I think in modern times, the concept of serial killers doesn’t exactly need an explanation. A relatively recent phenomenon which only seems more exacerbated by increasingly dense societies, it has attracted our morbid curiosity and attention like few things ever have.
Speaking from personal experience, since early childhood I’ve been exposed to various movies and documentaries centred on serial killers, both real and fictional, and I’m certain many of you have a similar truth to share. As terrifying and abhorrent as they can sometimes be, the mystery behind their existence and deviation is one we can’t and mustn’t turn away from.
Serial killers have been inhabiting the realms of literature for decades upon decades now, both in fact and fiction. Serial killer thrillers have gained the kind of popularity few literary genres can boast a claim to, and I think it’s because on top of our ghoulish fascination with the topic, we’re desperately searching for answers anywhere they might be found.
This category is dedicated to serial killer thrillers (look at true crime books for non-fictional ones), which is to say, fictional stories revolving around, you guessed it, serial killings, their perpetrators, victims, and investigators.
L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain have created their own standout series in the mystery genre, following FBI profiler Violet Darger on one deadly manhunt after the next. In the third book of the series, titled The Girl in the Sand, she sees herself summoned to Las Vegas following a grizzly discovery, one which puts her in the crosshairs of a legendary serial killer bearing a personal grudge against her.
John Marrs is a name most thriller fans are familiar with, having penned numerous bestsellers which still stand tall to this very day. In The Good Samaritan, one of his better-known works, he tells the story of Laura, a woman who abuses her position as a suicide hotline operator to push people over the edge. However, one man has seen beyond the veil, and is closing in on her sinister nature, unaware that she’ll do just about anything to stay in the shadows.
Jo Nesbo made his name overseas with the Harry Hole series, more specifically the ones which take place in Norway, the main character’s home country. It took publishers a fairly long time to translate the first novel of the series, The Bat, which uncharacteristically takes us to Australia, where Harry Hole finds himself working as an observer for the police following the murder of a young Norwegian woman.
L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain have made Violet Darger into a bit of a standout in the serial killer genre, and the second book in the Violet Darger FBI Mystery Thriller series, titled Killing Season, pits our heroine against an unprecedentedly efficient and brutal maniac. In a span of two days an individual has murdered fourteen people, and it’s up to Violet to slide herself in his head, anticipate his next moves, and put an end to his reign of terror.
Mary Burton has proven herself exceptionally capable at chasing after serial killers, at least where the realm of her novels is concerned. In her new thriller, Don’t Look Now, we follow Austin homicide detective Jordan Poe as she hunts for a serial killer who not only attacked her sister two years ago, but recently tried to claim her life as well, leaving her partially blinded, but ever-more determined to track him down.
John Grisham is a name needing no introduction for fans of legal thrillers, by numerous metrics being one of the most successful writers in the genre, an achievement he rightfully deserves. In The Judge’s List, the second book in The Whistler series, he blends his craft with murder mystery, sending investigator Lacy Stoltz on the trail of a serial killer, with her main suspect being a sitting judge.
Stevie Cameron has dedicated many years of her life to following and investigating the crimes of the North American serial killer who would eventually be identified as Robert William Pickton. In her book titled On the Farm, she unravels the sordid story behind the man and his victims, based not only on official police material, but also her personal experience with the case, even including some elements which never made it into official transcripts.
L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain have a history of co-authorship few thought were possible, and while they’ve had many popular hits, their most touted work remains Dead End Girl, the first entry in the Violet Darger series. The story follows Violet, at this point a rookie agent, on her first grand assignment, pitting her against a serial killer terrorizing the Midwest.
Brian O’Sullivan has been developing his own unique voice in the vast genre of thrillers and murder mysteries, with his latest effort being The Bay Area Butcher. In it, we once again follow Quint Adler (from Revenge at Sea) as he finds himself pitted against a diabolical enemy in a serial killer who keeps escalating his actions, acting seemingly at random, all while taunting the entire world through his letters.
Hallie Rubenhold has dedicated her education and life in general to the study of the past, and it seems she can never stop unearthing new and surprising facts looked over by our history books. In The Five, she undertakes the unusual task of performing an in-depth examination of Jack the Ripper’s five known victims, exploring their lives, origins, and ultimate fates.
Elizabeth Hand knows it takes a bit more than the usual these days to stand out from the literary crowd, and in her novel Curious Toys she strives to accomplish this task. Taking us back to 1915, we follow a young fourteen-year-old daughter of a carnival fortune-teller who bands together with an iconic artist to track down and unmask a serial killer nobody seems to know about.
Lisa Regan has earned much of her renown through the exceptional Detective Josie Quinn series, and the heroine returns to do what she does best in Her Silent Cry. This time around, the case revolves around a young girl, Lucy, who seems to have disappeared into thin air while riding the carousel at Denton city park. It doesn’t take long for a note from the kidnapper to be found in Lucy’s backpack… and soon after, her babysitter’s lifeless body.
Philip Kerr has created a character almost larger than life with his Bernie Gunther series, and in the posthumously published Metropolis, he goes back in time to explore the man’s origins, following his first few weeks on the Berlin Murder Squad. As soon as he steps through the door, he sees a police force in chaos, having to contend not only with political gangs, but also a serial killer who keeps taunting the police with trails of clues leading to nowhere.
Guy Portman has always distinguished his novels with his unique sense of humour, and in Necropolis he returns to his forte once again introducing us to Dyson Deveraux. Intelligent, witty, recently appointed as head of the Burials and Cemeteries department, and a sociopath. Just when his life seems like it might turn stale, an interesting opportunity for personal betterment comes along when he begins to suspect one of his co-workers of being a wanted Serbian criminal.
Matthew Iden has never shied away from exposing the macabre and virulent aspects of the world in his writings, and in Birthday Girl he dives yet again into the abyss known as the human mind. In this story, we are presented with a former criminal psychologist, Elliot Nash, living on the streets of Washington after his life went off the rails following the murder of his daughter. Fate does throw him a bone when a woman seeks out his help, believing her child to not only still be alive a year after the abduction, but also part of a series of kidnappings having claimed seven children so far.
Philip Kerr has blessed us with many promising and original adventures in his Bernie Gunther series, taking readers into the rarely-visited world of post-war Germany. In Greeks Bearing Gifts we are once again partnered with Bernie Gunther as he goes undercover to investigate the insurance claims of a retired Wehrmacht soldier. He believes his lost possessions were those of Greek Jews deported to Auschwitz, but before he can confront the old man someone makes a corpse out of him… someone who might very well be the most ruthless and unpunished Nazi assassin to survive the war.
C. A. Asbrey has taken us on some captivating tours of the Wild West, presenting it in a different light than the one we’re used to. In Innocent Bystander, the third book in The Innocents Mystery series, Abigail’s younger sister Madeleine has disappeared after marrying a notorious widower whose wives keep dying one after the other. Knowing the man to be a Bluebeard, Abigail enlists once again the help of Nat and Jake to find her missing sister and unveil the cunning crimes of her husband.
Brian Freeman has given us more thrills and chills than we can count with his various mystery series, most notably introducing the world to Jonathan Stride, a Minnesotan detective with a penchant for the most sordid and complicated cases. He returns to the fore yet again in Alter Ego, becoming embroiled in multiple investigations drawing from the present as well as the past. For starters, a man who seemingly died in a car accident on a remote road outside of Duluth had a false identity and a recently used gun. Second, a college student is reported missing. Third, Stride makes the acquaintance of the Hollywood star who will play him in a movie, one rumoured to have dark secrets.
Today Michael Gruber stands as a respected and well-established award-winning author whose every new book is sought after with fervent anticipation. Every author’s journey must start somewhere though, and for Gruber the debut came with his 2003 novel titled Tropic of Night. In it, we follow the Cuban-American detective Jimmy Paz as he becomes embroiled in the investigation of a series of ritualistic killings which have taken Miami by storm. The people are terrified, and as Jimmy inches closer to the truth he gets ever-closer to exposing the heart of darkness pulsating beneath the city.
Robert Ellis has begun a great thing with the Detective Matt Jones series, and you can witness his intellect and deductive powers first-hand as he goes on the hunt to track down the hitman who almost took his life earlier. He soon becomes sidetracked from this dangerously personal task in favor of something much more depressing: catching a serial killer. What’s more, this one seems unusually smart and capable, enough to match the grit and wit of the highly-trained and infinitely experienced Matt Jones himself. The three hunters prepare to face each other; the game is on.
Robert Ellis takes us deep into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles as he presents us with detective Matt Jones who unravels a web of intrigue, blood, deception and corruption starting from the bullet-ridden body of a man shot in what seems like the work of a serial robber. But as we all know looks can be more than deceiving, and in a city where money flows faster than any river the rich and powerful will always find a way to stay in the shadows as their pawns fall one by one. Matt Jones is cut from a different cloth though, and may be the one man to fear for those who deem themselves untouchable.