Killer reads: our 2018 true crime picks.
Our 2018 true crime picks.
The true crime genre is changing – for the better. It’s something that has traditionally felt like a real guilty pleasure: lurid porn for bored housewives, or the reason you buy a Kindle (so as not to get weird looks on the bus when you are reading about wildly socially unacceptable acts). The true crime section of a bookshop would often feel a bit seedy or X-rated, a sea of black and red with serial killers’ eyes leering out at you from the glossy covers of books, each claiming to be more heinous or horrific than its neighbour on the shelf. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and while standout works (such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood) have transcended the genre to become all-time classics, they have remained few and far between, more aberration than standard.
But there has been a shift. While the traditional, trashier titles still endure, you’ll now see them interspersed with a new, ‘high-end’ and non-sensational true crime books. They explore wider angles and issues around crimes and criminality, and are not just a sequence of murder after murder with no grisly detail omitted. We have genre-defining podcasts such as Serial and docu-series Making a Murderer to thank for this: when you take a look at the titles published in the years following the release of Serial in 2015, it appears as though publishers fast realised that there was an appetite for more sophisticated crime writing. There is a glut of considered and intelligent readers who want to be gripped by a pulsing narrative story or ponder an unsolved mystery just as much as crime fiction lovers; readers who just happen to prefer their crime a bit, well, truer.
As Mark Twain once put it, truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. To prove that this is the case, here are (just a few) of our must-read books for 2018 – and if the first three months are anything to go by, it’s going to be killa...
The Patriot by James Patterson
Century, 11th January 2018, 9781780898728
Everyone thought they knew Aaron Hernandez. He was an NFL star who made the game of American football look easy. Until he became the prime suspect in a gruesome murder. But who was Aaron Hernandez, really?
Our first pick will undoubtedly be a big one. The Patriot is a true crime story penned by award-winning novelist James Patterson about Aaron Hernandez, the incredibly talented and troubled NFL player who was found guilty of the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013 and subsequently stood trial for a further two murders, both of which he was cleared of. He was found hanged in his prison cell in April 2017, aged just 27. The Patriot explores Hernandez’s life in detail, from his humble beginnings, his stratospheric rise to the top of the NFL, and how it all went wrong.
You can preorder The Patriot here.
Murder by Numbers by James Moore
The History Press, 4th January 2018, 9780750981453
What is the connection between the number 13 and Jack the Ripper? Why was the number 18 crucial in catching Acid Bath Murderer John George Haigh? And what is so puzzling about the number 340 in the chilling case of the Zodiac Killer? The answers to all these questions, and many more, are revealed in a unique, number-crunching history of the ultimate crime.
Imagine a true crime Numberwang, and you’re not far off the premise of Murder by Numbers, which takes a look at some infamous homicide cases in an offbeat way: numerically. This one is perfect for anyone who thinks they know everything about some of history’s infamous serial-killer cases.
You can pre-order Murder by Numbers here.
The Minister and the Murderer: A Book of Aftermaths by Stuart Kelly
Granta Books, 1st February 2018, 978-1847089229
In 1969, James Nelson confessed to murder, served a prison sentence, then applied to be ordained as a minster in the Scottish Church (The Kirk). The case split the church, and challenged the institution to consider its most basic functions, obligations and duties. Part of the problem was that Nelson's crime was no ordinary crime.
The Minister and the Murderer charts the history of the Scottish Church and the case of James Nelson, who entered the church after serving a life sentence for murdering his mother. Stuart Kelly explores themes of sin and faith and whether, even in the church, someone can truly be absolved of such a crime.
You can pre-order The Minister and the Murderer: A Book of Aftermaths here.
The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on The World's Most Powerful Mafia by Alex Perry
William Collins, 8th February 2018, 9780008222109
You are born into it, or marry in. Loyalty is absolute, bloodshed revered and you kill or go to your grave before betraying The Family. This code of omertà is how the 'Ndrangheta became the world’s most powerful mafia. The Good Mothers is the story of the women who broke the silence.
While slightly less famous overseas than the Sicilian Mafia, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta is just as much of a global force to be reckoned with. One of the richest and most powerful organised crime syndicates in the world, it’s been reported that it has more money than McDonald’s. This book takes a look at the organisation through the eyes of the women who took a stand against it.
You can pre-order The Good Mothers here.
Lady Killers: A Compendium by Tori Telfer
John Blake Publishing, 8th February 2018, 9781786061218
When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are the likes of Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, Kate Bender? The narrative we’re comfortable with is the one where women are the victims of violent crime, not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference: “There are no female serial killers.”
Lady Killers sets out to debunk the myth that it’s only men who commit atrocious crimes, and that the ‘fairer’ sex are just their victims. The beautifully illustrated compendium is equal parts shocking and entertaining, providing an illuminating glimpse into the lives of the women who did the unimaginable.
You can pre-order Lady Killers: A Compendium here.
I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Faber & Faber, March 2018, 9780062319784
Telling the story of the man McNamara came to dub the Golden State Killer, it charts the decade-long run of terror of this serial rapist and murderer in the suburbs of California, which ran up to the early 1990s, when his trail went cold.
I’ll be Gone in the Dark looks set to be a big hit next year. It investigates the mystery of the Golden State Killer, a multiple murderer and rapist whose reign of terror in the suburbs of California lasted for more than a decade. Along with being a thrilling analysis of the mystery, it’s also a memoir about the writer’s obsessive search for the truth, which to this day remains obscured. Unfortunately, the author died just before the book could be completed, but it has been finished by her lead researcher and close colleague, and is framed by a brilliant introduction by super-fan – and Gone Girl author – Gillian Flynn and a moving afterword by Patton Oswalt.
You can pre-order I'll be Gone in the Dark here.
Grace Harrison is the co-founder of Foul Play, a new kind of true crime magazine. The rest of the time she works in publishing. You can pre-order issue one of the magazine below.