Crimes are, by their nature, something most of us tend to try and avoid in our daily lives, especially when it comes to the darker, heftier and more heinous ones. However, we only try and avoid to have them in our personal lives… when it comes to observing them from an outsider’s perspective, whether through books or film, we suddenly develop a morbid curiosity most of us never knew we had.
We know crimes of all sorts are committed on a daily basis in the world around us, no matter what country we live in. And yet, most of us can go years, if not decades between instances of witnessing this criminal world in real action. We know it’s there, and somehow most of us know very little about it. This is the reason, I believe, true crime books always had and will have a major appeal to us, no matter how dark, morbid and disgusting their subject might get.
What’s more, contrary to many works of fiction, some truly useful information can be extracted from these books, ranging from the accuracy of certain historical events to unparalleled insights into human minds, both healthy and otherwise. Additionally, they serve one very important function we would do well to never forget: they tell the stories of victims whose suffering would have otherwise been forgotten to the world.
I personally explore the true crime genre less often than others because of its dark and real nature, but here you will find the books I’ve carefully selected over the years for the amount of insight they provide us with into some of the more puzzling, and I feel bad for saying it, captivating crimes in our history.
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.
Mark Bowden has spent much of his life reporting on the darker side of America, and in The Last Stone he recounts the story of a cold case which not long ago reached its conclusion. Taking us back to Washington, D.C. in 1975, Bowden plunges into the investigation behind the disappearance of two young girls from a shopping mall, to its great breakthrough in 2013.
Doris Payne is without a doubt one of the most unusual women one could hope to meet, boasting a six-decade long career as a notorious international jewel thief. Now almost ninety years old and still getting regularly convicted for theft, she has decided to write her autobiography to share her unique life story with the rest of the world. In Diamond Doris she recalls as much as she can from her life, showing her true face to all.
Michelle McNamara stands as a legend today among true crime authors and investigative journalists for her tireless work in helping to unmask the Golden State Killer. Though unfortunately her book about the whole case, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published posthumously, it provides one of the most profound and insightful examinations of a serial killer and the long investigation leading to his arrest in 2018.
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.
Karen Abbott has certainly found her niche in exploring the rich history the United States of America has to offer, and with The Ghosts of Eden Park she continues her journey by exploring the life of George Remus.
Somewhat overshadowed by Al Capone’s efforts, Remus was actually the first “King of the Bootleggers” in America during the earliest days of the prohibition, and his life ended up being far stranger than fiction.
Billy Jensen is without a doubt one of the more special and influential investigative journalists in the domain of true crime, having essentially pioneered the modern citizen detective movement. In his non-fiction book titled Chase Darkness with Me, he takes us with him on his journey to finding the truth behind some unsolved murders, namely identifying the Halloween Mask Murderer, finding a missing girl in the Redwoods, and investigating the one other murder which happened in New York City on 9/11.
Patrick Radden Keefe has never shied away from exploring the tragedies in the world lesser-known to the Western realms, and in Say Nothing he takes us on an excursion into Northern Ireland. More precisely, he explores the lethal and suffocating conflict which has raged in the country for decades, centred on the I.R.A. terrorist organization, beginning with the infamous kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, mother of ten.
Claire Harman has established herself as one of the premier biographers in modern literature, even going as far as receiving the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her work on Sylvia Townsend Warner. In her non-fiction work titled Murder by the Book, she strays a bit from her usual path, recounting the rather unusual story of Lord William Russel’s murder, and how ultimately a novel ended up being at the centre of everyone’s attention.
George Christie is the kind of man whose life reads more like a novel than an actual autobiography. He quit a job at the U.S. Department of Defense to be a full-fledged member of the Hells Angels, eventually founding the Ventura chapter (one of the most well-known and high-profile ones) and serving as its president for over three decades.
A thinker, he was a far cry from the stereotypical image of a gang biker, being a calculated thinker who counted many artists and celebrities amongst his friends, even carrying the torch for the 1984 Olympic Games. After four decades spent as a Hells Angel, Christie finally decided to retire, and in Exile on Front Street he personally reveals what all those years were actually like.
Truman Capote may very well have revolutionized the world of journalism when he wrote the novelized yet non-fictional account of the Clutter family murder, but more than that, he created one of the most powerful and compelling true crime narrations that takes us into the emotional and psychological depths of the American tragedy.
Praised by one side and criticized by the other, In Cold Blood remains a rather controversial book to this very day, one that is nevertheless deemed an important milestone in American literature.