Criminally Addictive Reads

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Criminally Addictive Reads

True Crime Tales that Read Like Mystery Novels

It seems like society’s obsession with all things true crime is at its absolute peak. Ever since eager listeners soaked up the first season of last year’s smash podcast, “Serial,” people can’t quench their thirst for more fast enough. If you’re one of those people who binge-listened to that addictive first season of “Serial” like I am, and then steadily made your way through HBO’s The Jinx, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, and FX’s The People vs. OJ Simpson—and you’re still hungry for more true accounts of murder and mayhem—then these books are a great place to start. I like to think of them as nonfiction novels, that is, factual accounts of real life events that are so expertly written they read like a fast-paced thriller. In short, these books will keep you hooked as they delve through clues, testimonies, witness statements, and even into the minds of the accused.
 
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Set during the incredible events of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City tells the story of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, who was responsible for the construction of the Fair, and H.H. Holmes, a seemingly charming doctor committing a score of murders during the time of the Fair. He has been called America’s first serial killer. This is a very chilling read, so much so that you won’t believe it isn’t fiction, but utterly fascinating to be transported to turn-of-the-century Chicago, a time just different enough from our own, but still so similar that it’s easy to get lost in Larson’s descriptions of the glittering attractions at the Fair, and the depraved darkness inside Holmes’s hotel. The sections about Burnham can be a little dull in comparison to the exploration of Holmes, but it’s the way Larson juxtaposes the two now iconic figures that really strikes the reader. One man was building the future, the other, a murder palace.
 
 
Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt

In one of the most famous cases of wrongful imprisonment in the past 25 years, perhaps in American history, three outcast teenagers in West Memphis were arrested and charged with the murder and mutilation of three eight-year-old boys, and despite a lack of any physical evidence, and terrible investigative blunders, convicted and sentenced to life in prison (for two of the boys) and death (for accused ringleader Damien Echols). Then, in 2011, they were released, and with their freedom came a call to reshape the American legal system. This book is perfect for those fans of Making a Murderer whose jaws dropped at the incompetent police shenanigans and questionable legal tactics that have kept Steven Avery locked away for a crime thousands believe he did not commit. This book was adapted into a Reese Witherspoon film, but I would recommend watching the documentary trilogy Paradise Lost instead if you want to do a book and film comparison.
 
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi

Author Vincent Bugliosi had a front row seat to the madness in the wake of the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders of 1969 as the prosecuting attorney in the subsequent trial. The baffling and cold-blooded murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers is a grim yet gripping tale—what was the motivation? How did he develop this hold over these young women?—and Bugliosi uses his unique insider’s perspective in an attempt to deconstruct the mind of a madman. Whether the theories put forward in this book are overblown sensationalism or undisputed fact is open for debate (Manson himself is a critic), but regardless this investigation into one of the twentieth century’s most haunting crimes is likely to enthrall you from page one.
 
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the quiet town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were brutally murdered by blasts from a shotgun held inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime. There were no major clues. Truman Capote, fascinated by the case and its aftermath, reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the apprehension, trial, and execution of the killers. I first read this book in high school and it haunts me still, not just in the details of the crime carried out on that small Midwestern farm, but in how Capote can evoke both mesmerizing suspense and shocking empathy with his writing. Though some have criticized Capote for dramatizing events in the book to make them more scandalous than how they occurred in real life, In Cold Blood still stands as the first great example of creative non-fiction.
 
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

Right now, there is a serial killer terrorizing Long Island, New York. He has committed at least a dozen murders, stretching back to 1996. All that is known about this shadowy menace is that he targets women involved in the world of online escorting. Kolker impressed me with how well he was able to dig into this creepy yet fascinating case, working to tell the stories of the women whose lives have been unceremoniously taken from them by a killer that Kolker, and even the police it seems, are unable to profile. Like all true crime accounts, this book is unsettling, but it's also particularly eerie given that the killer has yet to be apprehended. If you’re willing to take your true crime mysteries with grizzly details, tantalizing clues, but no solution, this book is for you.
 
The People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

In the summer of 2000, twenty-one-year old Lucie Blackman vanished in the streets of Tokyo, Japan. Seven months later, her body was found buried in a seaside cave. The  massive search that took place during that time—involving private British detectives, Japanese law enforcement, Australian dowsers, and countless reporters—and the subsequent investigation is all chronicled in Lloyd Parry’s expertly written tome that will remind you of your favorite thrillers and courtroom dramas. But this book stuck out to me as it is also very much an account of human grief and a family torn apart by an unspeakable evil.