This list of novels for true crime fans 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.
So you love true crime, but you also love fiction. In that case, these ten novels should help bridge the gap between your two loves. Whether it’s because they’re inspired by actual events or because the authors go out of their way to give their narratives that true crime vibe, these novels are the perfect way to get your true crime fix and your fiction fix in one go.
The Black Dahlia By James Ellroy
This historical novel is loosely based on one of the most famous unsolved murders in history. On January 15, 1947, a woman’s mutilated body is found in a vacant lot. Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, two rival cops, become obsessed with this woman’s murder, a woman who is known in the headlines as “The Black Dahlia.” The more they look into the case, the more they become entangled in the dark underbelly of postwar Hollywood.
Sadie by Courtney Summers
If, like me, you’re obsessed with true crime podcasts, Sadie is not to be missed. And if you really want to feel like you’re listening a true crime podcast while reading this book, download this one on audiobook for the full experience. Sadie has run away from home. She’s on a mission to track down the person who murdered her sister Mattie. But unbeknownst to her, she’s not alone in this journey. Radio personality West McCray overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station and begins tracking the young girl through a serialized podcast. What happened to Sadie? Where is she now? And will the podcast ever catch up with the girl herself?
The Long Drop by Denise Mina
It’s the end of the “trial of the century.” Peter Manuel has been convicted of several murders and is awaiting his death sentence. Based on a true crime case in Glasgow in 1957, this novel looks back on the crimes of “The Beast of Birkenshaw.” While this is a work of historical fiction, Mina’s writing style gives the prose a true crime feel. As you’re reading this, you might just find yourself wondering how much of this novel is fiction and how much really happened.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
In this novel, Marlon James examines the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. And while this true story of attempted murder on December 3, 1976, is at the center of this story, the novel spans several decades, continents, and points of view. A Brief History of Seven Killings is an ambitious novel that will please true crime fans who can appreciate meticulous research.
To Die For by Joyce Maynard
If you’re into true crime stuff and you haven’t yet seen the Gus Van Sant movie To Die For starring Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix, then I don’t know what to do for you. The least you can do is read the book on which the movie is based. After her husband is killed by her teenaged boyfriend, Suzanne Maretto convincingly plays the role of grieving widow. But the truth behind her tears is dark and sinister. Maynard’s gripping novel is based on the true story of Pamela Smart. While there have been many true crime books and memoirs written about the case, Joyce Maynard’s fictionalized account is an especially compelling read.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
Here’s another great novel for fans of true crime podcasts. Investigative reporter Poppy Parnell has reopened a long-closed murder case through her new hit true crime podcast that will give you serious Serial vibes. There’s one major problem though: Josie Buhrman, the murder victim’s daughter, has spent the last ten years of her life trying to escape her family’s reputation. In order to keep up the charade, Josie has lied to everyone she cares about, including her own husband. Now Poppy’s podcast threatens to tear the life Josie has built for herself apart. What will happen when Josie can no longer outrun the truth?
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Set in the 1920s, The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first in a series of historical mystery novels starring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay. Why will true crime aficionados be interested in this story? The character of Perveen Mistry is based on the real-life first female solicitor in India, Cornelia Sorabji. While the crime itself in this novel isn’t real, its setting and premise is based on the fascinating real life of a groundbreaking female lawyer.
Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
In Silence of the Lambs, author Thomas Harris combined multiple true crimes to come up with this fictional story. The serial killer “Buffalo Bill” is a combination of multiple serial killers, including Ed Gein and Ted Bundy. And then of course there’s Harris’s famous character Hannibal Lecter, who is based on a real-life killer surgeon named Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Harris met the doctor when he was at a prison doing research on another inmate. Treviño fascinated Harris, and the rest is history.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
And now for something completely different. There is a lot of crime on this list from an investigator’s perspective, but My Sister, the Serial Killer is a unique take on crime fiction because it’s from a serial killer’s sister’s perspective. Korede’s sister Ayoola has a nasty habit of killing all of her boyfriends. Thankfully, Korede is a master at cleaning up blood and giving Ayoola practical tips on how to play a grieving girlfriend convincingly. For the true crime lover who doesn’t mind laughing at murder and loves to get into the mind of a serial killer, Braithwaite’s short but unforgettable novel is not to be missed.
The Girls by Emma Cline
If you thought you were going to get through this list of true crime–like novels without one cult, you were sorely mistaken. Emma Cline’s The Girls is loosely based on Charles Manson’s cult in the late 1960s. The story is told from the perspective of a young teenager named Evie Boyd. Evie becomes infatuated with an older girl named Suzanne, and through her connection to Suzanne, Evie quickly finds herself pulled into the world of a soon-to-be infamous cult.
Now you have a good list of novels to give you a break in between your true crime documentary marathons and/or to give you something to do while you wait for your next true crime podcast obsession. Enjoy!
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