I was reading this great article on LA Magazine this morning about the Golden State Killer and it got me thinking about my favorite true crime books. If you can’t stop watching The First 48 or Dateline or Disappeared or Cold Case Files or anything else on A&E or ID Discovery, take a break and read one of these instead.
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry The phrase “stranger than fiction” has never been true than in the case of this book.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote In Cold Blood basically invented this genre nearly 50 years ago. It was frightening when I read it the first time and I recently re-read it. Still scary.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon This book is meticulously researched and a fascinating insider look into the homicide unit of a metropolitan police department. Read my full review here.
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry A disturbing and suspenseful book that doesn’t hesitate to sketch out a thorough background of the victim—something true crime books often skip over or cursorily address. Read my full review here.
Mindhunter by John Douglas Mindhunter is probably Douglas’ best-known book and it covers a large range of subjects and crimes he investigated while doing criminal profiling for the FBI.
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King It’s not a perfect book—the author really meanders at times—but the subject matter is so outlandishly horrifying that it’s worth a read. Read my full review here.
Columbine by Dave Cullen Many of the best true crime books were published decades ago about decades-old crimes. Columbine was published in 2009 and is by far one of the most poignant and well-written true crime books of our modern age. It’s never been more timely to read it than right now and if you haven’t, please do.
Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer by John Douglas John Douglas has published several true crime books, but the two here are the ones I recommend you read first. Douglas, who spear-headed the creation of the FBI profiling unit, walks through the details of the BTK case from a profiling perspective.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson This haunting and dark account of serial killer H.H. Holmes has received a lot of attention over the past few years and rightfully so.
Zodiac by Robert Graysmith The Zodiac Killer case is what piqued my interest in reading true crime books. My sister and I had watched a TV show about it one time and I checked out this book from the library after. Of all the true crime books I’ve read with unresolved endings, this one bothers me the most. Maybe it’s because I know someone whose relative was a victim. Maybe it’s because law enforcement got so close on so many occasions and then…nothing. Maybe it’s because the killer sent so many mysterious notes to the media. Anyway, it’s scary. It’s weird. They made it into a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal. Read it.
Perfect Murder, Perfect Town : The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury’s Search for the Final Truth by Lawrence Schiller There are a lot of National Enquirer-type books out there about the JonBenet Ramsey murder, but this isn’t one of them. It’s as close as you’ll get to an objective, fair account of the facts and evidence in the case.
Have you read any of these? What did you think?