15 Thrilling Reads Any True Crime Lover Should Put on Their Reading List

If you’re addicted to all things true crime, these titles are just the fix you need. From cold case investigations to high-profile trials, true crime nonfiction has something for everyone.

Whether you’re a true crime newbie or a murder mystery fanatic, these books offer everything from con artists to chilling murder mysteries that keep you up at night.

These thrilling reads combine research-based investigation with compelling narratives to give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most gruesome true crimes in recent history.

1. My Friend Anna — Rachel DeLoache Williams (2019)

My Friend Anna The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams
Image Credit: Gallery Books.

The Netflix original series Inventing Anna introduced many of us to the alluring Anna Delvey, a con artist posing as a German heiress in New York. My Friend Anna gives us a first-hand account of what being Anna’s friend looked like when she was at large.

If you liked the series, you’ll love the book. Rachel, a former Vanity Fair photo editor, is dazzled by the aura of this young heiress living life to the full in New York. Little does she know that this is all a scam, and she is about to be swindled out of nearly $60,000.

2. Mindhunter — John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker (1995)

Image Credit: Scribner.

What makes serial killers tick? John E. Douglas, a legendary FBI criminal profiler and former Chief of the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit, has spent 25 years trying to determine the answer. He shares his insights in Mindhunter.

Douglas, who has interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, revisits each crime scene and gives the readers a behind-the-scenes chronicle of his darkest cases. Watch the Netflix series of the same name to see the book in action.

3. The Kill Jar — J. Reuben Appelman (2018)

The Kill Jar — J. Reuben Appelman (2018)
Image Credit: Gallery Books.

The most haunting true crime stories are the ones that cover unsolved murder cases. The Kill Jar is a cold-case murder investigation of the chilling case of the Oakland County Child Killer.

What Appleman does differently in this book is to intersperse his personal history with violence with the stories of the victims’ families, showcasing the impact of unsolved cases on a community. The book is touching, riveting, and eerie.

4. In Cold Blood — Truman Capote (1966)

Image Credit: Vintage.

If you’ve ever wondered what prods a human being to senseless violence, this book might help to get some perspective. The brutal murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas by two ex-convicts left the local community in shambles and the whole nation shocked.

Truman Capote recounts the senseless murders in chilling detail in an attempt to understand the psyche behind such a hateful act. It is worth reading for the profound insights into the human condition and the nature of evil.

5. Helter Skelter — Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry (1974)

Helter Skelter — Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry (1974)
Image Credit: W. W. Norton Company.

Helter Skelter is a classic in true crime literature, and with good cause. Bugliosi and Gentry examine one of the most infamous crime sprees in American history: The Manson Family murders.

Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor in the case against Charles Manson, gives a first-hand account of the trials of Manson and his followers. The book offers chilling insight into the dark underbelly of counterculture and the pursuit of justice.

6. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark — Michelle McNamara (2018)

Image Credit: Harper.

In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, McNamara explores the hunt for the elusive Golden State Killer and the terror he inflicted on California communities. What makes this book stand out is McNamara’s riveting prose as she explores every possible thread leading to the Golden State Killer and her obsession with catching him.

Meticulous research and raw emotion make this a powerful read. Watch HBO’s miniseries of the same name to learn more about the case.

7. The Journalist and the Murderer — Janet Malcolm (1990)

The Journalist and the Murderer — Janet Malcolm (1990)
Image Credit: Granta Books.

What makes a good investigative journalist, and how far can they push their subjects to get a good story? Malcolm explores the complex relationship between investigative journalists and their subjects in this book.

Focusing on a specific case involving journalist Joe McGinniss and his subject, convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, Malcolm uncovers the ethical dilemmas inherent in journalism and the power play between journalist and subject.

8. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery — Robert Kolker (2013)

Image Credit: Harper.

Kolker examines the cracks in the criminal justice system and how some victims are treated differently from others. He investigates the murders of young female prostitutes on Long Island’s Gilgo Beach and how the killer always got away because of law enforcement errors.

The book honors the memories of the victims and calls for accountability and reform within the criminal justice system.

9. The Stranger Beside Me — Ann Rule (1980)

Image Credit: Signet.

What if the person who sat next to you in class turned out to be a serial killer years later? In this chilling autobiographical true crime book, Rule investigates the notorious killer Ted Bundy and her personal connection to him.

Since she met and befriended Ted Bundy years before he became a serial killer, Rule admits it took her a while to accept Bundy’s reality; such was the depth of his deception and manipulation. The book explores the complexities of human psychology and how evil can sometimes hide in plain sight.

10. The Devil in the White City — Erik Larson (2003)

The Devil in the White City — Erik Larson (2003)
Image Credit: Crown Publishers.

This true crime nonfiction book reads like a novel, which makes it all the more chilling. Larson explores themes like human ambition and depravity by juxtaposing the lives of two individuals: architect Daniel Burnham and serial killer H.H. Holmes.

The narrative follows Burnham’s visionary architectural efforts in Chicago and Holme’s sinister exploits in his “Murder Castle” nearby. The book explores the motivations behind our actions, which can be similar even when the actions are the opposite.

11. The Road to Jonestown — Jeff Guinn (2017)

The Road to Jonestown — Jeff Guinn (2017)
Image Credit: Simon & Schuster.

America has seen its fair share of cults, but nothing comes close to the People’s Temple led by preacher Jim Jones. In this book, Guinn explores the events leading to and the fallout of the largest murder-suicide in American history: the Jonestown Massacre.

Guinn uses meticulous research into Jones’s past to uncover what made him order over 900 of his followers in Guyana to drink cyanide-laced drinks and take their own lives. The result is a grim picture of the dangers of unchecked power and the human capacity for manipulation.

12. Selena’s Secret — María Celeste Arrarás (1997)

Selena's Secret — María Celeste Arrarás (1997)
Image Credit: Atria Books.

Selena’s Secret is one of the most comprehensive, revealing accounts of the life and untimely death of the Tejano music sensation Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.

Arrarás shares first-hand information about the crime and the people involved, shedding light on the complexities of fame. The book does a great job of portraying Selena’s vibrant personality and enduring legacy.

13. The Man From the Train — Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James (2017)

The Man From the Train — Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James (2017)
Image Credit: Scribner.

A father and daughter team up to investigate and ultimately solve a string of unsolved murders committed in the early 20th century. Data analysis forms the backbone of their investigative journey as they not only connect the murders to a single perpetrator but also figure out how he evaded capture.

This thrilling read should be on every true-crime lover’s reading list.

14. Green River Running Red — Ann Rule (2004)

Green River Running Red — Ann Rule (2004)
Image Credit: Pocket Books.

Another true crime novel by Ann Rule combines in-depth research with amazing storytelling to create a compelling narrative. Rule covers the investigation and profiling of the Green River Killer, who terrorized the Pacific Northwest for decades.

She sheds light on the devastating impact the killer’s crimes left on the victims’ families and the relentless efforts of law enforcement to catch him.

15. The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder — Charles Graeber (2013)

The Good Nurse A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder — Charles Graeber (2013)
Image Credit: Twelve, Hachette Book Group.

Graeber explores the dark underbelly of the healthcare system by investigating the crimes of nurse Charles Cullen, who is suspected of killing hundreds of patients.

The book dives deep into Cullen’s past to uncover his troubled history and motives behind the murders. The compelling narrative also covers the ethical dilemmas of the medical profession and the systemic failures that led Cullen to get away with so much evil for so long.

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