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A fellowship of crime lovers

/ 04:20 AM November 18, 2019

I am what the internet might call a “murderino.” I was one even before the word existed: Sherlock Holmes stories led me down the rabbit hole of fictional and true crime, and before I knew it, I had become addicted as a child. I tried it all; the first moody and gothic English mysteries; American potboilers; golden age and postwar detective fiction; then the crime novel as it is today. Alongside it grew an interest in true crime and its chroniclers. The pursuit of this odd hobby had always been a solitary one, until I met the internet.

I was not, as I had thought, alone in my lurid interest in crime. I wandered into communities which shared this interest and which were inevitably polite, civilized and generous; some had been willing to ship books to me, a perfect stranger, across half the world. Nobody I knew in real life had ever read all the Holmes stories, I was sure, but online, there were those who hadn’t just read them but who knew the abbreviations: “FIVE” stood for “The Five Orange Pips,” “COPP” for “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” and so on. It was no small thing to no longer be alone.

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I write this in remembrance of those early days of fan communities in the internet, an unrepeatable time which changed the landscape of internet use forever: it not only allowed those who shared their weird niche interests to congregate, but also saw the beginning of organized archives for fan works of art and fiction.

This landscape has changed over the last two decades, with some of the biggest platforms of old now fallen into disuse, like the once massively popular LiveJournal communities. Recently to my dismay, Yahoo Groups has closed, and is set to wipe all contents from its groups starting Dec. 14 this year. Yahoo Groups hosted thousands of different fan groups, among them the very first online communities that gathered around true crime and detective fiction.

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These groups, which previously lingered in our lives as rare emails, awoke in a panic: Afraid of losing touch with fellow members and of losing their archives, subscribers hurried to reach out to others, relocate mailing lists and generate discussions. The result is that these quiet fandoms are now enjoying a spark of renewed interest. For instance, the group known as LordPeter (c. Sept 1998), dedicated to the crime novels of Dorothy L. Sayers, has started a reread of the books; the community hasn’t seen this much activity since the early 2000s, and it’s entertaining to briefly relive that period. In my mind, it exists not just as a period of discovery but of community; it was a time when members often used their real names and work email addresses, and so anonymity and the foulness of trolls were next to nonexistent.

I know that it is a transient resurgence, and that these readers, middle aged or older, will soon fall back into inactivity. It’s a bittersweet thing, but then also a happy one, that the fellowship of crime lovers evolves. Now the word “murderino,” a product of the most popular true crime podcast, “My Favorite Murder,” has been coined to describe those who are equally delighted and disgusted by crime. It also describes the largest community, mostly women, who follow this and other true crime podcasts and who actively participate as creators, storytellers, entrepreneurs and social advocates.

Other writers have spoken about how the fascination about crime (what Peter Vronsky calls a concern over monsters) has impacted society probably for the better; notwithstanding the ethical question of using crime as entertainment or escapism, crime fanatics have solved murders, opened cold cases, driven the discussion around women’s safety, and given life-saving knowledge to those who would be on the receiving end of brutal crimes. This worldwide community, which congregates on the internet and outside of it, may yet evolve, and I don’t look forward to the day when its activity and popularity dwindle; but for now, here’s to the murderinos who are happy that they aren’t alone in their obsession with crime, who should enjoy this fellowship as long as it lasts.

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TAGS: crime, mysteries, Sherlock Holmes
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