By Ian Walkley
MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre is a true crime anthology, edited by bestselling crime writer R. Barri Flowers and published by Prometheus books. It features seventeen spine-tingling stories by award-winning and bestselling true crime writers, including ITW member and forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, Edgar Award winner Burl Barer, Harold Schechter, Carol Ann Davis, Ronald J. Watkins, Amanda Lamb, Robert Scott, and Michele McPhee.
Steven A. Egger, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Criminology Program at the University of Houston, describes MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME as: “Written by a talented and gifted group of writers. In my opinion, this book should be a mandatory purchase and read for any true crime buff. It is, indeed, an exceptional collection of true crime stories.”
Barri is an award-winning criminologist with more than sixty books to his credit, including the true crime titles SERIAL KILLER COUPLES, THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, and MURDERS IN THE UNITED STATES, and best-selling thriller novels MURDER IN HONOLULU, MURDER IN MAUI, and DARK STREETS OF WHITECHAPEL. Barri has edited two American Crime Writers League mystery anthologies, MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE and MURDER PAST, MURDER PRESENT.
Barri, how did you come to get these other great crime writers together for this anthology?
I actually conceived the idea for an ITW true crime anthology a few years ago. When it fell through I decided to pursue the project elsewhere and found an enthusiastic publisher in Prometheus Books. Then came the task of assembling talented true crime writers. Fortunately, as a long time true crime and criminology writer myself, I knew a number of the contributors and was able to get them to come aboard. Other writers embraced the idea and were happy to lend their talents and experience to this project.
Is the focus on US crime?
Yes, the focus is largely on true crime in the United States. However, there are some notable exceptions. For example, Katherine Ramsland, who teaches forensic psychology, does an excellent piece about Italian female serial killer Leonarda Cianciulli; while Scottish true crime writer Carol Ann Davis writes a gripping story about British arsonist and serial killer Peter Dinsdale, who was only twelve when claiming his first victim.
Amongst the chilling true crime tales that occurred on American soil is my own story about serial killer Donald Miller who graduated from my alma mater, Michigan State University, before becoming a stone cold killer; also Phyllis Gobbell’s take on the Nashville murder of girl scout Marcia Tremble, and Cathy’s Scott’s fascinating account of the Las Vegas murder of former Mob enforcer Herbert Blitzstein.
What drew you to a life of crime?
Good question—laughing out loud. A B.A. and M.S. in Criminal Justice gave me the foundation to pursue a writing career in criminology, true crime, and thriller fiction. That education has served me well over the years and resulted in almost too many books, articles, and short stories to count, along with interviews, conference presentations, etc.
I’ve always had an interest in the criminal mind and what leads some to cross the line into criminal behaviour while others are able to resist such temptations. Studying criminals for many years has given me a depth of insight into their psyche and motivations, which I am able to delve into in my books.
You are one of the most prolific writers around. How do you manage to produce so many books?
I would say that it’s those devoted fans who inspire me to stick with the program and put forth my best efforts to entertain and educate them. I never take success for granted and always believe that old adage that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. I am always honing my craft, wanting to make each book better than the last.
And what do you enjoy doing outside writing?
I love to travel with my wife and college sweetheart throughout the U.S. and abroad. I am also an avid sports fan, with pro and college football and basketball topping the list, along with baseball and tennis. I enjoy watching scripted crime series on TV, such as CSI, NCIS, LUTHER, HAWAII FIVE-0, and BLUE BLOODS; as well as the numerous true crime shows on INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY, BIOGRAPHY CHANNEL, and 48 HOURS MYSTERY on CBS.
From your experience, do you get a sense that society is becoming more violent, that crimes are becoming more horrific?
Actually society is becoming less violent today and crimes less horrific. According to the FBI, violent crime was down 4 percent nationwide in 2011 (the most recent figures). This is likely due to a combination of better investigative techniques and DNA in capturing violent offenders sooner than later, and keeping violent offenders behind bars longer. Security cameras, cell phones and tablet cameras make it more difficult for criminals to ply their trade successfully.
That said, there are still more than a few killers and other violent offenders at large, which should have us looking over our shoulders and being diligent in what we do and where we go, who we socialize with, trust, etc.
A good example is the recent mass murderer at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. The suspect was apparently able to stay well under the radar in being able to legally purchase firearms and go on his murderous rampage, which should give us all pause for thought.
What is the fascination of true crime, do you think?
True crime is huge these days. Aside from books, you have INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY showing a variety of true crime shows 24/7, along with a number of other cable channels. The serious true crime fan is, simply put, interested in crime tales that really happened and how the authorities go about solving cases and putting offenders away. For these fans, fictitious crimes that often fail the credibility test, fall short in holding their interest. In many respects, I believe that true crime fans get more of a thrill in reading about or watching stories involving actual victims and offenders who could be their next door neighbors or even family members.
On the other hand, readers of mystery and thriller fiction are more interested in escapist fiction and, as such, less scary than if you know the violent crime took place in the real world with real victims and real criminals.
Writing both true crime and mystery/thriller fiction, I try to give readers the best of both worlds. In each instance, my tales are character driven with multiple angles and detailed plotting to reflect my knowledge as a criminologist.
Can you tell us about your next project?
In December, my next true crime and criminology book comes out, entitled, THE DYNAMICS OF MURDER: Kill or Be Killed (Taylor & Francis, 2012). This book explores the many types of murders being committed, including domestic murders, serial murders, mass murders, school shootings, Internet-related homicides, etc.
And worth noting, in view of the Colorado mass murder, is my recently published true crime tale in eBook and audio, MASS MURDER IN THE SKY: The Bombing of Flight 629. Way back in 1955, Jack Gilbert Graham caused an airliner to explode just outside of Denver after planting dynamite in his own mother’s luggage. Forty-four people were killed. Scary, indeed, and an omen of mass murders to come in the state.
Does it take longer for you to write a true crime book or a novel?
Nonfiction requires much greater research, time, and sometimes headaches than fiction writing. As such, it takes longer to write true crime than novels. For true crime, attention to detail is key, along with verifiable facts; whereas, since fiction does not require the same degree of authenticity, one can take more liberties in telling of tale.
Barri is also on LinkedIn, CrimeSpace, MySpace, Goodreads, LibraryThing.