The 6 Best True Crime Books That’ll Keep You on The Edge of Your Seat—Trust Me, I’ve Read Them

Katie Decker-Jacoby
The 6 Best True Crime Books That’ll Keep You on The Edge of Your Seat—Trust Me, I’ve Read Them

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For some, a typical Sunday afternoon during wintertime looks like a Colleen Hoover book by the fireplace with a side of hot cocoa. For others, it’s a true crime book while curled up in bed and re-locking doors. If you find the true crime genre completely enwraps you like no lovey-dovey, mushy TikTok novel could, you’ve come to the right place.

I took a class about true crime and American culture when I was in college, and while we read tons of books in this haunting genre, only a handful actually stuck with me. There’s the thrilling account from one of Ted Bundy’s former coworkers and confidants, or the unique perspective of the Manson trial prosecutor. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for a “non-fiction novel,” a book that reads as if it were fictional, though everything printed on the pages did, in fact, happen IRL. 

Whether you’re completely obsessed with true crime or want to give this genre a go, I have a hunch you’ll be flipping through these books like there’s no tomorrow—they’re just that good.

From Truman Capote to Ann Rule, you’re in for a scary treat with these six true crime books that I can personally vouch for. Best of all, they’re each available for under $20 on Amazon

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The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule Amazon

Photo: W. W. Norton & Company.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

When I say I couldn’t put this book down, I mean it. The Stranger Beside Me is told from the perspective of one of Ted Bundy’s former coworkers, Ann Rule. She worked at a Seattle crisis clinic with the serial killer that’s known for his glib demeanor in the public eye and savage tendencies in private. Like so many other serial killers, Bundy had two completely different personalities and lived two vastly different lives. Rule recounts how she came to know the facet that charmed her. She also tells of how she came to the conclusion that the wanted serial killer was actually her colleague—and friend.

If you’re looking for a true crime read that you’ll finish in a couple of days—one you won’t be able to get out of your mind—it’s The Stranger Beside Me. One Amazon reviewer raved, “Few books have me hanging on [to] every word like this one did. Chilling and crazy!”

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi Amazon

Photo: W. W. Norton & Company.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi 

We’re on to perhaps the most recognizable name on this list: Charles Manson. So many people have covered Manson, but what makes Helter Skelter stand out from the rest of the pack is that it’s written by the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi. He witnessed the cult leader and his followers in a way few did. Bugliosi does an amazing job at setting the scene for the murders and trials, and details what exactly happened on those two fatal days in California. His tone draws you in and keeps you hooked from the first page to the very last. 

“Each page is riveting, with a fresh revelation. Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson cases, is a highly intelligent terrier in searching out … everything,” explains one Amazon reader. “The brilliance results from the decision to explain the case chronologically, from the point of view of the law, and so each part becomes clearer and more devastating as time moves forward.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson Amazon

Photo: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

If you’re both a history and true crime buff, The Devil in the White City is right up your alley. It fuses two lives: the architect of the first world’s fair in Chicago, Daniel Hudson Burnham, and murderer slash doctor, Henry. H. Holmes. Larson weaves the two narratives together seamlessly from start to finish. You get all of the historical details of the Gilded Age as experienced in Chicago, along with troubling details of a killer who used this first-of-its-kind fair to rope in his victims. The storytelling is so good that The Devil in the White City reads like a work of fiction (a.k.a. a “non-fiction novel”), even though it’s very much non-fiction. Yes, these two people actually walked the streets of Chicago, but each with extremely different motives.

“This is one of the best books I have ever read,” wrote one five-star reviewer on Amazon. “Non-fiction that reads like a novel, full of history, intrigue, and suspense. I highly recommend this book to everyone!”

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote Amazon

Photo: Vintage.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Perhaps one of the most widely-known true crime works, In Cold Blood gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the Clutter family. All four members of the clan were shot in their home located in Holcomb, Kansas. The murder took place in a rural small town in 1959, so this was a big deal and garnered attention from around the country. What keeps readers glued to Capote’s pages is the fact that there are virtually no clues left behind by the killers. Capote masterfully puts the pieces of the puzzle together—from the murder to the trial to the eventual execution of the two killers. He has a special way of building suspense. Just like Larson’s The Devil in the White City, Capote’s piece is a non-fiction novel that you will seriously struggle to close.

One reviewer on Amazon sums up the book to perfection: “From the beginning pages, with his haunting description of Holcomb, Kansas, a place so off the grid it was called ‘out there’, to the machinations of the two now infamous losers, Dick and Perry, and the heartbreaking details of the day before the deaths of the Clutters—described as a solid, superior American family—one is spellbound.” They add, “How could it happen? Why did it happen? Does evil really need a reason or just an excuse? These are questions that resonate as one races through the book, feeling the pain and sorrow of everyone in the close-knit town, a town where no one even bothered to lock their doors.”

Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic by Joe McGinniss Amazon

Photo: Berkley.

Fatal Vision: A True Crime Classic by Joe McGinniss

Fatal Vision chronicles the murders of a pregnant wife and her two small children. The person everyone’s looking at as a suspect? Her husband, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, who, after the fact, hired the author to write this gripping book on his behalf. MacDonald is an all-American guy who received an Ivy League education and works as a physician, so not who the average person would expect one bit. And though he claims he didn’t commit the brutal murders, there’s a lot more to the story.

“Few non-fiction books have been as riveting as this, but Joe McGinniss was a phenomenally focused writer and researcher who had the inside track of the notorious Jeffrey MacDonald case,” wrote one Amazon reader. “Scrupulously written and detailed, the late, famed author presented a frightening portrait of a brilliant, charismatic, but obviously guilty psychopath who still remains, incredibly, deep in a state of denial, stubbornly convinced of his innocence.”

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm Amazon

Photo: Vintage.

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

If you speed through Fatal Vision, the next logical read is The Journalist and the Murderer, because what happens when a killer hires an author to write about his case in a favorable light, except the book is anything but that? The author gets sued, of course! The Journalist and the Murderer guides readers through the lawsuit between the convicted murderer, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, and Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision. Malcolm sheds light on ethics in journalism through interviews with several key pieces in the lawsuit. And while this book is all about journalistic integrity rather than the gory details of the murders, it’s a read anyone who enjoyed McGinniss’ book should pick up.

“In her treatise, Janet Malcolm dissects the tricky and sticky relationship between journalist and subject with surgical precision. Both illuminating and depressing, it is a primer all current and potential writers must study to stay true to their school… and themselves,” explains one Amazon reviewer

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