The True Crime phenomenon remains in rude health, and there was plenty of evidence of its enduring appeal at CrimeCon this year. The world’s leading event for true crime enthusiasts – showcasing a serious genre at its most accessible and immersive – saw fans flock to the Leonardo Royal Hotel for a weekend of intrigue in the shadows of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
A true rogues’ gallery of Bonnier Books UK authors were in attendance with the likes of Colin Sutton, Patricia Wiltshire, Christopher Berry-Dee, Carl Chinn, Jonathan Levi, Emma French, Geoffrey Wansell, Carol Ann Lee, Steve Keogh, Maria McCourt and Fiona Duffy all taking to the stand for a series of lively talks and panel discussion, cross-examined by a knowledgeable crowd.
“It’s an exciting time to be involved in all this, because it’s so big at the moment, with no sign of it abating,” says Manhunt author Colin Sutton. With the event growing in size year-on-year, Sutton suggests that the true crime fixation has been turbocharged over lockdown: “I think the genre as a whole has been an unwitting beneficiary of people being locked down and cooped up with their streaming services and their podcasts.”
Beyond the action-packed speaker programme, attendees took the chance to analyse crime scenes, take part in negotiation and criminal identification workshops, test their interview skills by attempting to extract a confession from suspects, and listen in on live podcast recordings. This reporter particularly enjoyed the showcase from celebrity drugs and pyrotechnics detection dog Stan ‘The Man’ – with the team at Alpha Canine Specialists demonstrating how police work alongside their four-legged partners.
And the excitement wasn’t limited to the punters: Traces author Professor Patricia Wiltshire, here to discuss forensic ecology and its role as a valuable weapon in the forensic armoury, said she was particularly enthused about attending a talk enticingly titled “Do you have the mind of a psychopath?”
For Sutton, juggling multiple appearances over the weekend, it was an unmissable chance to meet the readers in-person. “It’s been busy, but I’ve still had time to do the thing that I really love about being here, which is to just walk about, talk to people, talk to people who like the books, like the TV shows.” He was certainly in demand: with his panels standing-room-only and regular appearances wandering the floor greeted like Chris Hemsworth strolling through ComicCon. “You don’t get that chance very often to see the people you do it for, the ones who make it all worthwhile.”
It’s this level of passion, engagement – and knowledge – from the fanbase that sets CrimeCon apart. “I face tougher questions here from true crime fans then I do from journalists!”, says Sutton with a laugh. It’s a comment corroborated by Peaky Blinders author Professor Carl Chinn: “Their questions make you think and question yourself and your own approach.”
Chinn’s panel discussion Inside the Mind of The Violent Gang Memberalongside Martyn Linton and Lennox Rodgers was a particular highlight of the weekend, with Chinn bringing the historical context to Rodgers’ eye-opening and harrowing accounts of contemporary gang-violence and the ongoing battle for territory. The trio spoke eloquently about the need for a multi-agency approach and community engagement to break the “my keys, my phone, my knife” cycle of violence.
“It needs political will,” argues Chinn – pointing to how the end of the historic Peaky Blinders gang was brought about in part by socially-concerned clergymen and women opening football and boxing clubs – participatory activities offered as an alternative outlet to the draw of gang culture. “It wasn’t planned. It was all organic. Surely today we have the ability to plan it?”
“It’s been a really interesting day,” said Chinn. “With a lot of speakers bringing their research to the fore. Having a session with Lennox, learning from him about the problems he was facing that made him a gangster, and how he’s turned his life around, was inspiring. He’s an admirable man, because he’s the one out of the streets trying to help youngsters.”
There was also a packed room for Inside Broadmoor, with authors Jonathan Levi and Dr Emma French in conversation with consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Sohom Das. Fascination about the infamous psychiatric hospital endures – in large part due to the profile of those who have been housed there (French recalled how a Broadmoor staff member told her: “You don’t get in for stealing smarties.”). A captivating discussion saw Das weigh in on his experiences working the wards, and the panel addressed the stigma of mental illness, and the balance between Broadmoor’s primary purpose of rehabilitation and the necessities of containment.
There has been much debate about the ethics of true crime as entertainment; but these panels – spotlighting ethical debate, education, and a drive for social and judicial change – showcase the genre at its best, and offered plenty of food for thought for the fans to take home afterwards – alongside some potentially useful techniques to extract a confession from your housemates next time one of them leaves the toilet seat up.
And it wasn’t the only thing they’d be taking home, with books and merchandise flying off the shelves, and one stall doing a flourishing trade in Colin Sutton t-shirts. Upon seeing his face immortalised in cotton, Sutton joked: “My only reaction is a) ‘who’s mad enough to want to print my face on a t-shirt? And b) who’s mad enough to buy one?!” A mystery, he said, that was immediately answered when “my editor at Bonnier emailed me, and said ‘look what I’ve just bought…’”
Find out more about CrimeCon and check out our true crime authors over at Most Wanted.