"He was a compulsive prowler and searcher. We, who hunt him, suffer from the same affliction."
- Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark
I’m a true crime junkie. I listen to the podcasts, watch documentaries and TV shows, and of course, read all the true crime books. I can’t get enough.
Here are some picks—some terrifying while others not scary at all—for you!
1. FURIOUS HOURS BY CASEY CEP
After the unquantifiable success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee got stuck. Her agents, publisher, family, friends, and fans expected a follow-up book but years passed and Lee could never commit to an idea. In the 1970s, she FINALLY found a subject for a true crime book (a genre popularized by childhood best friend, Truman Capote): the Reverend Willie Maxwell, who very likely killed five family members to cash out on life insurance policies. But Lee was never able to crack the story and as we all know, she never did complete another book (Go Set a Watchman doesn’t count, that was a draft).
2. THE FEATHER THIEF
BY KIRK WALLACE JOHNSON
Edwin Rist is a salmon fly-tying prodigy. Unfortunately for Edwin, fly-tying is a hobby that had its heyday in the 19th century, which means the feathers he most desires are from birds now endangered or extinct. So how does one get such rare feathers? Break into a natural history museum, of course! A fascinating non-murdery true crime book about a bizarre heist.
3. THE QUEEN BY JOSH LEVIN
Before the Summer of Scam, before Elizabeth Holmes, there was Linda Taylor aka Martha Louise White aka Betty Smith aka Connie Harbaugh aka Constance Walker aka Linda Ray Linch aka the original 'welfare queen'. Taylor was involved with every kind of crime—fraud, frivolous lawsuits, kidnapping, and maybe even murder. This book felt like 20 different Unsolved Mysteries segments put into a blender.
4. SAY NOTHING
BY PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE
The best book I've read in 2019 (so far). A truly incredible book about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Dive into the disappearance of Jean McConville and her family’s quest to discover the truth and then into the life of Dolours Price, an IRA member who planted bombs, was imprisoned, freed, and then had a change of heart. Say Nothing is a non-fiction book that feels like a five-star thriller.
5. I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK
BY MICHELLE MCNAMARA
A new classic. This is the chilling account of the Golden State Killer who terrorized California throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Do not read this book at night by yourself. I made that mistake when I read McNamara’s original LA magazine articles about the case. It didn’t help that GSK happened to strike in Goleta (near my hometown), Davis (where I went to college), and LA (where I live now). One of the most truly terrifying true crime books I’ve ever read. Also make sure to listen to the new LA Times podcast about the case, Man in the Window, it’s really great.
6. THE STRANGER BESIDE ME
BY ANN RULE
One of the BEST and most iconic true crime books. 1971. Ann Rule volunteers at a telephone crisis center where she befriends a smart, handsome, and likable college student named Ted. Soon, women begin disappearing and the suspect (good-looking, drives a VW bug, goes by “Ted”) sounds suspiciously similar to Ann’s friend. But surely Ted Bundy couldn’t be responsible...
7. THE REAL LOLITA
BY SARAH WEINMAN
I’m guessing you didn’t know Lolita was based on a true story. That’s because Vladimir Nabokov kept his inspiration secret, wanting his readers to think he only needed his singular genius to create his now classic novel. In reality, the 1948 kidnapping of Sally Horner inspired Nabokov’s notorious nymphet. Read the untold story behind one of literature’s most iconic and tragic characters.