Crime reviewer and author Paul Burke has written a review for The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns. Take a look!
There’s the usual sensationalism in the marketing for this true crime anthology that belies just how well written and thoughtful it is. We are informed that small towns are more violent than big cities, (FBI stats.), so watch out for the depravity and darkness behind the idyllic facade of the tight knit community with its country fairs and unlocked doors. Duly noted, let’s move on. This is a well curated and considered collection comprising some well written essays/stories that explore the origins of each crime; the investigation, subsequent trial – when the culprit was caught, and the traumatic effect on the community – the aftermath. This is Mitzi Szereto’s second collection for a series that will run, the first dealt with serial killers. The assemblage of authors is impressive from true crime writers with a reputation in the field to fiction writers and academics. Eschewing the sensational, the gruesome nature to the events here speak for themselves; these stories get to the human cost behind the terrible events that suddenly vault a small town into the public gaze. Here’s are a few examples of the contents:
Snowtown by Anthony Ferguson. 1999 – Eight bodies are discovered in a disused bank in Snowtown, southern Australia, population 467. In total twelve victims come to light and four perpetrators are arrested. The victims are innocent men but a complex history leads to some bizarre justifications and reasoning from the killers. In the immediate wake of the trial a macabre tourism developed but in the long term the locals were left to deal with this happening on their doorstep. You might wonder if the police were competent, these criminals preserved the bodies rather than dissolve them by using the wrong acid, Ferguson touches on that.
A Tragedy in Posrja: When ‘People’s Justice’ Goes Wrong by Tom Larsen. In a small fishing village in Ecuador in 2018 three people are lynched by an angry mob. They’ve been arrested for robbery but by the time social media has intervened they are suspected of a more heinous crime and subjected to summary justice. The case reveals the dangers of speculation and social media, and local mistrust of the law and government, among other things.
About a Boy by C L Raven. 1921, Abertillery, South Wales. Two young girls are raped and killed by a local boy. He’s given an alibi for the first crime, no one believes he could be guilty of such terrible acts. Harold Jones was eventually convicted but was he responsible for a notorious string of murders in London after his release and after WWII?
The Summer of the Fox by Mark Fryers deals with a violent crime spree around Leighton Buzzard, England, in 1984. The Black Hand and Glass Eye of Earlimart: A Killer’s Perspective by Christian Cipollini let’s the murderer explain his view of what happened when he killed another man. La Belle Elvira: A Murder in the Tuscan Hills by Dierdre Pirro deals with the murder of Elvira Orlandini, there was a suspect and a trial but the crime remains unsolved. Nameless in Van Diemens’ Land deals with a Tasmanian shooting spree.
There’s a variety of stories here that do more than describe gruesome murders, they set them in context and offer a reasoned, cold eye perspective of what underpins a terrible crime. If you like true crime with a serious edge this collection seems ideal, even though there’s no sensationalism it might be best to avoid reading at bed time if you’re troubled by nightmares.
Small Towns (New and Original Stories, Never Before Told, Criminology, for Readers of Unspeakable Acts)
Small towns aren’t always what they seem. We’ve been told nothing bad happens in small towns. You can leave your doors unlocked, and your windows wide open. We picture peaceful hamlets with a strong sense of community, and everyone knows each other. But what if this wholesome idyllic image doesn’t always square with reality? Small towns might look and feel safe, but statistics show this isn’t really true.