Great “True Crime” books bring together a compelling story and a talented author. I have been a fan of this genre since my teens. Unfortunately, there are a lot of badly written “ripped from the headlines” true crime titles that are produced simply to make as much money as you can as quickly as possible. This has given some people a negative impression of these books. However, there are a lot of great true crime writers whose stories rival bestselling mystery and thriller novels. Only in these cases, every crazy detail is true. These are some of my favorites.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood is considered by many to be the grandfather of the “True Crime” genre. Novelist Truman Capote wrote about the true shocking murder of four members of a Kansas farm family in 1959. The book retells the brutal death of the family and follows the investigation, the trial and execution of the perpetrators. In addition to Capote’s haunting prose, it is fascinating to watch the detectives follow clues in an era where forensic investigation was still in its infancy.
If you want your true crime to also give you a history lesson Erik Larson’s stories are never a disappointment. The Devil in the White City, tells two parallel and very different stories that rotate from chapter to chapter. One is about the notorious and some would say “first” serial killer, H.H. Holmes and the other follows the completion of the 1893 World’s Fair. It was surprising and a testament to the skill of the author to find how well the two narratives work together.
In 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent is found murdered at his family manor in England. The country is scandalized and demands answers. Scotland Yard sends one of its best, Inspector Jonathan Whicher. Filled with twists and turns, this case would almost destroy him. This is a great read for those that like their mysteries deeply and thoroughly researched. The author looks at the crime from a number of different angles, explores the background of witnesses, discusses numerous newspaper accounts and considers other crimes in England that might have some relevance. If you like every detail explored, this book will work for you.
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Ten years after the tragedy at Columbine High School, journalist Dave Cullen wrote what many considered the definitive book about what actually happened. Cullen takes a close look at many of the rumors that sprang up in the days after the shooting. Many of those rumors have been repeated for years as facts when the truth, which takes much longer to discover, is much different. This award winning book is full of interviews and documents that shed new light on that dark day in April 1999. If you are interesting in looking for answers about Columbine that might give you a new perspective try A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. This memoir looks at these tragic events through the eyes of one of the killer’s mother. She discusses her struggle to reconcile the monster that killed his classmates with the child she loved.
John E. Douglas was one of the first criminal profilers for the FBI. He has written a number of books about the numerous investigations he participated in and has used his expertise to look at notorious cases (solved and unsolved). Douglas does not pull his punches when discussing the brutal and violent details of these crimes. His books are not for the faint of heart. He discusses what investigators look for when profiling a crime and compares what they were looking for to what was eventually found. John E. Douglas is a great read if you are a fan of Criminal Minds, Discovery ID or CSI.
In late June 2009, the 24 hours news networks broke in with the shocking news about the death of Michael Jackson. In the months that followed an investigation would culminate with the arrest and later conviction of Jackson’s personal doctor for manslaughter. The story of his death is almost as strange and unconventional as his life. The author takes a look at the winding path that lead to this superstar’s death and if it was a crime or accident. Different readers may come to different conclusions about who was responsible for the singer’s death.
Ann Rule is the queen of True Crime. All of her titles are worth reading. She writes with the skill of an investigative reporter but has a unique ability to humanize the victims who cannot speak for themselves. She is as focused on them as much as she is on the killers. I believe the most interesting of her titles is her first. In The Stranger Beside Me, she talks about the crimes of the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. In a shocking twist, Ann Rule worked with Bundy at a suicide hotline in Washington. As she was following the disappearances of young women across the state and considered writing about the case, she was sitting right next to their murderer, and she liked him.
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
Helter Skelter is another True Crime classic. It was written by the lead prosecutor of Charles Manson and his accomplices. Bugliosi has a great voice and obviously is writing about a case that he lived. If you are interested in courtroom drama of one of the “crimes of the century” this will give you a little bit of everything. This is a great read for fans of the Law and Order TV series.
Ladykiller by Donna Fielder
If you like to explore the dark side of your own hometown then Ladykiller is a must read. When Viki Lozano is found shot in her Denton County home, friends and authorities have a number of questions. Is it suicide or murder? Suspicious eyes fall on her husband, Denton police officer Bobby Lozano. An arrest does not come quickly. This story is full of local color, including a tenacious reporter that helped shine a light on this case when it was going cold. Plot twist: she ended up writing this book. Donna Fielder also wrote about another fascinating local crime in Let’s Kill Mom: Four Texas Teens and a Horrifying Murder Pact.
These are a few of my favorites. Do you have a recommendations? Let us know in the comments.
~Kimberly – Emily Fowler Central Library