Here’s a new genre for fans of True Detective and the like: Slow crime. Back in March, Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic and editor-in-chief of rogerebert.com, described slow-crime in an article for New York Magazine as a genre that reflects more recent groundbreaking entertainment, including True Detective, the podcast Serial, American Crime, The Jinx and The Killing. The most distinctive characteristic of the genre is its pacing and its attention to detail. As opposed to episodic crime shows, which will often neatly wrap a case in the span of 55 minutes, slow crime serials follow one case through an entire season, exposing a larger theme or attitude than the case itself. Slow crime attempts to relate that the facts of the case, slowly revealed over the course of the show, suggest greater implications for society.
Seitz, in terming the genre slow crime, did so to contrast it with more traditional episodic cop dramas, but when I became a fan of True Detective during its first season last year, I connected it with much more seasoned genres of True Crime and Noir or pulp detective fiction. There are similarities: True Crime and Slow Crime address the whole story of a case, taking time to reexamine every detail, to attempt to uncover a truth or reason, a mission that often ends in vain. Similar to Noir or Pulp crime fiction which features a beleaguered detective, a little rough around the edges, who is at odds with the traditional structure, Slow Crime employs experimental methods to solve the crime.
So, since there’s a week between episodes of True Detective, the next season of Serial doesn’t start until the Fall, and it doesn’t look like there will be any more episodes of The Jinx, here’s a reading/ watching list to keep your suspicions piqued.
A classic of slow/true crime, Capote follows the case of two men sentenced to death for inexplicably murdering a family in western Kansas. Capote began his research for the book before the arrest and conviction, and thus transcribes first-hand accounts of the trial and sentencing, and spends an immense amount of time interviewing the inmates sentenced to death row. The level of grisly detail, as well as the way a cool, measured tone directly and deliberately contrasts the overwhelmingly chaotic horror of the crime, makes this novel the preeminent example of the genre.
Harper Lee and Capote met as children (the character of Dill is actually based on the young Capote) and she accompanied Capote on his assignment to cover the murders in Kansas. Lee’s own novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, (her only published work until July 2015,) tackles similar themes of truth and justice. While not as bleak in tone as the others in this list, the setting, the mystery of Boo, Scout’s peculiar perspective and the sinister, base nature of the Ewells’, places this novel in the southern-Gothic canon.
Diving back now to the bleak, dark recesses of humanity, the realms of the Yellow King, in Helter Skelter, the number one best-selling true crime narrative, former L.A. District Attorney Vincent Buligosi provides a firsthand account of one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Charles Manson, whom he successfully prosecuted against in 1969. Buligosi’s densely detailed prose, including intimate knowledge of the evidence and the grisly details of the man, his madness and the seven murders he orchestrated and carried out with “The Family”, makes this work a must read for True Detective fans.
Despite being considered one of the greatest American TV dramas, (in my opinion, True Detective has much to thank it for) The Wire debuted in 2002 to only mild reviews. The series’ creator David Simon was already known in television for Homicide, another cult-hit cop show. The Wire, however, achieved something different: the series addressed the issues of law enforcement in the city as it relates to each of five other city institutions. The appeal of the show wasn’t immediate perhaps because of the lack of recognizable markers that made hits out of other cop series. In The Wire, the police equipment wasn’t flashy. The camera work was composed of straightforward shots using no filters (though artfully so). The gang members, drug dealers, politicos and bosses were three-dimensional rather than card board stand-ins for criminals. But perhaps most pertinent to this discussion, it took an entire season to bring down a corrupt entity by exploring the way crime is inevitable as long as no one addresses the deeper problems of inequality and systemic corruption.
FBI Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, investigates the murder of teenage homecoming queen Laura Palmer in a small, Washington logging town called Twin Peaks. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Created by filmmakers David Lynch and Mark Frost, the series explores the world that exists below the surface of this seemingly tranquil mountain town. Each character possesses some ulterior motive, disturbing dreams expose truths in the waking world, and, like True Detective, the closer Agent Cooper gets to the truth in his investigation, the darker and more dangerous the journey becomes. The series aired for 30 episodes, between 1990 and 1991, before ABC cancelled it due to lackluster ratings. Since then, the series has garnered a substantial cult following, allowing for a feature-length film related to the series, and an upcoming limited renewal of the series in 2016.
If you’re looking for something that encapsulates the gritty LA noir-style of the TD s02, try James Ellroy’s LA Confidential. LA Confidential is one of Ellroy’s best known works, because it so aptly captures the sinister underworld of 1950s LA and Hollywood and the complex nature of the investigators pursuing justice, not to mention the highly acclaimed film starring Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe.
Polanski’s Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, is another version of the LA noir scene: this time the P. I.’s focus is on the murky background of a wealthy LA industrialist. Plot twists and family secrets abound until Nicholson’s character is so enmeshed it’s no longer clear who‘s in control, similar to the bind Rust Coehle finds himself in as he battles his various demons.