A couple months ago, I was at dinner with one of my best friends from high school at an overpriced taco place in New York, and somehow, the conversation prompted her to recommend the podcast “My Favorite Murder” to me.
“It’s these two California girls, and they just talk about their lives for like, the majority of the episode, and then at the end they just talk about murders,” said my friend. “It’s hilarious. You’d love it.”
Whatever that says about me, I was extremely interested. As soon as I got back from my trip, I looked My Favorite Murder up, and suddenly, months have passed and I can’t remember a time where I was not listening to an episode of My Favorite Murder or waiting for a new one to come out.
My morbid fascination with murder and true crime, the fires of which had once been stoked by the now-defunct Crime Museum in my hometown of DC (sob, sob), has found a new outlet. Karen and Georgia, the show’s hosts, are like my friends, except better, because they’d never get quiet and weirded out after I took them to the Crime Museum to show them John Wayne Gacy’s clown art (you know who you are. Also, I really miss the Crime Museum.) The My Favorite Murder podcast is laugh-out-loud funny despite its sinister content, which I appreciate, especially while listening late at night.
Given that I’ve now binge-listened to the whole show, I decided to compile a list of books about murder that my fellow Murderinos and I could read as we wait for new episodes (or the upcoming live shows!). Only a couple of these are books that have been referenced on the show, but they do recommend a lot of true crime titles throughout the episodes – I haven’t read many of those, but since I live two blocks away from a mystery and crime bookstore, I may have to check them out and report back. Stay tuned.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Karen and Georgia can’t recommend this book more, and nor can I. This incredibly compelling work of nonfiction tells the story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer whose meticulously planned attacks took place against the background of the Chicago World’s Fair. Come for the murder, and stay for the fascinating history of the Fair itself and the many inventors, architects, and politicians who made it possible.
The writing in this book is consistent with other books of its ilk (with similar cover fonts). But the crime it describes is so bizarre that I tore through this account in one sitting. In 2011, one employee at the Bethesda, Maryland Lululemon store (fun fact: 20 minutes away from where I grew up) brutally murdered her coworker in a crime that terrified residents in an otherwise pristine suburb. MFM covered this on their episode “Namaste, Sexy,” but it’s worth the extra research, in my opinion.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
A classic true crime book about the murder of a male prostitute in 1980s Savannah, GA. You’re totally submerged in the city’s history and culture, and the cast of characters include a voodoo priestess, eccentric businessmen, and a hilarious drag queen. It’s a tale about the killing, the trial, and its repercussions, and it proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The only novel on this list. I could have picked any of Flynn’s brilliant and terrifying body of work, but I chose Dark Places for its depiction of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, something that’s often referenced on My Favorite Murder and the topic of many of my personal Internet research wormholes. The story follows Libby Day, a woman still reeling from the mass murder of her family in their home in rural Kansas decades before. Her older brother was convicted for the killings and deemed a Satan worshipper, but after being contacted by a team of amateur investigators (Murderinos?) Libby starts to wonder if the truth of that night is yet to be revealed. As with all of Flynn’s novels, Dark Places is a disturbing, riveting mystery that dances around social issues – here, extreme poverty and domestic abuse.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
While not strictly a murder mystery book, this beautiful, poetic novel about a missing teenage girl in 1970s Ohio has all the elements of the saddest and most fascinating MFM hometown stories. Lydia Lee is the child of a Chinese-American father and a white mother, and her already troubled family (navigating racism and changing gender roles) begins to unravel with her sudden and tragic disappearance. This novel is atmospheric, yet restrained. You’ll read it in one sitting.
Want even more murder mysteries?