Book Review: True Crime Story: A Novel

Knox, Joseph. True Crime Story: A Novel. Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2012

True Crime Story starts out as do most true crime stories, telling the reader about a crime and a victim.

In the early hours of Saturday, December 17, 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old University of Manchester student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again

It proceeds, as many true crime books do, to explain how the author got involved in the case. We soon have a layered story: that of the author, the woman who got the author involved in the case, the backstory of the victim, the stories of her friends, her flatmates and those interviewed about the disappearance and finally, the story of the disappearance itself.

Look again at the title. It is NOT True Crime Story, it is True Crime Story: A Novel. For this is a novel, a story constructed not using the routine narrative pattern. The reader learns about Zoe, her family, her friends, her flatmates and a broad swathe of others with whom she was in contact in her life. On one level, thus, the book is about the attempts to solve a crime while on another level discussion of the crime is a tool to give us more insight into these people, these places this time.

True Crime Story: A Novel is not only enjoyable as a novel. The reader is free to read it AS a true crime story. The reader may enjoy analyzing the ways in which Knox uses the conventions of ‘true crime’ books not only to tell a story (a fictional account) of a crime but also to tell a story about a group of individuals and their interactions. The reader may also enjoy playing with the ‘messages’ or ‘meanings’ that might be implied. Is the author suggesting with the title that this fictional story is, in a sense as ‘real’ or at least ‘as accurate’ as most true crime books? Is the author boldly saying “well reader, if you like this type of book, let me give you a case in which no real person was hurt? Is the reader more invested in understanding the missing girl and the reasons for her disappearance or in watching the impact of that disappearance on those around her—her parents, her sister, her flat mates?

Knox has created a puzzle. Not simple the puzzle of what happened to Zoe but also a puzzle about the nature of social interactions, a puzzle as to how well we can truly know any other person. A puzzle as to why we read true crime stories.

Which of these puzzles is the REAL core of the story. Only you, the reader, can decide.

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