Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Murder.
With the rise in popularity of true crime lately, we only thought it was right to give it a mention in our book series! From one of our favourite TV shows, Cold Blood (if you’ve not been watching it, where have you been?!) from the likes of true crime podcasts like My Favourite Murder, there’s something captivating about true crime stories that we just can’t put our finger on. Whatever the reason, true crime is here to stay, so we’ve compiled our list of best true crime novels for you to dive into this winter. Be warned – these books are not for the faint hearted!
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, Michelle McNamara, 2018
A #1 New York Times Bestseller and the inspiration for a 6-part HBO series, this one couldn’t be missed off the list. If you’re into true crime, you’ll already be well-acquainted with the Golden State Killer, one of the most deadly predators in America’s history. In this memoir by investigative journalist Michelle McNamara, she dives into the hunt for this heinous serial killer and the obsession that made it happen.
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle’s dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1966
Hailed as one of the most famous true crime novels of all time, this true crime novel follows the true story of the Clutter family’s brutal murder, including the capture, trial and execution of their killers.
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
In one of the first non-fiction novels ever written, Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, generating both mesmerising suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, Vincent Bugliosi, 2001
Having sold over 7 million copies worldwide, Helter Skelter is the #1 best selling true crime novel of all time. It covers the Charles Manson murders, following the criminal Charles Manson through the evil murders he committed and the creation of the Manson Family Cult, that claimed the lives of so many more.
In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his “family” of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the proportions of myth. The murders marked the end of the sixties and became an immediate symbol of the dark underside of that era.
Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case from what a defense attorney dismissed as only “two fingerprints and Vince Bugliosi.” The meticulous detective work with which the story begins, the prosecutor’s view of a complex murder trial, the reconstruction of the philosophy Manson inculcated in his fervent followers…these elements make for a true crime classic. Helter Skelter is not merely a spellbinding murder case and courtroom drama but also, in the words of The New Republic, a “social document of rare importance.”
My Dark Places: A True Crime Autobiography, James Ellroy, 1997
James Ellroy tells the heartbreaking story of how he returned to LA to team up with a homicide cop to find the killer of his mother, Jean Ellroy.
In 1958 Jean Ellroy was murdered, her body dumped on a roadway in a seedy L.A. suburb. Her killer was never found, and the police dismissed her as a casualty of a cheap Saturday night. James Ellroy was ten when his mother died, and he spent the next thirty-six years running from her ghost and attempting to exorcize it through crime fiction. In 1994, Ellroy quit running. He went back to L.A., to find out the truth about his mother–and himself.
In My Dark Places, our most uncompromising crime writer tells what happened when he teamed up with a brilliant homicide cop to investigate a murder that everyone else had forgotten–and reclaim the mother he had despised, desired, but never dared to love. What ensues is an epic of loss, fixation, and redemption, a memoir that is also a history of the American way of violence.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
If you’re looking for something just as thrilling but a little less gory, this is the book for you. It tells the story of one of the biggest fraud cases Silicon Valley has seen, and watches the justice system take revenge on a woman that endangered patients, silenced employees and covered up the fact that her revolutionary medical device, which she had sold for billions, didn’t actually work…
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionise the medical industry with its breakthrough device, which performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.5 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. Erroneous results put patients in danger, leading to misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. All the while, Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, worked to silence anyone who voiced misgivings—from journalists to their own employees.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann, 2017
#1 New York Times Bestseller. A twisted, real-life murder mystery story about one of the most monstrous murders in American history, soon to be a major motion picture.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.
As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Eric Larson, 2004
Eric Larson, #1 New York Times bestselling author, tells the story of a cunning serial killer who used the magic and majesty of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago to lure victims to their death…
Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterised America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.
Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organised the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.
The Devil in the White City draws the reader into the enchantment of the Gilded Age, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.
The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule, 1980
Again, if you know true crime, then you’ll know Ann Rule and you’ll probably know this book. Ann Rule was a friend and coworker of Ted Bundy, and writes about her struggle to come to terms with the unravelling knowledge that someone so close to her was a serial killer. This book was continuously updated until 2008, adding more details and stories from women who believed they narrowly escaped his wrath.
Utterly unique in its astonishing intimacy, as jarringly frightening as when it first appeared, Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me defies our expectation that we would surely know if a monster lived among us, worked alongside of us, appeared as one of us. With a slow chill that intensifies with each heart-pounding page, Rule describes her dawning awareness that Ted Bundy, her sensitive coworker on a crisis hotline, was one of the most prolific serial killers in America. He would confess to killing at least thirty-six young women from coast to coast, and was eventually executed for three of those cases. Drawing from their correspondence that endured until shortly before Bundy’s death, and striking a seamless balance between her deeply personal perspective and her role as a crime reporter on the hunt for a savage serial killer — the brilliant and charismatic Bundy, the man she thought she knew — Rule changed the course of true-crime literature with this unforgettable chronicle.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, 2017
“A True Crime Masterpiece” – Vogue
“The Fact of a Body is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s just astounding.”
― Paula Hawkins, author of Into the Water and The Girl on the Train
Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, they think their position is clear. The child of two lawyers, they are staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as they review old tapes―the moment they hear him speak of his crimes — they are overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by their reaction, they dig deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alex pores over the facts of the murder, they find themself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, they are forced to face their own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colours their view of Ricky’s crime.
But another surprise awaits: They weren’t the only one who saw their life in Ricky’s.
An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, THE FACT OF A BODY is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe — and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.