As August is flying by, the season of mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels is fast approaching, but it is still a bit too warm for the often cold, dark setting of haunted houses and who-done-its. True crime is a great genre to fill the need for a bit of darkness, while still being an excellent beach read!
As someone who regularly devours horror, mysteries, science fiction, and books that are just plain weird, I don’t shy away from some of the darker aspects of the world. Like these more fantastical genres, true crime can hold up a mirror to humanity. It shows us some pretty scary things, but good crime writing also shows us the heroes. From professional detectives, to internet sleuths, to the witnesses and helpers, and even the authors themselves… they are all working towards finding justice for the victims. Below is a list of some of my favorite true crime books that do just that… they look beyond the killer in order to give us hope.
It is important to note that the majority of books in the true crime genre deal with dark and possibly triggering content. While some stories are lighter than others, we encourage you to click through to the catalog for a full summary. If you would like more information on the content in these titles, please ask.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara – This book is objectively about trying to solve the gruesome string of violent attacks and murders that took place in California in the 1970s and 80s. Partially a work of investigative journalism, and partially a story about what it means to have an all-consuming obsession, McNamara captures what it feels like to be a part of the true crime community. Also available on Hoopla.
Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen – Investigative crime journalist, Billy Jensen takes the reader along with him as he recounts his career. Working alongside both professional detectives and armature internet sleuths, he has worked to solve many cases, including working with Michelle McNamara searching for the Golden State Killer. Also available on Hoopla.
Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America's Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell – Beautifully researched, this investigation of the death of Elizabeth Short brings to light the rampant corruption of the L.A.P.D. in the 1940s and 50s. Did the killer walk free? Also available on Hoopla.
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen, illustrated by Jonathan Case – Detective Tom Jensen dedicated his entire career to getting justice for the victims of the Green River Killer. This graphic novel depicts the hard work and emotional toll Jensen and his team went through to not only catch the perpetrator, but to elicit a confession that would hold up in court. Also available on Hoopla.
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan – When people start naming the most horrific serial killers they know, Israel Keyes is often overlooked for the likes of Jeffery Dahmer and Ted Bundy. In this sensational story, Callahan tries to not only answer how Keyes was able to get away with such senseless violence for so long, but also why someone would do such things.
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 – Parry reports on the murder of Lucie Blackman, a British woman working as a hostess in Tokyo. Thrilling, disturbing, and detailed, the book illuminates the cultural and judicial differences between Japan and Britain and how those tensions affected the case. Also available on Hoopla.
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn – The Jonestown Massacre is one of the most devastating and thus well-known instances of cult violence. This biography of cult leader Jim Jones provides new evidence as to how such a horrible tragedy could occur.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich – This highly personal and emotionally raw memoir explores the author’s experience working with the law firm defending convicted murder, Ricky Langley. As the case dredges up old memories and trauma, Marzano-Lesnevich is forced to confront her long held beliefs about the morality of our current legal system.
Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry – The ending of the Serial podcast left many listeners with more questions than answers. In this book, Chaudry, Adnan Sayed’s cousin, presents more evidence in an effort to prove Sayed’s innocence.
The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation by Rich Cohen – Head back to the Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan in the middle of the 19th century. In a stunning blend of sensational storytelling and historical documentation, Cohen tells the story of Albert Hicks, whose life and crimes set the stage for organized crime throughout the next century in New York City.
Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami by Roben Farzad – Farzad paints a vivid picture of crime in Miami in the 1980s… a world of drugs, parties, celebrities, and violence. The Mutiny Hotel was the center of the Miami crime world, and inspiration for many fictional tales. Read the true history of the hotel in Hotel Scarface.
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse – Hesse brings the Eastern Shore to life when telling the story of the devastating string of arson attacks in 2012. The book goes beyond standard reporting, showing how a slowly stagnating economy can affect an isolated community and how this set the stage for arson. Also available on Hoopla.