Maybe binging two seasons of The Following in such a short period of time (can you say "one week"?) wasn’t the most productive accomplishment I couldn’t have undertaken but, boy, did it tickle my macabre bone. America’s fascination with grizzly murders is well documented, and I'm just one of the many swept up in it.
If you're like me and need your fix, true crime books are where you should be looking for an absolute thrill. (And, if you've never read a true crime book, this list is a great place to start.) Because if you're all about the murder, the horror, and the crazy real-life events — sounds gruesome but awesome, I know — then there's no better place to pursue these stories than between the covers of page-turners like the ones I've listed below. I mean, when authors so acutely string together the intimate details of atrocious events, taking us away from our Twitter feeds and through the paralyzing moments of heart-racing terror, how do we turn away?
We don't — that's your answer. These true crime reads are enough to keep you up at night and begging to keep the lights on. Happy reading... if, of course, you dare.
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
How do you start a true crime list without Helter Skelter? Simply, you can’t. Bugliosi, who was a prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, had the kind of access and insight rarely offered to true crime writers. Along with 50 pages of photographs, this national bestseller looks beyond the murders to pick apart the motivation of Manson and his followers to murder, how they picked (or didn’t pick) their victims, how the cult came to be and more. This book is more than just true crime, it’s a fascinating look at susceptibility and persuasion.
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden
The amount of money Pablo Escobar had was so great he was able to write off 10 percent of his earnings because rats feasted on in the basement where it was stored. That is nothing in comparison to the droves of people — 30 million in fact — that the Medellin cartel essentially held hostage during their reign of terror. Bowden writes of the rise and fall of the Robin Hood cum King John figure during a 16-month manhunt and provides readers with unprecedented access to files and players that create a mesmerizing narrative.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood ensnared readers and spurred on a genre that had yet to truly grasp the American imagination in such an addictive and far-reaching way. Telling the story of the gruesome murders of the Clutter family who were murdered by shotgun in their home with no apparent motive and very few clues, Capote took enough liberties to make the book just shy of fiction but also close enough to reality to showcase American violence in its harshest light.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
Imagine going about your business, doing your job, living your life, only to find out that one of your coworkers was a prolific serial killer. Not only that but you are the journalist chronicling the hunt for said killer. Each turn of the page in The Stranger Beside Me is fraught with realizations that bring Rule’s world into focus. Your heart beats faster and your eyes scan the pages quicker as the end approaches in a wildly addictive and striking portrayal of the search for a serial killer who lay a little too close for comfort.
Fatal Vision by Joe McGinnis
Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton-educated, handsome and charming husband and father, vehemently denied, but was eventually convicted of, savagely killing his pregnant wife and two young children. In what would become an intensely controversial bestselling book, Joe McGinnis befriends MacDonald — taking morning runs together, drinking together, confiding in one another — and the two eventually become inseparable throughout the forthcoming trial. Though MacDonald may not have been aware of the espionage (that’s a story for another book, the one after this, in fact), what resulted was an intensely personal, haunting and gut-wrenching exposé of a man soon to be labeled a murderer.
The Journalist and The Murderer by Janet Malcolm
In direction connection to Fatal Vision, The Journalist and The Murderer dives into the complex relationship between journalist and subject, Malcolm explores the psychopathology of journalism and precisely how the line of ethics is toed, and sometimes kicked to the curbed altogether (we're looking at you, McGinnis), in order to land front-page stories and bestselling books.
Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt
What do Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Margaret Cho have in common? They all were a part of the celebrity-fueled outcry for justice on behalf of the “West Memphis Three”: the three boys who were charged at the ripe age of 18 for the murder of three 8-year-old boys in what was thought to be a satanic-cult ritual. Devil’s Knot chronicles what would become a circus of media coverage, blundered confessions, riddled witness statements and the eventual overturning of a nearly two decade long battle from behind bars.
The Search for the Green River Killer by Carlton Smith and Tomas Guillen
As someone who hails from the Seattle area I can tell you it’s not unusual to know someone (who knows someone) whose life was touched by Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. As of late, the news has resurfaced and wounds have been reopened as Ridgway faces a prison transfer with a decrease in security for good behavior — a slap in the face to the families of the 49 women who were brutally murdered. As with many of these books, Smith and Guillen were journalists who followed the case with unabashed curiosity and intense attention to detail. The Search for the Green River Killer is a chronical of the 20-year hunt for a Pacific Northwest killer who eluded authorities, the life he led in the meantime, and his ability to leave America spellbound through terror and disgust.