7 Great True Crime Books
True crime television and literature has undergone a cultural boom of late. Shows like Making a Murderer and The Jinx draw attention to the complexities of the legal system and the influence wealth, power and social standing can have on guilt.
With a wave of recent publications in the true crime genre, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite examples – old and new – below.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon
David Simon, co-creator of one of the most heralded TV dramas of the 21st century, The Wire, spent a year on the streets of Baltimore, witnessing first-hand the wave of violent crime far removed from the experiences of normal life. In much the same way as The Wire, Homicide effectively fuses the stories of victims of persistent drug-related violence and the turbulent lives of those assigned to solve the crimes.
In late 2006, Jill Leovy started a blog attempting to document the 845 annual homicides in the city of Los Angeles. Examining the data, she discovered the vast majority of the deaths were black men. Unable to devote enough time to the individual cases she was documenting, Leovy developed her findings and created Ghettoside. Highlighting heart-breaking stories of families torn apart by needless violence, the book also deals with the complexities within the Los Angeles Police Department, showing how police priorities can often exacerbate the issue of unresolved homicides. This book raises uncomfortable and important questions about race relations in modern-day America.
Little Deaths, Emma Flint
Emma Flint’s debut was inspired by the true case of Ruth Malone, a mother falsely accused of murdering her two children in 1960’s New York. Flint focuses on the Queens neighbourhood Malone was part of, and the difficulty individuals within it had keeping private matters out of the collective. The resulting preconceptions that are assigned to Ruth form the basis for the police and tabloid press’s severe treatment of her. Flint demonstrates how damaging this is to a woman simply trying to live her life in the way she wishes. Her use of recreated police reports, newspaper articles and forensic reports effectively blurs the line between fiction and true crime.
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Impossible to leave out of any crime-related book list, this is one of Capote’s best-known works and the subject of much controversy. Meticulously researched by Capote, In Cold Blood details the murder of a Kansas farmer and his family by Richard Hicock and Perry Smith. Accompanied by friend and fellow author Harper Lee, Capote was able to ingratiate himself with the local population of the small town where the murders took place, gaining valuable insights into individual personalities. Nevertheless, the veracity of the account was questioned upon its release, with some critics suggesting scenes and dialogue had been invented to match the story. Despite the criticism, In Cold Blood is a fantastic read, identifying with not only the victims but the perpetrators, whom Capote was able to interview extensively following their arrests for the crime. As a side note, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is predictably superb in the 2005 film adaption by Bennett Miller. Less well-known but also definitely worth a look is Infamous, starring Toby Jones as Capote and Daniel Craig as Perry Smith, with whom Capote forms a bond while researching the book.
The Run of His Life: The People vs O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Toobin
If you were lucky enough to have watched Ezra Edelman’s endlessly captivating O.J.: Made in America documentary earlier this year, then Jeffrey Toobin’s famous study of the now mythical Simpson will provide further intrigue to the baffling story of the iconic American football player. Unsurprisingly, the book focuses on the trial and the inability of the prosecutors to gain a conviction as well as the defenders' skilful distortion of its focus. Toobin was a New York Times journalist assigned to cover the trial, and his original first-hand report evolved into the book.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Alexandria Marzano-Leznevich
The Devil in the White City, Erik Larsson
Based on the true story of architect Daniel H. Burnam and Doctor H.H. Holmes, Erik Larsson’s book details the intertwining story of the construction by Burnam of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial murders committed by Holmes. Larsson blends the historical elements of the events with novelistic pacing and character development. Excitingly, the book will also be adapted to the screen in Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s fifth collaboration, with the former set to play serial killer Holmes.
If you like this list have a look at our 18 Novels With Unresolved Mysteries.