Do you read true crime? Please tell me about your favorite books.
August 21, 2020 5:45 PM   Subscribe

I love reading true crime & would like some personal recommendations, please! Examples of books I’ve really enjoyed are American Tragedy, Bad Blood, Mindhunter, Ann Rule’s books, In Cold Blood, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark... I know there are tons of places to find true crime books online—I’m looking for books that you have personally read & enjoyed. Any type of crime is fine, except books where the main theme is child abuse. I listen to several true crime podcasts and have watched many docs—this question is specifically about books. Thanks!
posted by bookmammal to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite books of any type is the true crime story Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson. I read it so many times over the years that my paperback finally fell apart.
posted by Dolley at 6:04 PM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed People Who Eat Darkness (very unsettling murder in Japan).
posted by forkisbetter at 6:08 PM on August 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

Lorimer Shenher's That Lonely Section of Hell is excellent. Brutal, but excellent. I did a post on it a ways back. He focuses on the victims and the failures by the police (of which he was one at the time), not the perpetrator. Shenher is no longer a cop, but he was a journalist prior to being one, so his writing is quite solid in its own right.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:10 PM on August 21, 2020

It's not really my genre, but you can guess why I picked this author off the shelf:
"Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" by David Simon, as well as "The Corner." Both books were written in his days as the crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, which included spending a year with the BPD Homicide unit, and another year spent with drug dealers around Baltimore, and both books were ultimately parlayed into 3 TV series.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:10 PM on August 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

I read Blood and Money (perhaps recommended by same poster) maybe 8 years ago and it still haunts me. It’s pretty obscure, out of print etc.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:29 PM on August 21, 2020

Kinda-sorta true crime: Eric Larson’s Devil In The White City.
posted by lhauser at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

Under the Banner of Heaven... It's about a modern day modern with the history of Mormonism weaved in.

Helter Skelter... The Manson Family murders.
posted by mmascolino at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Helter Skelter is a really well written book about the Manson murders.
posted by birdsquared at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2020

'Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief'
by Bill Mason.

for Homicide, 'The Michigan Murders'
(my godmother was a juror on that case)
posted by clavdivs at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2020

Popular Crime by Bill James is one of my favorite books in any genre, ever. Extremely smart, novel, and often funny survey of the history of true crime, discussing a lot of the most famous cases from ancient Greece to the early 2000s. He drops into cases to tell you everything from what people said about them at the time, to what he thinks really happened to Lizzie Borden's family or Jon-Benet Ramsey, to exactly how he thinks prisons could be reformed, to what he almost called the book ("Something Terrible Has Happened.")

James is such a wonderful writer, with so many totally unique points of view and such an encyclopedic knowledge (and such an obvious love of the subject), that I spent a year after I read this trying to find other true crime I liked half as much. I read it every couple of years.
posted by Polycarp at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Came into recommend The Devil in the White City but lhauser beat me to it so I'll just add a very strong second to that. It's one of the better books I've ever read, juxtaposing the parallel stories of the serial killer H.H.Holmes and the World's Fair in Chicago.

Fair warning, some of Holmes' victims were children.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2020

I’ve recently read and liked:

- The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars

- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story
posted by sm1tten at 7:48 AM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
posted by crocomancer at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Strange Piece of Paradise. About a woman who goes back to an Oregon town searching for answers to the crime, fifteen years before, that she and a friend were victims of. A man in a truck deliberately ran over their tent and then attacked them with an axe. She discovers that people there seem to know who did it but he was never charged.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I recently read The Man from the Train, by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James, and loved it.

(The book seems to have two different subtitles floating around--I'm assuming the subtitle was changed early on? Anyway, it's called "The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery", and also "The Man from the Train: Discovering America's Most Elusive Serial Killer". So in searching, I'd suggest just using "The Man from the Train".)

Originally, Bill James (the baseball-statistics author) started researching a book on the 1912 Villisca Axe Murders. But eventually, he started finding axe murders in other states with weirdly specific details that seemed extremely similar, so the scope of the book widened and he brought his daughter on board as a collaborator. They talk about the process of widening the scope and why they link the crimes they do, and they finally come up with an actual suspect--I found the argument very convincing. The narrative style can get chatty and folksy, but that didn't bother me.
posted by theatro at 10:26 AM on August 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, P.S., re The Man from the Train: the murders were generally of whole families, so children are killed along with adults, but there's no focus at all on child abuse.
posted by theatro at 10:28 AM on August 22, 2020

I also was surprised at how much I enjoyed Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. No active murders in this one, if you'd like a change.

John Carreyrou is an investigative journalist, and he does a great job here--I'd love to read other books by him.
posted by theatro at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Blooding: True Story of the Narborough Village Murders" The Blooding: True Story of the Narborough Village Murders, the first use of DNA in crime solving.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evill is a non-fiction novel by John Berendt. If you're into noir at all, this is the ticket.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Like the Garden of Good and Evil, this is considered a novel, but it's a novel of a real crime. Not a who dunnit.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:04 PM on August 22, 2020

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective - Kate Summerscale
(content warning - child murder)

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery - Robert Keller

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper - Hallie Rubenhold. (Centers on the victims!)

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century - Edward Dolnick

The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans - Mark Jacobson
(true crime-ish - I'm adding it because it is a really interesting story)

Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy - Eric Hansen

Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer - John Leake

Catch and Kill - Ronan Farrow

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed - Patricia Cornwell.
(Her conclusions are highly suspect, but it was a fun read).

My Friend Dahmer - Derk Backderf.
(Graphic novel).

Seconding the recommendations for People Who Eat Darkness, Under the Banner of Heaven and Columbine. But I warn you - Columbine will break your heart and temporarily numb your soul.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 1:28 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, snap! I forgot one!

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber - Julian Rubinstein.
(1980's - Hockey goalie from Transylvania playing for Hungarian hockey team takes up robbing banks).
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 1:33 PM on August 22, 2020

I came in to recommend "Blood And Money" and glad to see it's the first recommendation in the thread. It's an amazing read, really written well. If it were fiction I'd be shaking my head all over the place, as in "God, no way would this ever be real; this author really thinks we're gullible." Because the story has more twists and turns than ever could possibly be. Except that it's true. Those twists and turns had been twisted and turned through by the people that Thompson does such a fine job bringing to life for us.

Buy it used, hard-copy, so you'll get all of the black and white pictures of the players and the places; maybe 12 pages of photos halfway through the book. It really brings it to life. I've read it three or four times and last year gave it to a friend to read so the story was up for me again as we marveled over it; I'm going to purchase it again and give it another spin.
I sure wish it had a reading on Audible but not just anyone who comes along, be nice if it was a labor of love for someone; I sure do love curling up on this couch with an iced coffee having Barbara Kingsolver read her books to me; I loved The Lacuna just ever so much and then purchased it on Audible and, impossibly, it was even better.

Though it's an old read on Houston Blood And Money is absolutely still valid. Houston has an awful lot going on, big oil and big medicine aren't the only things but they were big then and are big now and this book gives you a front-row seat. Thompson absolutely captures the city and also East Texas, capital E. If you want to know about Texas, I'd put three books in your hands -- Blood and Money, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and The Liars Club by Mary Karr. Mary Karr is almost a camera, she got East Texas better than anyone I've read, she's got one hell of a story to tell and a lot of the story is Texas and Karr gives it to us damn near verbatim.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:17 PM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, The FBI and a Devil's Deal, by Dick Lehr and Gerald O'Neill.

The "devil's deal" referred to in the subtitle? Here it is: The Irish mob boss James Bulger (nicknamed "Whitey" by local police for his very light blond hair) informed on the Italian Mafia for the Boston FBI. In return -- for 20 years -- the FBI agreed to look the other way at the extortion, bank robberies, drug trafficking and murders carried out by Bulger and his partner in crime Steve Flemmi. Among other achievements, Black Mass helps debunk the racist myth that Bulger kept drugs out of South Boston, the white working-class community where he grew up. (His brother Billy -- who resigned as UMass president rather than testify in a federal investigation into Whitey's crimes -- still lives there.)
posted by virago at 8:16 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Black Mass is also an old read, and much has changed since it first came out.

When it was first published, in 2000, Whitey Bulger had been on the lam for five years, tipped off by one of his pals at the Boston FBI.

Two years after he was captured in 2011, he was tried on 32 charges of racketeering, including 19 murders. He was convicted on 31 racketeering counts, including 11 murders, and was sentenced to two life terms plus five years in federal prison.

He was incarcerated in 2014 and beaten to death by other inmates in 2018. (Bulger had just been moved from a Florida federal prison to one in West Virginia that housed other New England mobsters, a transfer that was tantamount to "a death sentence," a Florida correctional workers' union official told the AP after Bulger's killing, which was investigated as a homicide.)
posted by virago at 9:17 PM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Say Nothing, centered on a murder during The Troubles. Utterly captivating. Also seconding Devil in the White City.
posted by just_ducky at 10:23 PM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I haven't finished it yet, but Killers of the Flower Moon. I had no idea about this chapter of American history!
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:12 AM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

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