The true crime book genre is vast, there’s no other way to describe it. It can be pretty hard to figure out where to start when there’s so many topics to choose from. Some books focus on a specific case while others can tackle an entire subject. If the prospect of diving into the nonfiction true crime genre sounds intimidating, you’re not alone.
To make the decision-making process a bit easier, we’ve rounded up nine of our favorite nonfiction reads we think you’ll enjoy! With a variety of topics, you’re bound to find at least one book that piques your interest here.
1. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara
How to I even begin to describe this amazing book? Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the first one I read that got me into reading nonfiction true crime books. So, it’s only fair I put it first on the list. To quote one of my favorite podcasts, True Crime Obsessed, “LET THE WOMEN DO THE WORK!”
McNamara immerses herself in police reports, eyewitness and victim accounts, and interviews with detectives. She’s the definition of determination and dedication. An incredibly gifted writer, McNamara paints a vivid picture of the horrific reign of terror the Golden State Killer (GSK) had over California neighborhoods in the 1970s and 80s.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to get into true crime and nonfiction reading. It’s all the more heartbreaking to read knowing McNamara died just two years before the GSK was arrested and identified as Joseph James DeAngelo.
2. The Five, Hallie Rubenhold
Another book where women are nailing it with investigating and digging into history is Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five. If you’re as intrigued and obsessed with the infamous Jack the Ripper case like me, you’ll love this book. It differs from other books about the case by examining the lives of the Canonical Five- the five women murdered by the Ripper.
This book does what most accounts of the Ripper’s reign of terror ignore: it humanizes the victims. Rather than glorify the killer, Rubenhold takes an in-depth look at the lives of each of the Canonical Five and paints them as women who were victims of society before they were victims of the notorious killer. Rubenhold writes, “The victims of Jack the Ripper were never ‘just prostitutes’; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and lovers. They were women. They were human beings, and surely that, in itself, is enough.“
Again, I say, “LET THE WOMEN DO THE WORK!”
3. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
If you love history with some true crime mixed into it, then you’ll love Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. In this book Larson tells the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as it coincides with the murders committed by H.H. Holmes. Though it’s a nonfiction book, it at times reads like a fiction novel, painting images of how the Chicago World’s Fair came to be while laying out how Holmes established himself in Chicago society as the owner of a three-story hotel, which has come to be dubbed as the “Murder Castle.”
Many have argued that while this book is good, it’s slow-paced. I’ll agree with this statement… to an extent. Like I said earlier, this book is rich in history. If you go into this thinking it’s strictly about Holmes’ murder castle and apprehension, you’ll be disappointed. Larson sets the stage of 1880s and 90s Chicago, intertwining the inception of the Chicago World’s Fair with Holmes’ crimes. Overall, it’s a fantastic, immersive read.
4. Dead Mountain, Donnie Eichar
Creepy, unexplained deaths in Soviet-era Russian mountains? Yes, please. Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountains recounts the true story of the Dyatlov Pass incident. In 1959, nine experienced Russian hikers set out into the Ural Mountains and mysteriously died. Their campsite showed signs of violent injuries, elevated levels of radiation on their clothes, and their tent being cut open from the inside.
Theories of what happened on that mountain range from UFOs and Yetis to unfortunate weather, arctic hysteria, and the involvement of the KGB. Complete with interviews, government records, and the hikers’ own journals and photos, this book lays all the facts on the table and leaves readers to wonder, “What the hell happened on that mountain?”
5. American Predator, Maureen Callahan
Of all the serial killers I’ve learned about through books and documentaries, Israel Keyes is definitely one of the most terrifying. Keyes stashed “kill kits” in remote places across the US, which contained cash, murder weapons and body disposal tools. For 14 years Keyes would travel to wherever he stashed a kit, randomly abduct a victim in that area, kill them, and dispose of the body before returning home to his quiet life as a construction worker in Alaska.
Callahan’s American Predator is a culmination of interviews with law enforcement agents, people in Keyes’ life, and research from FBI case files. All of it takes the reader on a journey towards the eventual arrest of Keyes and dives into the mind of a killer. If you’ve never heard of Keyes until now, I highly suggest reading this book to get the full story on this truly evil guy who I think even gives H. H. Holmes a run for his money.
6. The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders
This one is a great book that tackles a bit of everything. Ranging from why the Victorians had an obsession with the macabre, to the inspirations behind Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens’ Inspector Bucket, this book has it all. Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder is a deep dive into history that examines murder cases that gripped Victorian society, and obscure cases readers may not have known about.
Like Devil in the White City, this books is jam-packed with historical accounts, but differs with it’s humor and lighthearted look on why we, as a society, are so enamoured with crime and the unknown.
7. Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe
I don’t usually choose to read a book based on its awards or accolades, but Say Nothing was one of The New York Times’ Top 10 Books of 2019, and it rightly deserves it. Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing tackles the abduction and murder of a 38-year-old mother of 10 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and its devastating repercussions.
Everyone knew the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible, but in a climate of fear, no one spoke of it. This book is eye-opening, and for someone who knows very little of the conflict in Northern Ireland, very informative. It’ll leave readers hooked until the final page.
8. I Know What I Saw, Linda S. Godfrey
Calling all cryptid fans! I Know What I Saw delves into ancient folklore and contemporary urban legends, covering everything from goatmen to Bigfoot. In this book Linda S. Godfrey collects eyewitness accounts of strange and unexplained phenomena, speculating whether the encounters were hoaxes, mistaken animals, or something more other-worldly.
Whether you believe in Bigfoot, Mothman, or none of them at all, this book is a great roundup of all the urban legends that make us question whether there’s something else out there that science can’t explain. It looks at how ancient folklore meets modern-day urban legends, and honestly, is just a fun time.
Personal Side Note: Bigfoot and Mothman are totally real and one day I’ll find them. You cannot convince me otherwise.
9. Lady Killers, Tori Telfer
When you think “serial killer” the first names that come to mind are overwhelmingly male- Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. But do you know the crimes of Mary Ann Cotton, Nannie Doss, or Kate Bender? You will now. Tori Telfer’s Lady Killers plunges into the history and crimes of 14 different female serial killers throughout the ages.
Complete with illustrations of the women from artist Dame Darcy, this book is incredibly informative and showed me that I don’t know everything about true crime and prolific killers like I thought I did. It looks at these female killers through a feminist lense and breaks down their portrayals in media. It dispels any explanations for their actions like “she was hormonal,” or “she did it for love.” Put simply, these women were just as evil as the male serial killers we’re all too familiar with.
What Will You Read First?
If I’ve done my job well enough, you should now have nine books to add to your TBR list. No? Okay, well, you should at least have one or two books you’ll be buying during your next trip to the bookstore. The big question now is, what, or who will you be reading about first? Israel Keyes, or Bigfoot? The hikers of the Dyatlov Pass, or H. H. Holmes and his Murder Castle? Whatever you choose, have fun educating yourself! And, in the words of my favorite YouTube series Buzzfeed Unsolved, “Stop serial killing.”
Want more? Check out some of our awesome true crime podcast recommendations here!