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Home » The Vine

The Vine: February 15, 2017

Submitted by on February 15, 2017 – 8:21 AM21 Comments

San Jose Mercury-News

Help! I love love true crime, but ever since I had a baby I get weepy when I hear about murder (especially kids or their parents dying).

Any non- (or less) murder-y true crime I could sink my teeth into until I toughen up again?


Dear Mell,

You might start with some documentaries about forgeries and con artists like The Art Of The Steal, Beltracchi, or Sour Grapes (the “forging” of high-end wines). Or you could go in an identity-theft direction, with various magazine pieces and documentaries about James Hogue and Frédéric Bourdin (I linked to a bunch of them here).

Another topic area is drugs, I guess, but 1) material about smuggling et al. eventually gets around to a murder or five and 2) if it doesn’t, it’s rather dull. I did just finish a quite solid investigation of a forgery-related series of bombings in the ’80s, but…same problem.

Readers, hit us with some non-fatal bank robberies or something, won’t you?




  • Matthew E says:

    _The Cuckoo’s Egg_, Cliff Stoll. Computer espionage in the pre-web days of the internet. Really good book.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Oooh, that one’s sitting on my to-read shelves. (Yes…”shelves” plural. It’s an illness.)

  • Kari says:

    What about some similar-type non-fiction that’s focused on finding justice? Just Mercy or Picking Cotton?

    Two general non-fiction that I read last year that are strong on details but not crime were So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson or Dark Money by Jane Mayer. Narrative or researched non-fiction might be a good way to go.

  • Shoshana says:

    The Informant! Great book by Kurt Eichenwald, and mother vie by Soderbergh. Who knew an antitrust conspiracy could be so fascinating?

  • Shoshana says:

    Ugh, autocorrect. “mother vie” was supposed to be “movie.”

  • Gryph says:

    The Great Pearl Heist: London’s Greatest Thief and Scotland Yard’s Hunt for the World’s Most Valuable Necklace ( I do not remember any murder in this one, but it’s a good read)

    On the subject of wine: The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

    The Glorious Deception: Not exactly true crime, but a mystery and the story is part of the inspiration for characters in the Prestige.

  • Lisa says:

    I sent Sars down this wormhole a while back, but if you like documentaries, try You can click on the non-murdery categories.

  • Matthew E says:

    _All the President’s Men_ also comes to mind.

  • attica says:

    Portraits of Guilt by Jeanne Boylan. She’s a criminal sketch artist, and her memoir isn’t exactly murder-free, but it’s a few layers removed. It’s super interesting how she interviews witnesses to come up with sketches. (Her Unabomber one is the most famous.)

    +1 for Cuckoo’s Egg.

    If you want to stoke some internal rage, Chain of Title is about corporate criminality in the foreclosure crisis. (Spoiler: Many were caught, none were punished.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Podcast-wise, you might try Criminal; it’s about half non-murdery cases, I’d say.

  • Cora says:

    Art crime! The stories go all over the world and there are rarely any murders or even violence! These are all books:

    The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

    Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists

    Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

    The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art

    You can also just troll around the art crime genre and see what you find — but try to stay from stories of the Nazi lootings. Because, you know, Nazis.

  • cayenne says:

    Another book about the Gardner Museum heist: Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjian.

    Stolen art recovery: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Art Treasures by Robert K. Whittman with John Shiffman

    Art forgery: The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World by Anthony M. Amore

    Diamonds!: Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell

    Finally, auction house shenanigans: Sothebys: The Inside Story by Peter Watson

    Congrats on the baby & happy reading!

  • tittles says:

    I heartily second Mathew E’s suggestion of The Cuckoo’s Egg! It’s a look at the beginning of cyber-crime, before anyone really realized such a thing was possible.

    I also recommend The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey – “A true story of cartographic crime” – I found it fascinating and somehow charming.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    There’s always the classics: The Great Escape! Nothing more cheery than escaping them damn Nazis!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Oh, and also, Sars, I nearly passed out when I saw just the first sentence in the header because I thought YOU had a baby and was all verklempt and swoony.

  • veronicamers says:

    Another art crime one:

    Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino chronicling the Getty Museum’s history of dealing antiquities

  • Daisy says:

    Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams is pretty good.

  • Amy says:

    I had the same problem – I was finally able to come back to true crime about 12 years after my first was born. But I still have problems with it…you’re not alone.

    I’ve read a few of the above; Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale is pretty good (solid movie, too), though it can be a little too ’70’s in how he describes women and sex. If you can get through that, it’s pretty enthralling.

  • Wehaf says:

    I’ve always liked this article from The New Yorker on James Hogue (pictured up top):

  • Baja says:

    To follow up on Spam Kings, here is a long read, ‘The Dark Lord of the Internet’:

    I am distantly related to Jesse Willms, and follow his instagram account, which is how I know he has a portrait of himself, Darth Vader style, in his house. (I think it was a gift.)

  • Lsn says:

    Mall and Amy so glad it’s not just me! My viewing/reading options have been severely limited post-baby, because I do not deal well with babies and children (and on bad days adults who used to be babies) being in danger. (GoT is right out, I still have panic attacks over it.) I quite liked reading Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich about the NASA moon rock heist, despite wanting to slap the perpetrators for being so utterly, utterly stupid as to throw away the opportunity of a lifetime (and for the lab book theft, which grrr). I also liked one about Kevin Mitnick but google is not helping me remember which one I actually read. There are a few out there it seems.

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