11 Most Popular True Crime Novels Of All Time, According To Goodreads
October is the time of year when we have fun being scared by imaginary monsters like vampires and zombies. But as we all know, real life is far more frightening than any movie creature. For genuine thrills this fall, Goodreads members recommend their picks for best true-crime novels of all time. They're just as engrossing as any haunted house, and unlike the makeup-covered actors who pop out with phony machetes, these killers and crooks are the real deal.
What's fascinating about these Goodreads book recommendations is their variety. While some are decades-old classics (Truman Capote's In Cold Blood still holds up, 54 years later), others are much more recent. Toward the top of the list is a 2018 book that was published shortly after the untimely death of its author; her exhaustive research led to the solving of the case she was pursuing. Another must-read, according to Goodreads members, is an acclaimed book about the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School. (It's sobering — and infuriating — to think of how many other massacres have occurred in the nearly 20 years since.)
All of these titles are tautly written accounts of real-life crimes: most of them deal with murders, while others relate stories of tech fraud and the drug industry. Grab your favorites at your favorite bookstore and settle back for an engrossing day of reading. Who needs phony skeletons?
1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
First published in 1965, Capote's classic still maintains its spot as the best true crime book of all. His recounting of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family by two robbers offers the background and perspective of victims and murderers alike, a unique concept for its time.
2. I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Who was the Golden State Killer, the elusive murderer and sexual predator who terrorized California in the '70s? McNamara, a true-crime journalist, made it her mission to find out. Tragically, she died before finishing this book, but it was published posthumously, along with an update that reveals that her work led to the arrest of a suspect. This version also includes a tribute by her husband, actor Patton Oswalt.
3. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry
The tumultuous events of 1969 included the murders of seven people at the hands of charismatic cult founder Charles Manson. The intriguing story behind his crimes and the bizarre "Manson Family" cult (written by the case's prosecutor) has sold millions of copies since its first publication.
4. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
Ted Bundy achieved notoriety not only for his cold-blooded murders of nearly 40 young women, but also for being the least likely suspect: a handsome, charismatic law student. No one was more shocked than Ann Rule herself. While researching the murders, Rule discovered that Bundy was the same man she'd befriended years ago when they worked at a suicide hotline. Rule's personal connection to the story has helped make this book a bestseller for three decades.
5. Columbine by Dave Cullen
What was once merely the name of a small Colorado town is now a reminder of the terrible April day in 1999 when two teen boys committed what was then the worst school shooting in American history. Cullen, a reporter who followed the story from the beginning, offers a detailed and thoughtful account of the assault. He also presents an insight into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's motives that contradicts much of the public conceptions about them.
6. Bad Blood by John Carreyou
Dubbed "a West Coast version of All the President's Men" by The New York Times, this expose by journalist Carreyou reveals the massive fraud and eventual collapse of the medical start-up Theranos. Founder Elizabeth Holmes sold investors on an innovative high-tech blood-testing product to the tune of billions of dollars, while covering up the pesky fact that the technology didn't work.
7. Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
How do seemingly ordinary people turn into brutal killers? What goes through the twisted mind of a murderer? Douglas, who spent 25 years in the FBI's Investigative Support Unit, offers a glimpse of his work studying some of the country's most chilling serial killers. The bestseller inspired the hit Netflix series of the same name.
8. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
A National Book Award finalist, this acclaimed book tells the little-known story of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, which enjoyed great wealth in the early 20th century as a result of the oil under their land. But in the '20s, members of the tribe began dying mysteriously, leading to an FBI investigation led by a young J. Edgar Hoover.
9. The Monster of Florence by David Preston and Mario Spezi
What began as a lifelong ambition — moving to Italy — turned to a stranger-than-fiction journey as Preston discovered that his new home was the site of a notorious double murder. He and journalist Spezi found and interviewed the killer, only to find themselves under suspicion by Italian authorities.
10. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
Mailer's 1979 Pulitzer-prizewinning masterwork tells the story of Gary Gilmore, who murdered two men in a robbery, then ironically fought a long battle for the right to be executed. Even as family members and civil rights groups argued for his life, Gilmore insisted on being brought before a firing squad. It's still thrilling to read even after all these years.
11. Dreamland by Sam Quinones
How did meth, OxyContin, black tar heroin, and other insidious drugs find their way into small-town America? Quinones investigates the origins of our national drug crisis, from obscure corners of Mexico to profit-driven Big Pharma. The title refers to Portsmouth, Ohio, a once-idyllic blue-collar town with a central swimming pool. Today, it's a wasteland of abandoned buildings, a grim testament to all the lives lost and destroyed by opiate addiction.