As an editor at Pinnacle Books, whose true-crime line issues at least one new title every month, Karen Haas examines autopsy photos and renders bloodbaths into perfect English. Then she takes her coffee break. True-crime readers are every bit as passionate as mystery fans, she says. It's just that true-crime fans prefer to keep the icepicks real.
"They want to know what makes these horrible people tick," Haas says, "and they want to know what the cops went through to find them."
It isn't easy to obtain those shocking photos. The recent Pinnacle release Head Shot, for example, includes pictures of a decomposing, decapitated corpse, of another body burned beyond recognition, and of a bucket containing a severed head partly immersed in cement. After a long search, the bucket photo was provided by a dentist whose records helped identify the victim.
Packed with allegations, court proceedings, reportage, and a huge unruly cast of characters both living and dead, each book is a snakepit of potential lawsuits.
"All of our books have to be vetted by a lawyer," Haas says. "It's not like publishing fiction. In fiction you can say the sky is green and no one will sue you."
Pinnacle authors interview victims' and perpetrators' families, former neighbors, and childhood friends. Some correspond with killers, one of whom invited a Pinnacle author to attend his execution.
True-crime readers, Haas says, "want to be sure the horrible person isn't out there anymore." They want to know about the detectives, witnesses, forensic teams, and prosecutors who saw the case through. "They want those heroes."
But that's not all they want. These are tales of unrelenting terror, all the more terrifying because their villains might easily be the man next door, the bartender, or the babysitter.
"It's amazing what's out there," says Haas, who recently edited a book about a man who raped and killed his aunt, and is working on another "about who the Boston Strangler really was.
"The way I look at it, the victims in these books are dead, so I can't help them except by doing my job right."
But when the job is done, it's time to go home and read the latest sci-fi novel.
"After looking at pictures of a body without a head," she reasons, you've just got to be able to unwind.
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