The true crime genre of entertainment is still relatively new, having been pioneered by Truman Capote in the 1960s with his seminal work In Cold Blood. However, Capote’s true crime novel was far from being the first work in the genre, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last; in recent years, true crime documentaries on streaming platforms like Netflix have exploded in popularity. In this article, we’ll be exploring the true crime genre in all of its forms.

Background: The Popularity of True Crime Documentaries on Streaming Services 

Platforms like Netflix have profoundly changed the game in terms of the kinds of entertainment that we have access to nowadays. It used to be the case that we would have to watch whatever was on free-to-air TV or read books to keep ourselves occupied. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth in the 21st century.

Thanks to Netflix, we can now watch documentaries on what feels like countless topics at the touch of a button. Whether we want to learn about cats, understand slots features, or discover the history of an ancient civilization, there’s probably a Netflix documentary that we can watch on the topic.

Another genre that’s been taking the world by storm recently is true crime. It almost feels like true crime documentaries are just about a dime a dozen, with streaming platforms like Netflix have paid for the creation of what seems to be scores of them.

This wouldn’t be the case without sufficient demand, of course; there is a growing community of true crime fans who are deeply passionate about the genre and want to see as many true crime stories told as possible. They’re not just limited to Netflix users, either; it’s also become fairly commonplace for YouTube channels to create and upload their own true crime content to the social media platform.

Naturally, our fascination with the criminal world extends far beyond true crime documentaries. Popular series like Peaky Blinders also deal with the seedy underbelly of society in other ways; in the case of Peaky Blinders, the show depicts warring gangs in the wake of the First World War as they try to survive the economic downturn that the conflict created.

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

Many regard the publication of Truman Capote’s seminal 1966 book In Cold Blood as being the true crime genre’s first real watershed moment. The work, which Capote described as being a sort of non-fiction novel, outlined the author’s investigation into the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. It was an enormous success and catapulted Capote to stardom, something that the author would struggle to cope with the effects of for the remainder of his life.

Nevertheless, the literary impact of In Cold Blood cannot be overstated. It was the first major example of a true crime work to hit the shelves, and Capote’s attempt at blurring the lines between non-fiction writing and novel writing truly put him on the map, even amongst his other earlier works.

That’s not to say that In Cold Blood wasn’t met with any criticism or controversy, though. One major critique laid at the book was its perceived factual inaccuracy compared to the events of the murder of the Clutter family. Some critics felt that Capote had entirely fabricated sections of dialogue for the sake of character exposition.

In fact, this is, strictly speaking, true. Defenders of In Cold Blood have pointed out that the book is, to an extent, a novelization of the Clutter murders, so there’s no need for it to be entirely factually accurate. Regardless, it’s rarely portrayed that way, which is likely a major reason for the controversy surrounding it in the first place.

Even more controversial were allegations that, during the time he spent carrying out research and writing preliminary drafts, Truman Capote engaged in some form of romantic relationship with Perry Edward Smith, one of the perpetrators of the murder of the Clutter family. Naturally, this raises huge ethical concerns, though there is no tangible way of validating whether or not Capote and Smith had any type of romantic relationship.

Despite all the controversy surrounding In Cold Blood, it became, as mentioned previously, an enormous success. Capote seemed to struggle with the pressures that came along with being famous and eventually succumbed to drug addiction.

Other Major True Crime Works 

While In Cold Blood is the best-known true crime book to have been released to date, it’s far from being the only one. Another very prominent true crime book is Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, which was released in 1979. While perhaps not as pioneering of a work as In Cold Blood, The Executioner’s Song was crucial for true crime overall, as it was the first book in the genre to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

True crime podcasts have also become more popular in recent years. Some prominent examples include Serial, My Favorite Murder, and Dirty John. In fact, a study conducted in Australia in 2019 indicated that over 40% of regular podcast listeners frequently tuned into true crime podcasts, which is no mean feat!