Best True Crime Books

Review & Comparison, Last Update August 6, 2020
If you love stories that are based on real events, true crime books should fit you to a tee. For our shortlist, we have selected the 5 best books that describe interesting stories with great suspense. So even if you are familiar with the crime, you still will be able to enjoy every page of these books. ...Read more ...Read less
BEST 2020
PROS
CONS
OUR VERDICT
AUTHOR
GENRE
BOOK TYPE
PUBLISHER
NUMBER OF PAGES
 
PROS

The story tells about the murder (or maybe it was self-defense?) and a 10-year investigation that happened after it. The detective line intertwines with a beautiful description of the city of Savannah, Georgia, and the number of plotlines of colorful characters.

CONS

The book starts slowly.

OUR VERDICT

The novel is based on real events and has gained a huge success among the readers. It boasts an amazing atmosphere, smart quotes, and the spirit of the South. The book was made into a movie in 1997 with Clint Eastwood in the director's chair.

detailed parameters
AUTHOR

John Berendt

GENRE

Non-fiction novel

BOOK TYPE

Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook (downloadable and Audio CD version)

PUBLISHER

Vintage 

NUMBER OF PAGES

400 pages

PROS

This autobiography is a story about the traumatizing childhood of an average boy. He grew up in a family with a mentally unstable mother and a violent ex-con father who dragged the young man into his affairs. Yet, the main character was still able to find his place in this world. 

CONS

The description of the adolescence is a bit too long.

OUR VERDICT

This inspiring book talks about the power of forgiveness and the strength of a human spirit. It shows how people cope with life's hard trials and the price they are willing to pay for it. The novel was nominated for multiple literary awards.

detailed parameters
AUTHOR

David Crow

GENRE

Non-fiction novel, Personal memoirs

BOOK TYPE

Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook (downloadable)

PUBLISHER

Sandra Jonas Publishing

NUMBER OF PAGES

356 pages

PROS

This true-crime story tells about one of the biggest causes of the 60s - the murder of 7 people, including a pregnant actress Sharon Tate. The gruesome details and a precise psychological portrait of the cult leader Charles Manson will thrill even the toughest readers.

CONS

Some parts seem more like a report than a novel.

OUR VERDICT

The major part of the book is heavily dedicated to forensic science. The crime itself and the report about the Manson's trial are described in great detail, so you won't be able to put this book down and may even want to reread it over time.

detailed parameters
AUTHOR

Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

GENRE

True crime

BOOK TYPE

Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook (downloadable and Audio CD version)

PUBLISHER

W. W. Norton & Company

NUMBER OF PAGES

689 pages

PROS

The author describes the murder of a 3-year-old son of a nobleman. The investigator of that case was brilliant Jach Whicher - a famous Scotland Yard detective. He suspected everyone who was staying in the house that fatal night including the members of the family.

CONS

The book has almost no dialogues. 

OUR VERDICT

The story is based on the murder case files and puts you in the atmosphere of the Victorian era from the first pages. It also provides a detailed look at the development of detective work in England in the 19th century.

detailed parameters
AUTHOR

Kate Summerscale

GENRE

True crime

BOOK TYPE

Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook (downloadable and Audio CD version)

PUBLISHER

Walker Books

NUMBER OF PAGES

384 pages

PROS

The story describes the hard fate of three sisters, Nikki, Sami, and Tori. Their mother was a real monster who tortured the girls both mentally and physically and even committed a murder. Yet, the girls managed to step up for themselves and for each other.

CONS

The story is rather depressing. 

OUR VERDICT

The main idea of the book is that there is always a way out of even the most horrific situation. You never should stay silent and put up with human violence, even if you want to cover up the closest people in your life.

detailed parameters
AUTHOR

Gregg Olsen

GENRE

True crime

BOOK TYPE

Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook (downloadable and Audio CD version)

PUBLISHER

Thomas & Mercer

NUMBER OF PAGES

427 pages

John Berendt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil:

Enjoy the Atmosphere of Old South

American author John Berendt invites us to take a journey to the south of the USA, a city of Savannah, Georgia. Describing a mysterious crime that happened there in the 1980s, The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil had a massive success not only among Americans but also people all over the world.

John Berendt is the main character and the narrator of the story, so we see everything through his eyes. Even though some events actually were slightly different and the timeline wasn't historically correct, the book is still considered a non-fiction one. In the beginning, John travels to Savannah to collect the material for his new book. There he meets a nouveau riche Jim Williams who was a famous antique dealer and historic preservationist. One evening, Williams shoots Danny Hansford, a young man with a questionable reputation. Jim stated that it was self-defense, as drunk Danny broke into his house and started threatening him. As the story goes, it becomes clear that Danny was in a relationship with Williams. Considering himself a friend of Jim’s, John starts his own investigation and tries to find out what actually happened that night.

Apart from the main plotline with a detective element, there are also a few more interesting lines with exiting characters. You will meet such eccentric people as a roguish lawyer, a funny and extravagant drag queen, a stranger that wanders around with a bottle of poison, a man that walks with a leash with no dog on it, and many more. Spiced up with some mysterious voodoo rituals and unique Southern traditions, it is such an incredible story that it is hard to believe this is all true.

Review of John Berendt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

Worth Seeing with Your Eyes

Besides being one of the most lasting New York Times best-sellers, the book was also a contender for the Pulitzer Prize.

The story became such a huge hit in the United States that it immediately made Savannah a popular destination for thousands of tourists. Now, all those who want to see with their own eyes the Mercer-House, the Bonaventure Cemetery, and all the other locations described in the book can take a special tour to learn more about the life of the main characters and the crime. In addition to this, you can also watch the movie directed by Clint Eastwood, inspired by the story. The film has a marvelous cast and is as entertaining as the book.

So, if you want to read the real-life story with lots of colorful characters and interesting plot twists, we suggest getting The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Its delightful description of Old South, architecture, and works of art won’t leave you indifferent.

John Berendt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story in the use

 

David Crow The Pale-Faced Lie:

Inspiring Story

The Pale-Faced Lie was written in 2019 by a newcomer David Crow. Even though this is his first book, the author did a great job and managed to create a capturing story that can compete with those written by professional writers. It is a winner of the Spur Award as the best non-fiction book.

David Crow is a truly inspiring person. Having an incredibly traumatic childhood, he managed to grow into a worthy man, get an education, and build a successful lobbying firm. He also supports multiple charity organizations (including Save the Children), a shelter for homeless, and mentors lots of college students. David Crow's biography aside, let's plunge deeper into the plot of his book.

In the memoirs, Mr. Crow opens up about growing up in the Navajo Indian Reservation. He grew up in a full family (parents and three siblings). Yet, the environment in his household was neither pleasant nor safe for a child. His father, Thurston Crow, was ex-convicted, and even though the children used to idolize him at a young age thanks to his constant brags about Cherokee heritage and World War II stories, they still grow up to understand what a monster he actually is.

David Crow goes in detail about mental abuse he suffered from his dad, who was a wicked, vile, and extremely manipulative person. Charged with the sentence in the San Quentin State Prison for attempted murder, he bragged that his time there was the best years of his life. Unfortunately, David’s mother had mental issues and was unable to stand up for her children since she could barely take care of herself. Shortly after Thurston left her and took their children with him and remarried, David with his siblings faced a new type of hell. His stepmother was as wicked as her husband and had no moral code. Throughout his childhood and youth, David was manipulated by his cruel family and was dragged into his father’s illegal affairs.

Review of David Crow The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story

The Power Of Human Will

The readers will be able to witness the story of salvation, forgiveness, and the formation of a strong individual who was able to outsmart his cruel father with genius IQ. David Crow was able to overcome his childhood traumas and gain success, and now he shares his inspiring story that teaches readers not to give up and fight for themselves.

Overall, The Pale-Faced Lie is a sad and touching story that addresses multiple issues including child abuse and domestic violence. If you seek a non-fiction memoir that shows a fight of a strong person, we hope this book will fit your taste.

David Crow The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story in the use

 

Vincent Bugliosi Helter Skelter:

Get Inside the Mind of a Cult Leader

Charles Manson and his "family" are probably one of the darkest parts of American history of the 20th century. The cult and its sadistic leader committed multiple crimes and destroyed the lives of many people. Vincent Bugliosi and his co-writer Curt Gentry tried to get in the mind of this wicked person and analyze the convoluted crimes of Manson, as well as his followers, in their book Helter Skelter.

The book was written in 1974, shortly after Charles Manson was convicted of his crimes. Vincent Bugliosi who served as a prosecutor on the trial provided his in-depth analysis of the investigation, Manson’s philosophy, and the long complicated trial process. Thanks to all these elements, the book can be called a true-crime classic.

The readers will be able to take a closer look at the number of murders that occurred in Los Angeles in 1969. One of the cruelest crimes - the death of actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child, was among them. At first sight, the crimes seemed totally random and the police were unable to link them all together. But there were a few leads that seemingly pointed out that the crimes were committed by one group of people - the word “pig” written with blood, multiple stabbings on the victims, and so on. After the arrest of one of the family members who was driving a stolen car of a recently murdered victim, police started an investigation and managed to charge Manson and the whole community with car theft. Yet, all of them were released. Then, Manson decided to move to the desert since he was sure that the Helter Skelter (the racial war) was about to come. There he was finally arrested for arson.

Even though the prosecution was able to connect Manson with the murders and multiple other crimes, Vincent Bugliosi had to work with a very weak case that could fall apart at any moment. In that time, he decided to dig deeply into Manson’s idea of Helter Skelter, and thanks to that, he managed to put one of the most outrageous people in jail.

Review of Vincent Bugliosi Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

The Details Of Great Detective Work

Vincent Bugliosi with the help of amazing detectives was able to build a smart strategy of prosecution, and he brightly describes his work in this book. This non-fiction book had a major impact on American culture and became one of the best-selling true-crime books of all time.

To sum up, if you want to find out more about one of the most notorious criminals in history, try reading this book. It is greatly written and holds multiple awards including Edgar Awards.

Vincent Bugliosi Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders in the use

 

Kate Summerscale The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher:

Horrific Crime In Victorian Times

The Victorian era in England is famous for a few famous murder cases that still thrill true crime lovers all over the world. Before the well-known Jack the Reaper stepped up to this arena, there actually was another murder that deeply shocked the society. In 1860, a little boy was found dead with multiple wounds. Later on, Kate Summerscale wrote the story about that horrific crime in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

The murder occurred in the family home of a rich family in Devon. The detective inspector investigating the crime, Jack Whicher, was one of the first detectives in Scotland Yard’s newly formed Detective Branch. He was one of the most brilliant detectives of that time and became the main character of a few literary works.

The inspector found the body of a 3-year-old Francis Saville Kent with multiple stabbing wounds and the throat deeply cut. The first suspect was considered the boy’s nurse, Elisabeth Gough. Yet, she was released from custody after the detective had pressed charges against the boy’s older step-sister Constance Kent. She was arrested but soon released since the inspector didn’t have enough evidence, plus it was considered unacceptable for a working-class detective to accuse a noble young lady of something so horrible without much proof. The detective had to go back to London with nothing.

The case took a new turn 5 years later when an Anglo-Catholic clergyman came to police and told he had a confession of a murder from a member of the Kent family, which proved the Witcher's suspicions. However, the priest refused to share a lot of details and didn't testify on the trial referring to the seal of sacrament confession.

Review of Kate Summerscale The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

Story that Caused a Massive Public Outcry

What makes this case so interesting is that it caused a huge public outcry and became a subject matter of one of the meetings of the House of Lords. Some of them doubted the privilege of the clergy to decline police questions when it comes to crimes.

Kate Summerscale made a great job describing this interesting and complicated story. She also provided her thoughts and commentary on what had actually happened and, since the real murderer has never revealed his or her real motives, shared her own theory.

To wrap the whole thing up, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a well-written non-fiction book with elements of thriller, mystery, and detective story. It was well-received both by critics and readers, and made into TV series.

Kate Summerscale The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective in the use

 

Gregg Olsen If You Tell:

A Family With Dark Secrets

Every family keeps secrets, but some of them are much darker than the others. When Gregg Olsen heard the story of the Knoteks family, he decided that it was so shocking and attention-worthy that he made it into a book. If You Tell is a true-crime book with an incredibly sad premise yet the inspiring message that will be a worthy read for all non-fiction fans.

Almost every person gets a pleasantly warm feeling in their chest when they hear the word “mom”. But for sisters Nikki, Sami, and Tori, this word made their skin crawl. The sisters grew up in Raymond, Washington, on a family farm, and the story of their childhood seems too horrific to be true. Their mother was a real sociopathic monster that kept torturing girls and abusing them mentally and physically from a very young age. The only thing that kept sisters alive and didn’t let them give up was the bond they formed and kept throughout the years.

Yet, the horrifying deeds of their mother Michelle, or Shelly, doesn’t end there. Her name is not new to Americans since she went big back in 2004. She was convicted of manslaughter and second-degree murder of the boarders living in her home.

The fear the girls lived in made them think they had no choice, so they covered up their mom and kept up with her cruel nature. But luckily, they managed to survive and come out of this horror strong and independent. Now, the daughters bravely talk about the horrible things they witnessed their mother did.

Review of Gregg Olsen If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

Story With Valuable Lessons

One of the most horrific things that are revealed in this book is that the sisters had to love their mother since the little girls didn’t see any other option. Under the impact of their mother’s manipulation, they were unable to tell the world what really happened behind the closed doors. And it is incredibly sad when the closest person is actually such a monster and turns your life into a living hell.

Written by New York Times best-selling author, the book became a massive hit and was widely sold all over the world. The writer treats the victims with all the respect they deserve and tries his best to pay homage to their story. He managed to capture all the terror the sisters came through and share their story to inspire those who may have a similar situation. This story about brave sisters shows that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and you can find the way out of any situation as long as you keep fighting. It also teaches that you shouldn’t cover up crimes that happen in front of you and keep up with someone's tortures and violence.

In the end, we can say that If You Tell is a bit depressing yet still read-worthy story that shows the cruelty of human nature. This book may significantly impress any true crime fan.

Gregg Olsen If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood in the use

 

What Is a True Crime Book?

True crime is a genre of literature that tells the real story of a committed crime. Such a story is not necessarily written by the person involved in the crime - a lot of authors love taking real events as a base for their story, analyze it, provide their own commentary, and sometimes add a tint of artistic license.

True crime exists in various forms: books, movies, and TV series. Nowadays, true crime podcasts also become more and more popular. But going back to the literature, the first works in the genre were dated the 17th century and originated from China. However, British street literature that was published in the 1550s-1700s and described recent murders and other mysterious crimes can also be considered part of the genre. It has never lost its popularity and in the 19th century evolved to the penny press. Such literature was considered a part of the so-called trash culture, yet still had a massive success among not only the British but also the American audience. Now, true crime novels still stay one of the most popular genres of modern literature, and we offer you 5 notable works that can fit the taste of different readers.

If you are open to reading books in other genres, you may also want to check our lists of the best mystery novels, historical fiction, and horror stories by Stephen King.

What Features to Compare

Crime

One of the most popular topics highlighted in the true-crime literature is murder. Almost half of the books written in this genre analyzes crimes committed by serial killers. The other good amount of stories depicts some shocking or sensational murders that provoked a public outcry. Such books usually not only describe the murder but also go in detail with the trial. However, murder is not the only theme you can find in this type of literature. There are also multiple novels about high-profile robberies, kidnapping, arsons, and so on, which sometimes turn out to be not less thrilling and interesting.

Author

Non-fiction crime stories can be written by professional writers, journalists, as well as victims and people involved in the trial or investigations (judges, jury, police officers, lawyers, etc), as well as by criminals themselves. Even people who were actually witnessing the events often manage to carefully pick up the facts to build a full picture and analyze every detail. As a result, you can get an incredibly interesting take on the crime from their perspective. Such books can come not only as memoirs but also as full-on novels that may be much more interesting to read for those who are new to the genre.

Period

Considering that true crime is a genre with a rich history, the crimes depicted in them apply to different periods. Written both by new authors and those who lived in early times, crime books can be a great option for both those who prefer historical literature and those who seek a new sub-genre. Yet, so far, the most popular period in the crime non-fiction is the 20th century. It has a lot to do with the fact that forensic science made a huge step forward with the invention of many new investigation methods. This allowed detectives worldwide to build a more precise crime scene and provided the authors with multiple details for their writings.

Collection

Commonly, the description of one crime can be depicted within one book. Thus, you can rarely see a series of true crime books. However, some authors and publishers sometimes create collections with similar crime books that include similar stories or those that happen in the same place or in the same period.

Number of Pages

Last but not least, books can differ in the number of pages. Some of them can plainly describe the crime and, thus, be quite short, while some authors manage to write a huge novel even if the story itself is very short. By providing their commentaries and thoughts, authors can let you enjoy their crime books for longer.

Did you know?

Have you ever found yourself reading articles about some horrific crimes one by one? Or maybe you kept watching a pretty gruesome detailed news report with interest? Well, there is nothing wrong with that. Psychologists say that our fascination with true crime is actually normal and provide a few reasons for that. So here we have selected interesting facts about why true crimes and non-fiction books based on them are so interesting.

The Desire to Feel Prepared

First and foremost, people want to get prepared and protect themselves and their families. According to attorney Megan Broosma’s study, women are actually more interested in true crime stories considering the fact that they tend to be more vulnerable and generally become a target of a violent act more often than men. Thus, they look for advice and ideas on how to protect themselves in any given situation. They are also more likely to go with the story that has a female victim. Reading such stories and books makes them become more serious about all the dangers of the outside world and take their and their family’s safety more seriously.

The Happy Feel We Are Not the Victim...

Reading about crimes doesn’t necessarily cause unpleasant emotions. On the contrary, people tend to feel glad that they are not the victim, especially if the crime occurred nearby or you can associate yourself with the people who got hurt in the crime. This may give you a strong relief.

... Or a Criminal

People who are sure they will never commit any sort of crime usually can find it pretty interesting to get inside of the head of the criminal to understand what they were driven by. It can also be explained by the growing interest in psychology and sociology among people in recent years.

Evolutionary Benefit

Studies also tell that such close attention to real-life crimes may make people more attentive and promote noticings things that may be dangerous for them. That way, people will be able to avoid unpleasant situations more effectively.

The Media Impact

Last but not least, you’ll probably agree that it is pretty hard not to keep up with all the crimes as the newspapers and e-sources keep shoving them in our faces. All these sources keep bombarding us with that news, and we, in our turn, keep reading and watching them.

Overall, there is nothing bad to enjoy a good crime story, especially if it is well-written and has an educational message. We hope you were able to find an interesting one for yourself in our best true crime books list.

Other reviews
Comments
0 Comments

Your comment was successfully sent

Error! Please try again later

Publish Date: 2020-08-06 10:55:03