This list of international true crime books is sponsored by Sourcebooks.
Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common—they didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there. But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy got fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself. Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you’ve read before.
I’ve been a true crime reader for so long that I can’t actually remember when I started. I grew up marathoning 48 Hours on Friday nights with my mom, which was (and still is, IMO) the best way to spend a weekend. But now that I’ve made my way through the basics of the genre (hey, Ann Rule!), I’m reaching farther to find more books I haven’t read, and in doing so, I discovered most of what I was reading was U.S. based, and I was missing the entire world.
I’ve compiled some of the most fascinating international true crime books out there (organized in alphabetical order by continent), but there is a huge gap in the market between American true crime and international. Africa seems to have the fewest published books (even fewer translated), with even fewer #ownvoices authors publishing those stories.
(Blanket content warning for all titles mentioned below for murder, violence, violence against children and women, suicide, and more. If you’re looking for nonviolent true crime suggestions, we’ve got those too!)
(Nigeria) Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram by Isha Sesay
Journalist Isha Sesay delivers this first definitive account of the lost girls of Boko Haram. The militant group violently took over the small town of Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted 276 girls from their school. Sesay follows three girls through their abduction and their journey of strength and sisterhood. Sesay also dives into the Nigerian government’s inadequate response and the political landscape that caused this kind of attack to begin with.
(South Africa) Grave Murder: The Story Behind the Brutal Welkom Killing by Jana Van Der Merwe
In 2011 in the small gold-mining town of Welkom, South Africa, the decapitated body of a man was discovered near the outskirts of the local cemetery. The story took a stranger turn when two suspects were arrested—a quiet, devoted girl next door and her intelligent and caring fiancé. A terrifying account of how deceptive appearances can be.
(China) A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China by Pin Ho, Wenguang Huang
This story of corruption of an infamous Chinese family covers affairs, courtroom fights, murder, and political scandal. It’s wild that it’s not more well known, as Ho and Huang argue that this crime family affected a lot of China’s economic development and order.
(India) The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge, and India’s Quest for Independence by Anita Anand
Without warning, the lieutenant governor of Punjab in 1919 marched his men into an open plaza, massacring more than one thousand unarmed men, women, and children civilians. An 18-year-old who was injured in the attack, Udham Singh, spent the rest of his life seeking justice for those who lost their lives. His journey across the world is documented all the way to his eventual meeting of the lieutenant governor himself, prepared in that moment to kill him. A complicated history of revenge and destruction.
(Japan) Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter by Shooko Tendo, Louise Heal (Translator)
Shoko Tendo grew up the daughter of a yakuza boss (a Japanese organized crime boss), but when she was 6 her father was sent to prison and her family was left to fend for itself. After his release, he became violent and abusive, and Tendo began attending nightclubs, becoming addicted to drugs, and joined a gang. At 15, she was sentenced to a juvenile detention center. As an adult, Tendo worked as a bar hostess, living between luxurious clients and abusive ones. Her account is a harrowing and heartbreaking look at family life after and during crime.
(Australia) Eggshell Skull: A Memoir About Standing Up, Speaking Out and Fighting Back by Bri Lee
Bri Lee began her career at the Queensland District Court, and only two years later, she found herself back as the complainant in her own case. A memoir of a judge’s associate through the modern Australian legal system as she fights to be heard.
(New Zealand) The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias
If you’re not quite ready to pick up a full-blown 500-page tome, this collection of 12 short stories of true crime will be perfect for a quick dip into the genre. Centered around the Mark Lundy case (he was convicted of killing his wife and daughter), this anthology weaves in and out of shocking and little-known New Zealand crimes.
(England) The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
In July of 1895, young brothers Robert and Nattie left home to watch a cricket match. The boys had told their neighbors their parents were traveling. But after several days, the house began to smell, attracting the attention of the locals, and soon, the boys are swept up in a trial and whirlwind investigation.
(France) The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science by Douglas Starr
In the late 19th century in the French countryside, no one was more feared than “The Killer of Little Shepherds.” Prosecutor Emile Fourquet and renowned criminologist Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne took on the case, developing field forensic techniques as we know them today and one of the earliest uses of profiling as the two chase down one of France’s deadliest serial killers.
(Ireland) Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Masked intruders abducted a mother of ten children in the early 1970s from her home in Belfast, and she was never seen again. Finally, in 2003, bones were discovered on a beach, and the grown children knew it was their mother. A decades-long account of fear that gripped a town and kept everyone quiet even when many people knew the answers.
(Sweden) The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator by Joakim Palmkvist, Agnes Broomé (Translator)
In 2012, a millionaire landowner disappeared from his farm in Sweden. There was hardly any physical evidence and no leads—except a phone call five weeks later from the man’s daughter, accusing her sister of being involved. A horrifying account of family secrets and chilling bonds.
(Canada) That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away by Lori Shenher
More focused on the memoir than a case itself, Lori Shenher’s account of her own experience working a case is fascinating. Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women Investigation went horribly wrong, and Shenher experienced extreme guilt and PTSD from her role in the investigation’s errors. An incredibly unique account of police work from the police side that admits to errors in such a profound way.
(Mexico) Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado
Drug wars and trafficking rule across Mexico, and it’s a multibillion dollar business, with the rich and powerful skating by with no repercussions. Journalist Alfredo Corchado is a noted writer who does not shy away from highlighting this power imbalance, but in 2007, he received a tip that he could be the next target of a cartel. Instead of running, Corchado dove into investigating the source of the threat, uncovering political scandals and double agents, set out to ruin his country’s economy, culture, and people while he worked to save it and them.
(Mexico) The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Teresa Rodriguez, Diana Montané, Lisa Pulitzer
Jaurez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is often considered one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities and is the center of an epidemic of crimes against women and children. Among this, much of the speculation surrounding these crimes suggests that the assailants are Americans. As of 2006, more than 400 bodies have been found, with hundreds still missing. Despite arrests, help from the American FBI, and years of investigations, the murders continue.
(U.S., Mexico, and Canada) Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer
Krakauer is most known for Missoula, but this lesser-known account is just as fascinating and comprehensive. Initially following a double murder, Krakauer uncovers shocking truths about a pair of Mormon Fundamentalist brothers who insist God instructed them to commit these murders. His narrative looks at religious communities across America, Canada, and Mexico, and the differences, similarities, and truths among these communities and the lengths they will go to to fight for what they believe in—even when that is murdering innocent people.
(Brazil & Peru) The Third Bank of the River: Power and Survival in the Twenty-First-Century Amazon by Chris Feliciano Arnold
Activists, locals, and indigenous tribes struggle to save the Amazon from loggers, drug lords, and (seeing a theme here?) corrupt politicians. This history goes through the first arrival of the Spanish in the Amazon up to the modern-day era of those still attempting to map the unexplored forest. And during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, an isolated tribe escaped massacre at the hands of loggers looking to steal their land. This literal fight for survival is an under-recognized modern issue for many indigenous communities in Brazil.
(Colombia) There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia by Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno
Colombia has a history of power-hungry politicians focusing on their rise and everyone else’s demise. There Are No Dead Here follows three ordinary citizens who worked to expose the collusion between the new mafia and the country’s military and political establishments.
(Ecuador) The Galapagos Affair by John Treherne
I fully believe we should admit when we’re wrong or don’t know something, and I have to say, I did not know the Galapagos Islands were part of Ecuador. Surely I’m not alone? That means we should all learn more about the country (even if you did know where the islands were), and this true-crime story covers the legends of Floreana, an island known for nudist colonies and free love. But Treherne reveals an even stranger truth, one that hints at a corrupt leader of the community who terrorized new settlers. And even stranger, mysterious disappearances and unidentified bodies begin appearing on nearby islands.
Bonus! Bet you didn’t think you’d get an Antarctica story, did you? Turns out, crime still happens at the bottom of the world, even with only a few people living there. I don’t have a book for you (yet—my researching, rabbit-hole-sleuthing self now wants to write one on this), but you can listen to an episode of The Evidence Locker on a mysterious poisoning of a man, or you can read about a scientist who stabbed his research partner for spoiling the endings of books before he could read them, and if that isn’t a ~mood~ I don’t know what is.
Looking for international crime fiction? Check out 100 Must-Read Mystery & Crime Novels Around the World or 7 Thrilling International Historical Mysteries.
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