The true crime genre has enjoyed an enduring popularity since long before Truman Capote published In Cold Blood and Rodolfo Walsh Operation Massacre. Indeed, its appeal has grown exponentially, and across mediums: documentaries and podcasts are just as popular, if not more, than books.
The genre’s appeal isn’t in question, then. But one must wonder, why is this the case? What is it about true crime that draws us in and keeps us focused? Perhaps, like tragedies in Ancient Greece, they offer a catharsis of sorts. Like genres such as crime fiction and horror, true crime elicits a range of emotions from the audience: fear, anger, confusion, sorrow. As Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen puts it, referring to TV series and documentaries, “These programmes also allow us to examine the darker sides of humanity from a safe distance, and they bring in another crucial element — our natural desire for justice.”
The genre certainly has its dangers, but it can also have significant positive consequences. SundanceTV’s docuseries It Couldn’t Happen Here featured the case of Devonia Inman, a man who, at the age of 20, was wrongfully convicted to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Although there was DNA evidence supporting his innocence, it was ignored for over a decade. Inman was spending his 23rd year in prison when the show aired, and the publicity culminated with his release.
But let’s say that you’re already well-versed in all things true crime. What’s the next step? Well, fiction, of course! But are there fictional works that can replicate the appeal of true crime? Glad you asked! The following eight novels are either focused on true crime enthusiasts, centered on cold cases, or evoke some other aspect of what makes the genre popular. Hold on tight and read on.
And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall
Grayson Skyes has to track down Isabel Lincoln. There is only one problem: Gray isn’t sure that Isabel wants to be found. As her investigation progresses, and Isabel’s secrets, begin to come to light, it might turn out that there is a good reason why.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #1) by Holly Jackson
Was Veronica Mars your favorite show growing up? Then look no further than this YA novel, where schoolgirl Pippa Fitz-Amobi’s final year project might have bigger consequences than a passing or failing grade. Pippa isn’t convinced that Sal Singh murdered Andie Bell five years ago, so it feels natural to study the case. This might lead her down a road where the only possible destination is death.
The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James
Shea Collins devotes her nights to The Book of Cold Cases, her true crime website and passion project. When the opportunity to interview Beth Greer arises, Shea jumps at the chance: after all, how often does a true crime enthusiast get to interview a woman who was acquitted of two murders 40 years ago?
As they get to know each other, Shea is left with an unsettling thought: should Beth have been acquitted?
Sinister Graves (A Cash Blackbear Mystery #3) by Marcie R. Rendon
When young Native women and their newborns begin to disappear, Cash Blackbear decides to help Sheriff Wheaton with the investigation. This isn’t the first time that 19-year-old Cash helps Wheaton, who is also her guardian…but once it becomes clear that the answer lies on the White Earth Reservation, a place she once called home, the stakes raise dramatically.
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Sadie’s world revolves around her little sister, Mattie. But then Mattie is killed, and the police don’t make much of an effort to find her murderer. Determined to find her sister’s killer on her own, Sadie hits the road and vanishes.
Cut to West McCray, a radio personality who hears about the case and decides to find Sadie before it is too late. To this end, he starts a podcast with the goal of tracking her down. Will he succeed?
If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
Relationships can make you do wild things, and parasocial relationships are no different, for all that they are one-sided. Such is the case for Sera, a true crime lover who takes off to find Rachel, the missing host of her favorite podcast.
But Sera has much to learn. Among these lessons? There’s a major difference between listening about crime from the safety of your home and diving headfirst into it.
Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett
When disgraced reality TV star Desiree Pierce is found dead on a playground, people immediately assume she overdosed. But Desiree’s half-sister Lena Scott refuses to believe that. As she works to find the truth, she delves into family secrets that she may not have wanted to know.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Rachel Krall is a podcaster. During her coverage of a rape trial in the town of Neapolis, she receives a message with a strange claim: that a death by drowning over 20 years ago was truly a murder. As Rachel conducts an investigation, she begins to find strange connections between both cases.