True Crime Recommendations
With the popularity of podcasts like My Favorite Murder and the Netflix series Making a Murderer, true crime is all the rage nowadays. Whether you're a long-time true crime fan, new to the genre, super squeamish, or all about the gore, there's something out there for everyone! Here are some suggestions to get your started! If you are interested in any of these titles, just click the book picture and you'll be taken to our online catalog, where you can use your library card to request a copy of the book.
Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873 by J. Dennis Robinson
If you're looking to dip a toe into the true crime genre, what better place to start than with a local story? Mystery on the Isles of Shoals is about the March 1873 robbery turned ax murder of two Norwegian woman on Smuttynose Island. Maren Hontvet, who survived the attack, named local fisherman and friend Louis Wagner, who had lived and worked on the island for the family in the past, as the murderer. He was quickly captured and, after being found guilty, was hanged in 1875. According to local historian and author J. Dennis Robinson, this is a "whydunnit" book that looks at the facts surrounding the botched robbery and murders, as well as the history of the Isles of Shoals. Poet Celia Thaxter, who was home on a nearby island at the time of the murders and one of the first people on the scene, famously recounted the events of that night in an essay for Atlantic Monthly in 1875 called "A Memorable Murder."
Looking to delve deeper into the Smuttynose murders? Be sure to visit the Portsmouth Athenaeum in downtown Portsmouth and ask to see the murder ax. Smuttynose Island is privately owned, but day visits are permitted - visit next door Star Island for the day or the night and Smuttynose Island is just a short rowboat ride across the harbor.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
If you're a fan of the My Favorite Murder podcast, you're probably familiar with this book! Author Michelle McNamara - crime blogger and armchair investigator extraordinaire - has an amazing writing style that will have you devouring this book in one sitting. The Golden State Killer, so named by McNamara, was a serial killer and rapist who terrorized parts of California between 1974 and 1986. The Golden State Killer committed more than 50 rapes and 12 murders. Despite having DNA evidence, police were unable to find a match, and no arrests were ever made.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark blends the stories of the victims in the 70s and 80s with McNamara's present-day quest to find the killer, which includes visiting the rape and murder sites with former investigators from the case and tirelessly poring over police reports. Sadly, McNamara passed away before finishing this book, but it was posthumously finished by true crime writer Paul Haynes and McNamara's husband, actor Patton Oswalt. Once you've read the book, be sure to do some follow up reading on current developments - this past April, just two months after the release of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, police made an arrest in the Golden State Killer case after using a genealogy website to make a match with the DNA evidence they had in their possession!
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry
In August of 1969, the Manson Family brutally murdered Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. A few months later, cult leader Charles Manson and several members of his Family were arrested for the murders. Bugliosi, who prosecuted Manson, recounts the murders and shares his first-hand account of the trial in this best-selling book. The Tate-LaBianca murders were grisly, and Helter Skelter doesn't shy away from the gruesome details. If you are new to true crime or squeamish about gory details, this isn't the book for you.
If you're interested in learning more about Manson and his Family than just the Tate-LaBianca murders - or are looking for something less gruesome - Karina Longworth does a fantastic 12-part series called "Charles Manson's Hollywood" for her podcast You Must Remember This. The fascinating series goes far beyond the famous murders and tracks Manson's rise from child delinquent to cult leader, as well as all the factors that led to the August 1969 murders. Be sure to check out www.CharlesManson.com, too, for information about the victims, Family, trial, and more.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
If you'd like to learn some history while you read about murder, this is the book for you! The Devil in the White City alternates between two stories - the building of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the life of Dr H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who preyed on fair attendees. Holmes is most well known for his elaborate "Murder Castle", which included a gas chamber, dissection table, and crematorium.
The Devil in the White City is a great choice for readers who are new to true crime. Holmes and his murder victims are just a part of this story; just as much attention is given to the creation of the world's fair, which is truly fascinating.
The Stranger Beside Me - Ted Bundy: The Classic Story of Seduction and Murder Ann Rule
In the early 1970s, author Ann Rule worked alongside Ted Bundy at a crisis center. A few years later, Bundy was found guilty of murder, kidnapping, burglary, and rape. Bundy confessed to killing at least thirty women, although the true total will never be known. In The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule shares her experience working beside Bundy, shock at the accusations against him, and eventual acceptance that the man she thought she knew and trusted was a serial killer. The Stranger Beside Me was released in 1980 and is still a best seller today. In fact, the audio book version, released in 2012, is currently listed as one of Amazon's best sellers in the crime and criminal biographies category. A book that has remained that popular for almost forty years is definitely worth checking out!
In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
Chosen by a reader's poll by Modern Library as one of the 100 best non-fiction titles of all time, In Cold Blood is about the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in a small Kansas town. The murders, committed by two recently paroled ex-convicts, were the result of a failed robbery - the killers were in search of a safe that didn't exist.
In Cold Blood is told in chapters that alternate between the life of the Clutter family and the approach of the killers, and then the investigation into the murders and flight of the two men responsible. First published in 1966, In Cold Blood - like Helter Skelter and The Stranger Beside Me - is one of the best selling true crime novels of all time.
Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl, and an International Scandal
In 2007, Amanda Knox, an American student studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, was arrested for the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. Following her arrest, Amanda was ripped apart by the media, and this character assassination played a large role in her trial. Amanda was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years in prison, a verdict that was successfully overturned four years later. Dempsey, an Italian-American journalist, wrote this book based on interviews, case files, police reports, court documents, eyewitness accounts, crime scene videos, prison diaries, and DNA evidence. Unfortunately, Murder in Italy is not currently available through the library. If you can't track down a copy of this book, I highly recommend reading Amanda Knox's memoir, Waiting to be Heard. Be prepared to throw the book across the room in frustration as Amanda describes her trial. You can also visit Amanda's website to learn about all the things she is doing nowadays.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
Released in 2017, Killers of the Flower Moon is not only a New York Times best seller, it was also named one of the best books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Smithsonian, the Wall Street Journal, Library Journal, and many more.
Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles the murders of more than 20 members of the Osage nation in the 1920s after oil was discovered on their land, making them very wealthy. When some of the investigators ended up murdered, as well, the FBI was brought in to take over the case.
Martin Scorsese will be turning Killers of the Flower Moon into a movie in 2019. Now is your chance to read the book before it hits the big screen!
Are you a true crime fan? Be sure to share some of your recommendations in the comments!