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Readers give true crime books the axe

Pages of gore, blood and death? By all means, yes. But these days, when the public settles down with a good book about a mad axe-murderer, they feel much more comfortable with the fictional variety, writes Vanessa Thorpe.

Devotees of crime-writing are shying away from lurid, real-life exposes and opting instead for the fantasy world of whodunnits and thrillers. As a result, true crime literature - the factual genre which enjoyed a boom only three years ago - is now in serious decline. Indeed, publishers fear it may never recover.

While sales of crime fiction by popular novelists remain extremely buoyant, the titles which chronicle real stories of death and horror are hanging around on bookstore shelves gathering dust.

"True crime is the only section where our sales have gone down," says Maxim Jakubowski, the owner of the large specialist bookshop Murder One in Charing Cross Road, London.

"There is quite a small demand for our factual books nowadays, perhaps because they are viewed as somewhat exploitative. Too many publishers jumped on the bandwagon too soon."

In the past couple of years, the voracious public appetite for gangland biographies and detailed accounts of the lives of serial killers appears to have been sated. Some booksellers believe the slump is part of a moral and emotional response to recent highly publicised atrocities. After the Dunblane tragedy and the killings in Cromwell Street, it is argued, people have had more than enough of the brutal truth.