Nothing captures the imagination quite like a crime novel, and the only thing more exciting than fiction is a true story. There are hundreds of true crime novels out there, but this list contains five of the greatest true crime novels ever penned.
“In Cold Blood” – Truman Capote
Truman Capote has become a household name, largely thanks to this book. “In Cold Blood” is the story of the 1959 quadruple homicide of the Clutter family. Capote spent six weeks investigating the murder in the sleepy Kansas farm town and then spent six years penning the novel that still holds the number two spot for the biggest-selling true crime novel in history. “In Cold Blood” is a chilling-yet-thrilling read.
“Helter Skelter” – Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Capote’s masterpiece is the second most popular true crime novel because “Helter Skelter” has held the top spot on that list since its publication in 1974. This novel recounts the gruesome case of Charles Manson and his involvement in the 1970 Tate-LaBianca murders. Bugliosi was the prosecutor of the case, and “Helter Skelter” presents his accounts of the investigation into not only Manson, but in the members of his “family” as well. This book is a must-read for every true crime fan.
“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” – John Berendt
This novel is the basis for the 1997 movie of the same name. The book revolves around the 1980 death of a young male prostitute in the Savannah home of well-respected antiques dealer Jim Williams. While the plot is based on true events, the sequence of events is rearranged to give the book a more exciting, novel-like tone. The story is full of eccentric, Deep South characters as well as a hearty dose of voodoo that will keep readers entranced from the first page to the last.
“The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder” – Charles Graeber
This is the true story of Charlie Cullen, “The Angel of Death” and America’s most prolific serial killer. Cullen was implicated in 300 murders over the course of his 16-year career as a registered nurse. Graeber uses hundreds of pages of previously unreleased police transcripts and his own face-to-face conversations with Cullen to present the tale of an intelligent-yet-twisted man who hid his murderous compulsions behind a veneer of shyness and a Nightingale Pledge.
“Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia” – Joseph Pistone
This book is FBI agent Joe Pistone’s autobiographical account of his time spent in deep cover infiltrating first the Colombo crime family before moving up to the more powerful Bonanno family. Pistone posed as expert jewel thief Donald Brasco and spent six years gaining the trust of top members of these powerful crime families in order to bring them down. This novel is so absorbing that, at times, it is difficult to remember that the story is not a piece of well-crafted fiction.
“Midnight in Peking” – Paul French
Paul French is an historian and expert in Chinese culture examining the mysterious murder of English schoolgirl Pamela Werner in 1937 colonial Peking. The young woman’s mutilated body is found at Fox Tower, where superstitions abound. Was it the work of spirits, Japanese soldiers, a madman or something else? This is the fast-paced true story of a British and Chinese detective team’s race against time, desperate to solve the murder before an impending Japanese invasion destroys the entire city as they know it.
The mix of fact, fiction and expert storytelling makes these five true crime novels irresistible must-reads. For even more true crime bestsellers, check out this Goodreads list.
See also: 5 Great Movies About Court Cases