A Tale of Modern American Life


Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: March 1998

Author: Sara L. Knox

American Studies, Cultural Studies

What exactly is it about murder that claims such a powerful hold on the American imagination? In this book, Sara L. Knox examines postwar America’s preoccupation with this act of violence. Demonstrating how American culture both consumes and produces tales of murder, Knox examines numerous relevant narratives—news stories, psychiatric testimony, legal transcripts, fictional accounts, and examples from the thriving literary genre of true crime.
In her approach to the telling of this cultural phenomenon, Knox draws on historical analysis and original research. She discusses such subjects as the continuing existence of capital punishment, the “sensational” American murderers Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez (aka the Honeymoon Killers), the connection between true crime books and romance narratives, and pulp murder novels of the 1930s and 1940s. Analyzing widespread interest in forensic psychiatry, sexuality, mortality, and the relation of gender to society’s reactions to murder, Knox refers to the early work of David Brion Davis, Bill Ellis, and Joel Black. While demonstrating how society’s focus has shifted from the act itself to the psychology of the murderer to the broader social forces at work, she discusses the writings of Willard Motley, William March, Curtis Bok, James Baldwin, and Kate Millett, among others.
Full of anecdotes and insights, Murder is a lively meditation on American culture that includes not only close critical readings of individual texts but also everyday matters of murder’s meaning. It will interest those involved with American studies, cultural studies, and true crime accounts.


“Knox’s . . . study succeeds admirably as a ‘critique of authority in the tale of murder.’ She persuasively argues that ‘the promotion of the tale of murder to the canon of true crime’ has been made possible by the misinformation and distortion commonly practiced by medical and judicial authorities as well as by the news media.” — Joel Black , American Literary History

“Exemplary in its interdisciplinarity, historical in the most careful, sophisticated sense, this book moves with grace and precision through often competing discourses.” — Lynda Hart, author of Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression

“The American fascination with tales of murder, both journalistic and fictional, has finally received the serious attention it deserves in this impressive book. Sara Knox has penetrated to the heart of this darkness and provided scholars, pundits, and other readers with a timely and compelling analysis that can’t be ignored.”
  — Lisa Duggan, author of Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access