of a time when life appeared so much simpler. Written in Butala’s intimate, eloquent style, The Girl in Saskatoon is at once an in-depth investigation of a tragic death, a nostalgic coming-of-age story and an exploration of the nature of good and evil.

*

Zong! As Told To The Author By Setaey Adamu Boateng, by M. NourbeSe Philip

About the book: In November, 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that some 150 Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship's owners could collect insurance monies. Relying entirely on the words of the legal decision Gregson vs Gilbert (the only extant public document related to the massacre of these African slaves), Zong! tells the story that cannot be told yet must be told. Equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, and chant, Zong! excavates the legal text. Memory, history and law collide and metamorphose into the poetics of the fragment. Through the innovative use of fugal and counterpointed repetition, Zong! becomes an anti-narrative lament that stretches the boundaries of the poetic form, haunting the spaces of forgetting and mourning the forgotten.

*

Who Killed Tom Thomson?: The Truth about the Murder of One of the 20th Century's Most Famous Artists, by John Little

About the book: Tom Thomson was Canada's Vincent van Gogh. He painted for a period of five years before meeting his untimely death in a remote wilderness lake in July 1917. He was buried in an unofficial grave close to the lake where his body was found. About eight hours after he was buried, the coroner arrived but never examined the body and ruled his death accidental due to drowning. A day and a half later, Thomson's family hired an undertaker to exhume the body and move it to the family plot about 100 miles away. This undertaker refused all help, and only worked at night. 

In 1956, John Little's father and three other men, influenced by the story of an old park ranger who never believed Thomson's body was moved by the undertaker, dug up what was supposed to be the original, empty grave. To their surprise, the grave still contained a body, and the skull revealed a head wound that matched the same location noted by the men who pulled his corpse from the water in 1917. The finding sent shockwaves across the nation and began a mystery that continues to this day. 

In Who Killed Tom Thomson? John Little continues the sixty-year relationship his family has had with Tom Thomson and his fate by teaming up with two high-ranking Ontario provincial police homicide detectives. For the first time, they provide a forensic scientific opinion as to how Thomson met his death, and where his body is buried. Little draws upon his father's research, plus recently released archival material, as well as his own thirty-year investigation. He and his colleagues prove that Thomson was murdered, and set forth two persons of interest who may have killed Tom Thomson.

*

children of air india, by Renée Sarojini Saklikar

About the book: children of air india is a series of elegiac sequences exploring the nature of individual loss, situated within public trauma. The work is animated by a proposition: that violence, both personal and collective, produces continuing sonar, an echolocation that finds us, even when we choose to be unaware or indifferent. 

This collection breaks new ground in its approach to the saga that is Canada/Air India, an event and its aftermath that is both over-reported and under-represented in our national psyche.

329 deaths. 82 Children. Canada's worst mass murder. The accused acquitted. 
What does it mean to be Canadian and lose someone in Air India Flight 182?

Why does 9/11 resonate more strongly with Canadians than June 23, 1985? The poems in this book search out answers in the "everything/ness and nothing/ness" of an act and its aftermath, revealing a voice that re-defines and re-visions. 

Air India never happened. Air India always happens.

*

First Degree: From Medical School to Murder, by Kayla Hounsell

About the book: A murder, a missing body, and a sensational trial that shocked the community. Will Sandeson seemed like a model son. A member of the Dalhousie University track and field team, he was about to start classes at Dalhousie's medical school. He had attended a medical school in the Caribbean; he worked at a group home for adults with disabilities. "There's times for whatever reason that things don't go quite as planned," a Halifax police officer told Sandeson shortly after he was arrested for the first-degree murder of Taylor Samson, who also, on the surface, seemed like a model son. 

Samson lived in a fraternity house near Dalhousie, and when the six-foot-five physics student disappeared without a trace, the focus eventually turned to Sandeson. Sandeson's trial, blown open by a private investigator accused of switching sides, exposed a world of drugs, ambition, and misplaced loyalties. Through interviews with friends and relatives, as well as transcripts of the trial and Sandeson's police interrogation, award-winning journalist Kayla Hounsell paints a complex portrait of both the victim and killer, two young men who seemed destined for bright futures. First Degree includes previously unpublished photos and details never made public until now.

*

Under the Bridge, by Rebecca Godfrey

About the book: It has been a long road to justice for Reena Virk, beaten and murdered at the hands of her teenage peers. The  murder of this girl is one of the most notorious and heartbreaking cases in Canadian history. Here, for the first time, acclaimed author Rebecca Godfrey reveals the stunning truth about a Canadian tragedy that captured international headlines.

Who were the seemingly ordinary suburban teenagers who found themselves under the bridge in Victoria, BC, on the night of November 14, 1997? Why would a girl who longed to be their friend be beaten and killed? And how did so many teenagers keep terrible secrets from parents, teachers and police for eight days? These are the questions all of us have been asking, and in Under the Bridge the answers are revealed in a stunning narrative. Godfrey spent six years researching the case, conducting exclusive interviews with parents, classmates, police, prosecutors and, perhaps most importantly, several of the youths, including Warren Glowatski, one of the two teenagers convicted of murdering Virk. Godfrey also witnessed firsthand the many trials of Kelly Ellard, also found guilty of killing a girl who just wanted to fit in.

*

Dark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, by Ann Brocklehurst

About the book: Tim Bosma was a happy young father with a promising future when he listed his pickup truck for sale online, went for a test drive with two strangers, and never returned. The story of the Hamilton man’s strange disappearance in May 2013 captured headlines across the country and took over social media, resonating with everyone who had ever taken a test drive or bought and sold goods online. 

When Dellen Millard and Mark Smich were eventually arrested and charged with Bosma’s murder, the mystery only deepened. Millard was the wealthy heir to an aviation business. Smich was his ne’er-do-well best friend from a middle-class family. There was no obvious reason why the pair had made it their deadly mission to steal a truck, murder its owner, and incinerate the body. Tim Bosma was their randomly chosen “thrill kill” target.

Veteran journalist and private investigator Ann Brocklehurst had a front-row seat at Millard’s and Smich’s 2016 trial, where many of the questions about their shocking crime were finally answered. Others still linger, waiting to be further explained at two more murder trials set for 2017. Both Millard and Smich have been charged with the first-degree murder of Laura Babcock, who disappeared in summer 2012. And Millard alone faces murder charges in the death of his father, which previously has been ruled a suicide.

Compelling and suspenseful, Dark Ambition chronicles an unfathomable crime and its chilling perpetrators.

*

Book Cover Alias Grace

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

About the book: In this astonishing tour de force, Margaret Atwood takes the reader back in time and into the life and mind of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. In 1843, at the age of sixteen, servant girl Grace Marks was convicted for her part in the vicious murders of her employer and his mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. As Dr. Simon Jordan—an expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness—tries to unlock her memory, what will he find? Was Grace a femme fatale—or a weak and unwilling victim of circumstances? Taut and compelling, penetrating and wise, Alias Grace is a beautifully crafted work of the imagination that vividly evokes time and place. The novel and its characters will continue to haunt the reader long after the final page.

*

A Rock Fell on the Moon: Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore Heist, by Alicia Priest

About the book: In its heyday in the 1950s and '60s, the remote community of Elsa, 300 miles north of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, was the epicentre of one of the world's most lucrative silver mining operations—an enterprise that far surpassed the riches produced during the iconic Klondike gold rush. For twelve of those years, Gerald Priest was the chief assayer for United Keno Hill Mines (UKHM), the major player in the region. Priest was a clever man who could as easily carry the role of refined gentleman as he could rustic mountain man. As far as ten-year-old Alicia Priest was concerned, her father Gerry's life in Elsa was perfect: a home rich with music, books and pets where he never had to boil a kettle or wash a sock; a well-paying job; a beautiful and affectionate wife; and two daughters who revered him as only little girls can. But as Alicia grows older, she realizes that perhaps her dad saw things differently, with four female dependents, an ailing wife who couldn't give him the son he wanted, a religiously fanatical mother-in-law and a tedious, dead-end job.

Escape becomes possible when Gerry stakes the Moon Claims and discovers a phenomenal silver-rich boulder—enough silver to make him and his family rich and fund their relocation south. But when Gerry tries to smelt and sell the ore, UKHM calls the RCMP. Too many things don't add up: geologists find the former assayer's boulder story improbable, the manpower required to hand-mine and transport seventy tons of rock across the Yukon terrain is beyond Herculean and most suspiciously, Gerry's ore looks a lot like the ore found in UKHM's Elsa mine.

In A Rock Fell on the Moon, Alicia Priest consults letters, news stories, archived RCMP files and court documents, and interviews with former mine employees, litigators and police investigators, to piece together the full story of her father's infamous heist. The result is a lively, heart-rending account of a mysterious crime that came extraordinarily close to succeeding; a fascinating look into the small mining communities that once thrived in the Yukon; and the personal story of the Priest family, who could only watch aghast as the life they knew crumbled around them. As she uncovers more of the story, Alicia must reconcile two different versions of her father: the fun-loving, bush-savvy adventurer who raised her, and the man accused and convicted of the Great Yukon Silver Ore Heist.

September 27, 2018
Books mentioned in this post
The Real Lolita

The Real Lolita

The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World
edition:Hardcover
More Info
The Bastard of Fort Stikine

The Bastard of Fort Stikine

The Hudson's Bay Company and the Murder of John McLoughlin, Jr.
edition:eBook
More Info
A Daughter's Deadly Deception

A Daughter's Deadly Deception

The Jennifer Pan Story
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
The Death of Donna Whalen

The Death of Donna Whalen

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged :
More Info
Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning

How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father
edition:Paperback
More Info
The Girl In Saskatoon

The Girl In Saskatoon

A Meditation on Friendship, Memory and Murder
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Hardcover
tagged :
More Info
Zong!

Zong!

As Told To The Author By Setaey Adamu Boateng
edition:Hardcover
tagged :
More Info
Who Killed Tom Thomson?

Who Killed Tom Thomson?

The Truth about the Murder of One of the 20th Century's Most Famous Artists
edition:Hardcover
More Info
children of air india

children of air india

un/authorized exhibits and interjections
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
More Info
First Degree

First Degree

From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : courts
More Info
Under The Bridge

Under The Bridge

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged :
More Info
Dark Ambition

Dark Ambition

The Twisted Pact of Serial Killers Dellen Millard & Mark Smich
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover Paperback
More Info
A Rock Fell on the Moon

A Rock Fell on the Moon

Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore Heist
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
A Rock Fell on the Moon

A Rock Fell on the Moon

Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore Heist
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
comments powered by Disqus

X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...