The true crime genre is more popular than ever, not just in literature but in television, film, and true crime podcasts. Still, nothing compares to cracking open a new true crime book — and when it comes to choosing the next riveting read for your book club crew, these titles are hard to beat. We gathered 12 acclaimed true crime books that make the perfect book club pick, from genre classics to bold new investigations.
Best Book Club Books: True Crime
These harrowing accounts are sure to get your group talking.
Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases
By Paul Holes
Paul Holes, the detective who tracked down the Golden State Killer, wrote Unmasked, and it’s a fantastic choice for any book club, as it offers an eye-opening look into the experiences of a real-life criminal investigator. The New York Times bestseller covers Holes’ entire career solving some of America’s most notorious cases, from his high-profile investigations into the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard and the murder of Laci Peterson to his 20-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer. Holes also opens up about the emotional toll his career has had on his home life and personal relationships, too. Plenty of true crime books reassemble the details of a particular case; Unmasked goes further to explore crime’s long-lasting impact on those who help fight it.
Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York
By Elon Green
Even true crime aficionados may be unfamiliar with the case of the Last Call Killer, and that’s precisely why this story needed to be told. In his Edgar Award–winning true crime narrative Last Call, journalist Elon Green examines the crimes of Richard Rogers, a serial murderer who targeted gay men in New York City in the 1980s and ’90s. The murders received precious little media coverage at the time, and Green untangles the many reasons why, from NYC’s staggering crime rates and the growing AIDS epidemic to a pervasive culture of homophobia. Told with insight and compassion, with an emphasis on the lives of the victims and the enduring strength of NYC’s queer community, Last Call is a powerful true crime account that’s sure to spark discussion.
Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels
By Paul Pringle
In the highly anticipated Bad City, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Paul Pringle draws on his work for the Los Angeles Times after a salacious lead uncovered a web of lies, criminality, and coverups that stretched across greater Los Angeles. Pringle’s inquiry began with a tip about a drug overdose at a nearby hotel. That tip soon exposed a drug scandal involving the dean of the University of Southern California’s medical school — and a network of corruption coursing through the state’s most powerful institutions. This is investigative true crime at its juiciest, and the real-life L.A. noir salaciousness will give your book club plenty to discuss.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
By Michelle McNamara
The blockbuster success of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is bittersweet, as its author, Michelle McNamara, passed away before the book’s publication. Today, the award-winning narrative stands not only as an extraordinary work of true crime reportage but as a searing portrait of a true crime journalist’s determined search for the truth. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark centers on the crime spree of the Golden State Killer, a perpetrator who committed at least 50 rapes and more than a dozen murders across the state of California in the 1970s and ’80s. At the time of McNamara’s investigation, the case had gone cold and the GSK remained at large. Indeed, there was a creeping suspicion that the criminal would never be identified. McNamara refused to accept this as a possibility and poured everything she had into cracking the case and writing her manuscript. She passed away in April 2016. In April 2018, two years after McNamara’s death and just two months after the publication of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, police apprehended Joseph James DeAngelo, aka the Golden State Killer. McNamara’s propulsive writing and her obsessive quest for justice make this more than worthy of your next book club pick.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
By Robert Kolker
Netflix recently adapted Robert Kolker’s bestselling Lost Girls into a feature-length film starring Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie — but we assure you that no screening will compare to reading this acclaimed true crime narrative. Lost Girls centers on the still-unsolved crimes of the Long Island Serial Killer, a serial murderer suspected of killing more than a dozen sex workers and disposing of their bodies along the South Shore of Long Island. Kolker is an investigative journalist by trade, and there’s much to discuss in his probing and compassionate account, including whose lives are seen as valuable and the differing ways in which we assign victimhood and blame based on occupation and class.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
By Hallie Rubenhold
Everyone knows the name Jack the Ripper. But as so often happens, focus is repeatedly placed on the actions of the criminal and not on the lives of the victims. In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold takes a different approach to true crime reporting by focusing instead on the women who were known victims of the famous serial killer, setting the record straight about their lives and celebrating who they were. A bestselling narrative and the winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction, The Five will give your book club plenty to discuss about one of the most notorious murder mysteries in modern history. It will also encourage members to think about how and why we tell true crime narratives the way we do.
By Sierra Crane Murdoch
Sierra Crane Murdoch’s Yellow Bird is an extraordinary true crime account about crime, trauma, culture, and justice. The Pulitzer Prize–nominated book focuses on Lissa Yellow Bird of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. After Yellow Bird’s release from prison, she returns to a reservation plagued by addiction, violence, and corporate oil interests. When an oil worker named Kristopher Clarke goes missing, she begins looking into his disappearance, and as her investigation intensifies, Yellow Bird must navigate intersecting worlds and reckon with the scars of the past and the fresh pain of the present.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
By Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body is incredibly thrilling and moving. Prior to beginning a summer job at a Louisiana law firm, Marzano-Lesnevich is certain of their position on capital punishment: They are staunchly anti–death penalty. But the author’s stance wavers upon learning about the case of convicted murderer Ricky Langley. Surprised by the shift, Marzano-Lesnevich begins digging deeper, both into the Langley case as well as their own dark family secrets. This remarkable true crime–memoir hybrid is a must-read for book clubbers who enjoy powerful accounts that weave together multiple styles and storylines into a singular narrative.
Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession
By Rachel Monroe
Your book club will thank you for choosing Savage Appetites as your next group read, especially if they enjoy discussing the intersection of crime and gender. In the book, Rachel Monroe presents four true crime narratives of obsession as viewed through four true crime genre archetypes — detective, victim, defender, and killer. Monroe examines the accounts of a woman who moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse in the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, an heiress who fashioned highly accurate dollhouse miniatures of crime scenes, a landscape artist who fell in love with a convicted murderer, and a teenager who planned out her own attack after becoming obsessed with the mass shooting at Columbine.
Under the Banner of Heaven
By Jon Krakauer
Your book club will have plenty to discuss after reading Jon Krakauer’s unforgettable Under the Banner of Heaven. The acclaimed work of investigative journalism focuses on two brothers — Ron and Dan Lafferty — who committed a set of brutal murders in the name of God. The brothers grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon community and claimed to have received a divine order to kill a woman and her baby. Krakauer’s thoroughly researched investigation is just as much about the danger of religious fanaticism and blind faith as it is about humanity’s capacity for violence.
The Stranger Beside Me
By Ann Rule
Ann Rule may no longer be with us (the author died in 2015, at age 83), but her immeasurable influence on the true crime genre lives on. And if you and your book club crew have yet to read Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, then there’s no time like the present to dive in. This highly influential narrative, originally published in 1980, focuses on serial killer Ted Bundy. What makes it so compelling? Rule actually knew Bundy personally and at one point considered him a close friend.
The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story
By David Crow
We certainly enjoy a well-researched book based on real crimes. But there’s something undeniably compelling about a raw true crime narrative written by a person who lived through it — especially when it comes to choosing your next book club pick. In his award-winning true crime memoir The Pale-Faced Lie, David Crow presents a harrowing first-person account of family, abuse, crime, redemption, and survival. Crow grew up on the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, where his ex-con father pushed him into a life of crime at an early age. Somehow, despite a violent father and neglectful mother, Crow managed to escape the perils of his upbringing. But just as he began to establish a new life for himself, he was ensnared in a revenge plot that forced him to finally reckon with the cruelties and crimes of his father.
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