The history of detective fiction is the subject of an exhibition called Murder in the Library:An A-Z of Crime Fiction, now on show at the British Library. Clara Tait uncovers five authors who themselves have criminal backgrounds.
1. Jean Genet
Repeatedly imprisoned in Paris in the 1940s for petty crime, Genet produced novels that attracted the admiration of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau and André Breton. He wrote his debut, Our Lady of Flowers (1944), while serving time. Genet dedicated the autobiographical account of a man’s journey through the Parisian underworld to his friend Maurice Pilorge, a convicted murderer.
2. Susan Berman
Known in the US press as the “Jewish mafia princess”, Berman wrote a 1981 memoir, Easy Street, about her father, Davie Berman, who worked for the mob in Las Vegas in the 1940s and 1950s. In 2000, aged 55, she was killed at her home in Beverly Hills with a single bullet to the back of her head. The crime remains unsolved.
3. Anne Perry
Perry – then a 15-year-old named Juliet Hulme, living in New Zealand – helped to bludgeon to death (with a brick) the mother of her best friend, Pauline Parker. In 1954, both teenagers were convicted of murder. Hulme was released from prison in 1959 and immediately changed her name. Today Perry is the bestselling author of more than 40 crime and detective novels. The murder was the subject of Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures (1994), in which Hulme was played by Kate Winslet.
4. Jack Abbott
Abbott became a literary sensation after the publication of In the Belly of the Beast (1981), his account of doing time for murder in a Utah prison. The book included his correspondence with Norman Mailer, who described him as a “juvenile delinquent turned self-made intellectual”. Six weeks after Abbott’s release in 1981, he stabbed a man to death and returned to prison, where he committed suicide in 2002.
A Million Little Pieces, Frey’s story of drug addiction, imprisonment and eventual recovery, was published as a memoir in 2003. Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of his book catapulted Frey (pictured) to the top of the bestseller lists. However, it was subsequently discovered that parts of Frey’s life story had been fabricated (his three-month prison term in fact lasted five hours). After a confrontation on Winfrey’s TV show, Frey admitted he had fictionalised sections of his “memoir”. He has since published three novels.
Until May 18, www.bl.uk