True crime fans have never had it so good. Between podcasts, binge-worthy Netflix extravaganzas and blockbuster books, we are spoiled for choice. But even while we Google “Joe Exotic” or “Jeffrey Dahmer” for more details to enhance our viewing and reading experiences, most true crime enthusiasts tend not to explore the issues of why we are attracted to these tales, what they say about us or how our society determines who is a criminal and who is a victim.
In Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession, editor and author Sarah Weinman has curated an excellent anthology of 13 of the best articles and essays on true crime. These stories are all great reads—they have enough detail, human interest and forensic insight to delight even the most discriminating true crime connoisseur—but Weinman has done more than create entertainment. By organizing the essays thematically, she challenges the reader to use true crime as a lens to explore the world around us.
All of the essays are thought provoking. For example, Sarah Marshall’s essay “The End of Evil” considers whether Ted Bundy was an inhuman evil genius or an utterly human product of his environment and his mental illness. In “What Bullets Do to Bodies,” Jason Fagone reminds us that true crime is a daily occurrence in our cities, where real human bodies are shattered by real bullets, and real trauma surgeons like Dr. Amy Goldberg heroically strive to stitch them back together. And in “ ‘I Am a Girl Now,’ Sage Smith Wrote. And Then She Went Missing,” Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the investigation into the disappearance and probable murder of a young Black trans woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, to demonstrate how implicit biases deny equal justice to those who do not fit within preconceived notions of victims.
Unspeakable Acts invites readers to consider true crime not only as a literary genre but also as a gateway to understanding our society and ourselves. It is an invitation well worth accepting