10 True Crime Books That Are So Chilling, You Shouldn’t Read Them at Night
Turn on the lights and lock the doors before you settle in with one of these terrifying thrillers. These real-life stories prove that truth really is stranger—and scarier—than fiction.
True Crime Books: Columbine
The Columbine high school shooting rocked the nation in 1999 and unfortunately seemed to herald an epidemic. Journalist Dave Cullen spent nearly 10 years pouring over documents and evidence, trying to make sense of a crime that was nonsensical and unthinkable. Cullen’s book takes you into the investigation and its many missteps, to put together a narrative and time frame. Cullen interviews survivors and delves into the psychology of the killers in this riveting analysis of this desperate tragedy.
True Crime Books: In Cold Blood
Truman Capote basically invented the true crime book genre with the 1965 publication of this best-seller that’s considered a masterpiece. In Cold Blood reads like a novel even though it’s a journalistic account. Capote relays the events of a horrific murder that took place on a farm in Kansas in the late 1950s. The book is filled with suspense and despair as it captures the horror of a meaningless crime and its aftermath. If you liked the book, you’ll love the movie.
True Crime Books: Wise Guy
Nicholas Pileggi’s riveting look at the inner world of the mafia is a page-turner. Martin Scorsese based his acclaimed film Goodfellas on this inside look at the life of Henry Hill, former mob man. Pileggi takes you into Hill’s childhood where he started out as a petty criminal for a major crime family before working his way up. Eventually, he ends up in the Witness Protection Program and sings like a bird. He helped convict other mobsters and shared the tale with Pileggi. It’s filled with shocking revelations about criminality and life as a wise guy.
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True Crime Books: The Poisoner’s Handbook
Deborah Blum’s spine-tingling history tells the story of poison. Set during the Jazz Age, she takes you on a tour of poison science through the eyes of medical examiners as they try to figure out how poisons work and kill. Set in a time of burgeoning chemical science, and before any regulation, cosmetics and household products could be deadly. This is science writing at its finest that reads like a mystery novel.
True Crime Books: The Devil in the White City
This is the chilling tale of the serial killer who overtook the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Erik Larson’s cunning and readable book tells the nerve-racking story of H.H. Holmes, who pretended to be a doctor and lured victims to their death. Alternating chapters tell the story of Daniel Burnham, the architect in charge of building the sprawling fair that was supposed to be an ode to modern times and industry. Yet Holmes managed to exploit conditions to murder up to 200 people, many of them young women.
True Crime Books: The Executioner’s Song
Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for this masterpiece about law and order in America. It follows the story of a Utah murderer, Gary Gilmore, convicted of killing two men during a robbery. Mailer follows the aftermath of Gilmore’s conviction. The condemned man fights to be killed as soon as possible. Mailer dives into the stories of those embroiled in the conviction and Gilmore’s fight to die. The violent story is a page-turner based on research, interviews and documents that all try to get to as close as possible to truth.
True Crime Books: Helter Skelter
Written by Vince Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Charles Manson murder case, Helter Skelter takes you through the disturbing crime and the trial and conviction. One of the most popular true crime books ever written, it’s unnerving and terrifying until the very end. Manson was diabolical and the crimes unthinkable, with links to his bizarre cult in 1960s California. The book examines the dark horror that often hides in the underbelly of America.
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True Crime Books: Lost Girls
Robert Kolker’s acclaimed true crime mystery follows the investigation of a serial killer on Long Island who preyed on young women. Kolker’s account of the crimes and the desperate circumstances of the young girls causes obsession in readers long after they’ve finished reading. Based on exhaustive research, Kolker aims to make sense of the unthinkable crimes. What happened to these young girls? Kolker takes you into their lives and choices so you are haunted by the loss of their lives.
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True Crime Books: The Good Nurse
Charles Graeber tells the horrifying tale of Charlie Cullen—a nurse responsible for murdering up to 300 of the patients he was assigned to care for. Graeber diligently researches the story to put together the crimes and the circumstances which finally led to Cullen’s conviction. It’s a harrowing read that follows the detective’s investigation while offering the best of true crime—an inside look into the world in which the crimes take place.
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True Crime Books: The Innocent Man
Former lawyer John Grisham is famous for his legal thriller novels. But in his first foray into non-fiction, he takes on another legal story, one with tragic circumstances. He follows the story of an up-and-coming baseball star accused and then convicted of rape and murder. But the man is innocent. Grisham’s bestseller follows the story of how a wrongly-accused man can end up the victim of the justice system.
Originally published as 10 True Crime Books That Are So Chilling, You Shouldn’t Read Them at Night on ReadersDigest.com.