Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Was Fyodor Dostoyevsky a true crime writer? In some sense, the answer is yes. Jennifer Wilson (The New York Times) draws attention to Dostoyevsky’s use of real-life criminal cases to critique nineteenth-century Russian society:

“[T]oday’s true crime resurgence has an antecedent in the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Russian author of numerous novels about murder including, most famously, “Crime and Punishment.” Dostoyevsky was obsessed with the judiciary. He spent considerable time watching trials, debating with lawyers about the nature of innocence and guilt, visiting the accused in prison and trying to sway public opinion about certain cases. So enmeshed were Dostoyevsky and his writing in the legal consciousness of czarist Russia that defense attorneys were known to invoke Rodion Raskolnikov, the charismatic murderer-protagonist of “Crime and Punishment,” when seeking sympathy from the jury. (more…)

On the recommendation of a mutual friend, Jenn and I have been listening to Criminal, a podcast hosted by Phoebe Judge. It’s a true crime series that offers an alternative oral history of the American criminal justice system: it’s interesting, entertaining, strange, and often poignant. Highly recommended.

Kathryn Schulz (The New Yorker) explores how Netflix’s true crime documentary goes wrong
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A still from the title sequence of Netfix’s Making a Murderer (2015)
By chance, I have known many of the details of the Avery case since long before the release of “Making a Murderer,” because in 2007 I spoke at length with Penny Beerntsen. At the time, I was working on a book about being wrong—about how we as a culture think about error, and how we as individuals experience it—and Beerntsen, in identifying Avery as her assailant, had been wrong in an unusually tragic and consequential way.

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