9 Novels You Probably Didn't Know Are Inspired By Real Crimes
If you’re a true crime addict, chances are you know all about popular podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Serial, marathon-worthy series like The Staircase and The Keepers, and famous nonfiction books like In Cold Blood and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. But what you might not know is that there are also a lot of great fiction books inspired by true crime stories, books you may have even read already without knowing they were rooted in real life.
True crime is a fascinating genre, one that has become an important and increasingly popular part of American culture on screen, in books, and over the airwaves. Everywhere you look, there is a new miniseries about a mysterious murder or an investigative book about an unsolved crime from a century ago. But long before your podcast feed was filled with true crime podcasts dedicated to serial killers, stolen identities, and political conspiracies, there were (and still are) plenty of authors who took these kind of stories straight from the headlines and turned them into fictional books.
If you’re looking for a new way to explore your favorite obsession, then check out one of these nine fiction books inspired by true crime.
'Hangsaman' by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson knows a thing or two about creating horror stories, but for her second novel Hangsaman, she drew inspiration from real life. In 1946, while the author was living in Vermont, Bennington College student Paula Jean Welden vanished without a trace, and Jackson used the unsolved true crime as the basis for her chilling bildungsroman about a college freshman at a liberal arts school whose life slowly unravels.
'Slammerkin' by Emma Donaghue
Inspired by a murder in the Welsh Borders in 1763, Emma Donahue's third novel tells a fascinating story of a prostitute with a deadly obsession with clothes. A dark and gripping about desire, wealth, and desperation, Slammerkin is a must-read for true crime and historical fiction fans alike.
'The Girls' by Emma Cline
In The Girls, debut author Emma Cline uses the well-known, real-life stories of the Manson family and the murders the committed to create a seductive albeit violent narrative about girlhood, growing up, and the horrible things that can happen along the way. A deftly crafted and novel that will hypnotize you from the first page, book is as addicting as any of the true crime podcast, book, or series you've already binged.
'The Long Drop' by Denise Mina
In 1958, in a small town just outside Glasgow, Peter Manuel murdered the Smart family while they slept in their beds. It's this gruesome crime that author Denise Mina uses as the basis for her dark and violent novel about one man accused of killing his wife, daughter, and sister-in-law, and the only other man who knows the truth that can set him free. A titillating psychological thriller about guilt, innocence, and justice, The Long Drop will keep you turning the pages until the very end.
'The Black Dahlia' by James Ellroy
If you're a serious true crime addict, then chances are you know all about the case of the Black Dahlia — whose name was Elizabeth Short — who was found murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. There have been dozens of movies, documentaries, podcasts, and books about the tragic murder, but few compare to bestselling author James Ellroy's novel, which gives a fictionalized account of Short's death and should be considered required reading for true crime fans.
'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood
Perhaps you already knew that the hit show Alias Grace was based on a Margaret Atwood novel, but did you know that novel was based on a real-life double murder? In 1843, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were found dead, and two of the servants that worked a the house were charged with the crime. It's this true story that Atwood uses to create her captivating fictional narrative about a woman sentenced to life in prison for murdering her employer, and the doctor who tries to help her uncover the truth.
'Burial Rites' by Hannah Kent
In 1828, Icelandic servant Agnes Magnusdottir was found guilty for the brutal murders of her employer and another man. While awaiting the approval of her death sentence, she was imprisoned at an isolated farm for months, and it is this period of time that Hannah Kent explores in her debut novel inspired by the events. A beautiful, lyrical, and utterly devastating narrative, Burial Rites will leave true crime fans mulling over the case, both fictional and real, long after they've finished reading.
'Lolita' by Vladamir Nabokov
As argued in Sarah Weinman's new book The Real Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's controversial classic was inspired by the real-life kidnapping and sexual assault of Sally Horner. Although Nabokov denied any connection between his narrative and the real-life case, the similarities — the young girl, the older man, the travel across state lines, and the traumatic sexual abuse — are too obvious to ignore.
'Our House' by Louise Chandler
The idea for Louise Candlish's chilling domestic thriller Our House wasn't inspired by just one true crime, but a series of property-related crimes the author read about in the newspaper. After reading about them and researching exactly how common they actually were, she created her own fictional suspense story about a perfect house, a broken marriage, and an unthinkable crime.