In "The Ethical Dilemma of Highbrow True Crime," Alice Bolin concedes that fans of the true-crime genre (herself among them) are arguably "consuming real people's pain for fun." Where does this leave readers of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession, in which Bolin's essay appears? With a clear conscience. The anthology transcends the genre with not just its high-grade writing but also editor Sarah Weinman's (The Real Lolita) commitment to looking beyond true crime's traditional focus on bad actors and those they act on.
Some of those folks do feature in Unspeakable Acts. Among the most notorious: serial killer Ted Bundy is the subject of Sarah Marshall's "The End of Evil," and a daughter's revenge on a mom with Munchausen syndrome by proxy is outlined in Michelle Dean's "Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom to Be Murdered," which spawned the Emmy Award-winning Hulu series The Act. But neither killers nor victims get the spotlight in "What Bullets Do to Bodies," Jason Fagone's profile of longtime Philadelphia trauma surgeon Amy Goldberg. And Melissa del Bosque's "Checkpoint Nation," which reports on abuses by the U.S. Border Patrol, deconstructs not a psyche but a system that, like a serial killer, preys on the vulnerable.
Because of the varying approaches to true crime in Unspeakable Acts, the essays will elicit a range of emotions: some of the 13 pieces are infuriating, many are flabbergasting and most are heartbreaking. All are devastating. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer