In August of 2022, the international research organization YouGov polled 1,000 Americans on their attachment to true-crime stories and found that its respondents are hooked: Half of them reported enjoying the genre and one in three said they watch, listen, or read true-crime content at least once a week.
It speaks to an overall fascination with the mystery and crime genres of literature, film and TV shows, and podcasts that have been soaring in popularity -- a fascination that East Hampton Village is hoping to tap into with its first Hamptons Whodunit, a four-day festival devoted to mystery and true crime.
Planned for April 13 through 16 at various venues in the village, the festival will feature dozens of authors -- including best sellers like Michael Connelly, Lisa Jewell, A.J. Finn, Alafair Burke, and Anthony Horowitz -- taking part in panel discussions, book signings, parties, and other activities. There will be escape room-style challenges, a real-life crime scene bus tour, and even a "Who Killed the Mayor?" game in which guests age 12 and up can solve a (fictitious) crime set right here in East Hampton.
"There's definitely an audience. Everybody's an armchair detective. With 'Serial' and other podcasts, it's just booming," said Carrie Doyle, an East Hampton Village trustee who is coordinating the festival, and who happens to be a mystery writer herself. "People like to use their minds. When they read, they want to feel like a part of the process. With a mystery, you're engaged in the process and trying to figure it out the whole time."
The idea was inspired by a friend who had just come back from Iceland Noir, one of the biggest such festivals -- which has drawn writers like Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, and Louise Penny -- and was raving about it. Why couldn't East Hampton do something similar, Ms. Doyle then wondered aloud. Who heard her? Village Mayor Jerry Larsen, his wife, Lisa Larsen, and Jackie Dunphy, a real estate agent with Corcoran group.
The panel talks have themes like "Deep in the Dark: Taking Crime Fiction to Its Scariest Places," "Murder in the Hamptons," and "Crime Fiction Through a Latinx Lens." There's also "Sisters in Crime: Books That Explore the Bonds Between Women," speaking to another finding in that YouGov poll -- that many subgenres, such as murder mysteries, serial killers, and stories involving kidnapping, appeal more to female audiences than male audiences.
Dave Tricamo of Forensics World, which engages students in mystery-solving activities that emphasize critical thinking, observation, reasoning, and other skills, has created an original story line for the "Who Killed the Mayor?" crime-solving challenge.
"There's a magic that happens when you empower students to showcase not only their enthusiasm and interest in forensics but also what they learn in school," Mr. Tricamo said. "When they are placed in a real crime scene, as realistic as it can possibly be, the energy that comes out of that is quite impressive."
Ms. Doyle is also experiencing firsthand the "if you build it, they will come" sort of theme that's common to the sportswriting genre. "Everyone we invited wanted to come, and they're excited," she said.
Tickets vary in cost based on the type of event, but a number of them are free to attend. Venues include the East Hampton Library, BookHampton, the Maidstone Club, and Village Hall.
The village is seeing this as a sort of seasonal counterpart to the Hamptons International Film Festival held here each October. Future plans include adding writing workshops, podcasting presentations, movie screenings, and dinners following the library's Authors Night blueprint.
"We would love to have it every year," Ms. Doyle said. "I think there's a lot of opportunity. It will be great to see this year what people respond to, what they are most interested in, and what we need to do."