Recommendations for recent true crime books?
March 19, 2009 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I'd like some suggestions of good true crime books to read. I'm particularly interested in books about crimes committed in the US that occurred or were solved relatively recently (preferably within the last ten years, but no more than twenty years ago).

I'd really like to read a true-crime book that's heavy on the details of the investigation, and how it was solved (or if it wasn't solved, an overview of the most credible theories of who did it/what happened).

I've read about Ted Bundy, BTK, and the Zodiac killer, so I'd be particularly interested in reading about more recent serial killers, but I'd prefer them to be about the crime and the investigation, rather than the psychology of the killer.

It doesn't have to just be about serial killers - I'd like any other true-crime recommendations too.
posted by spockette to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I highly recommend Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets by David Simon. It became the basis for the TV show Homicide and also contains true events that ended up as tidbits in The Wire.
posted by sharkfu at 5:54 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

By investigation, do you mean detective work or crime scene evidence and autopsies? If the latter, William Bass has written a few books about his work with local police and on the Body Farm (I've read this one). It's definitely detail-heavy, but more human remains and gore-oriented than fingerprints and paper trails.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:55 PM on March 19, 2009

Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life, about the O.J. Simpson trial.
posted by box at 5:56 PM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: To clarify, by investigation, I mostly mean detective work. Forensic evidence and autopsies and whatnot are interesting to read about, and I'm happy to have them in a book, but I'd rather they not be the sole focus.
posted by spockette at 6:03 PM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: Read Homicide, because it really is that good.
Wild Cowboys is as in-depth as any book you'll ever read on police investigations.
Where the Money Is is an incredible book on American bank robbery, written by a twenty-year FBI man who worked bank jobs in L.A., the bank-robbery capital of the country.
LAbryrinth is about the investigation into the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, and its relationship to the Ramparts scandal.
In addition to The Run of His Life, consider Outrage by Vincent Bugliosi (sp?). He takes the investigation and trial of OJ to pieces. (A curio: Blood Oath, which suggests that OJ was framed by White Power Assassins.)
Our City is a heartbreaking story about the investigation and trial of a gang of high school students accused of sexually assaulting a mentally challenged girl.

I tend to focus more on criminals than cops, so if you'd like more recommendations in that vein, please feel free to ask.

(For example, The Shrine of Jeffery Dahlmer is a brilliant piece of work, although it is about the psychology of the criminal rather than the investigation.)
posted by Bookhouse at 6:15 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I picked up Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker yesterday for a buck. Apparently Douglas was Thomas Harris' inspiration for the character of Jack Crawford in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Apparently this Douglas fellow, with the FBI, pretty much invented criminal profiling and the book seems quite interesting (I've only flicked through it), with overviews of a lot of the cases he worked on. It's late-80s early-90s stuff, but I like what I've skimmed through so far and look forward to sitting down and reading it.

And absolutely seconding Homicide, that's just great.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:17 PM on March 19, 2009

Nthing Homicide, and two more OJ books (it was a bit of a personal interest for a while): Larry Schiller's American Tragedy and Dominick Dunne's Another City, Not My Own. If you like Schiller's OJ book, he also wrote Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, about JonBenet Ramsay.
posted by box at 6:25 PM on March 19, 2009

Monster by Allan Hall. It's about Josef Fritzl^.

You might also like Crime by Alix Lambert. Some arresting interviews about crime.
posted by Alex Voyd at 6:28 PM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: If you haven't read it, Helter Skelter is a must-read. Lots of great insight into how the Los Angeles D.A.'s office (and Vincent Bugliosi, in particular) put together a groundbreaking investigation and conviction of the Manson family. It's pretty much the very definition of what you're looking for.

If you end up liking Helter Skelter, the rest of Bugliosi's books are also excellent and worth reading. In particular, he has a knack for explaining the intricacies of criminal prosecution (and, to a slightly lesser extent, investigation) in layman's terms. And The Sea Will Tell is quite excellent and unique as it concerns the difficulties of convicting someone when you don't even have a corpse.

Homicide is a must-read as well, but it doesn't just cover one case, rather an entire year of murder investigations in Baltimore. So in that sense, it's not a typical true crime book, but it's quite well written and certainly worth reading.
posted by dhammond at 6:34 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always liked Ann Rule's true-crime books. She's a former Seattle policewoman and almost all of her books focus heavily on the detectives and their work in solving the crimes she writes about.

From her website: Ann's books deal with three areas: the victims' stories; the detectives and prosecutors and how they solve their cases with old fashioned police work and modern forensic science, and the killers’ lives. She tries to go back to the killers' early childhood, and even back into their family histories to find some of the genesis of their behavior. She spends many months researching her books, beginning with the trial and with many subsequent visits to the locale where the crimes occurred. Once she has finished her research, she returns to her office to write her books.
posted by amyms at 6:36 PM on March 19, 2009

errrrrrrrr, most of these suggestions here are not actually recent, especially Homicide and Helter Skelter. Missed that in your title!
posted by dhammond at 6:36 PM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: I couldn't put down Lawrence Schiller's book on the Jonbenet Ramsey killing, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, and Maureen Orth's Vulgar Favors (about the Andrew Cunanan murder spree).

Both of these books are satisfyingly long and engrossing, are intelligently written, and they are refreshingly free of stilted writing and cliches. It's hard to find true crime books that are this well-written.
posted by jayder at 6:53 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Carlton Stowers is a really strong writer and does a good job of getting into the heads of cops, witnesses, family members who were convinced of something but maybe wrong, and everyone in the cast. He does not spend a lot of time on the technical side of investigations, especially, but does really show the way good and tenacious law enforcement can stick on a case for as long as it takes.

(Amyms, I think we should keep in mind that Ann Rule was the only person at a certain crisis hotline who would work with Ted Bundy after all the other volunteers said he was creepy and dangerous. Her instincts about people may not be that great.... on the other hand, she did have a long-term personal relationship with a serial killer which led to a book deal that led to a career and now she has way more money than I'll ever have so maybe she knows more important things (best failing upward story I know) and she's very generous about blurbing people.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:59 PM on March 19, 2009

This anthology was a big hit with the true crime fan in my life. It is not limited to recent crimes, but may introduce you to some writers who meet your criteria.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:49 PM on March 19, 2009

This may be a bit late, but Hunting Eichmann by Neil Bascomb focuses heavily on how the Mossad tracked Eichmann before kidnapping him and taking him back to Israel.
posted by reenum at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2009

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