The best true crime biographies to put you in the mind of a criminal

Who am I?

The author of biographies, histories, and true crime books, Howard Sounes is best-known for Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, now in an updated edition; Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life; and Fred & Rose, the bestselling story of married English serial killers Fred and Rose West. Other books include Amy, 27, Seventies, Heist, and biographies of Paul McCartney and Lou Reed.


I wrote...

This Woman: Myra Hindley’s Prison Love Affair and Escape Attempt

By Howard Sounes,

Book cover of This Woman: Myra Hindley’s Prison Love Affair and Escape Attempt

What is my book about?

In 1973, Myra Hindley, the most notorious woman in Britain, is serving a life sentence for the Moors murders, in which she and her boyfriend killed five children and teenagers. It was a case that shocked the world. Behind bars she has fallen in love. When Hindley is refused parole, she persuades a sympathetic prison officer and former nun to help her break out of London's Holloway prison. Revealing the 'most wicked woman in Britain' in a new light, This Woman is an atmospheric prison story and a love story that will make readers think again about the woman behind the Moors murders.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell

Howard Sounes Why did I love this book?

The best true crime books are similar to any good biography, in that they are crafted, powerfully-researched lives of unusual people. With true crime, the life of the subject usually goes awry, however, by degrees from childhood, culminating in disaster, which affects others. Crime takes different forms. This gripping book charts the downfall of the brilliant but unscrupulous media baron Robert Maxwell, ending in his mysterious death in 1991. Had he lived, he may well have gone to jail, like his daughter, Ghislaine. Author John Peston has an eye for grotesques and a nice sense of humour. 

By John Preston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the UK’s 2022 Costa Prize for Biography

“A portrait of one of the most enigmatic figures in the annals of white-collar crime. . . . A well-researched, compelling book that uncovers many mysteries about a media tycoon.”—Kirkus Reviews

From the acclaimed author of A Very English Scandal, a thrilling and dramatic true-life account of the rise and fall of one of the most notorious media moguls of all time: Robert Maxwell.

In February 1991, Robert Maxwell triumphantly sailed into Manhattan harbor on his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, to buy the ailing New York Daily News. Taxi drivers stopped…


Book cover of Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Howard Sounes Why did I love this book?

Access is one key to writing a good non-fiction book, though not at the expense of independence. Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting lawyer who put Charles Manson and his gang of maniacs away, in the 1960s, allowing him, with his co-writer, to tell this sensational tale with an insider’s authority.

By Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Helter Skelter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his "family" of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the…


Book cover of Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's Underworld

Howard Sounes Why did I love this book?

A doctor interviews an elderly Japanese yakuza (gangster) as he recalls his life. Adhering to his own criminal code, the yakuza exudes a wayward nobility as he discusses the choices he made. Bob Dylan saw romance in this and quoted from the yakuza’s dialogue on his album, Love and Theft.

By Junichi Saga, John Bester (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of a Yakuza as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the true story, as told to the doctor who looked after him just before he died, of the life of one of the last traditional yakuza in Japan. It wasn't a good' life, in either sense of the word, but it was an adventurous one; and the tale he has to tell presents an honest and oddly attractive picture of an insider in that separate, unofficial world.
In his low, hoarse voice, he describes the random events that led the son of a prosperous country shopkeeper to become a member, and ultimately the leader, of a gang organizing…


Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Howard Sounes Why did I love this book?

I read Mailer’s book about the Utah killer Gary Gilmore upon its publication in 1979 when it earned a Pulitzer Prize. When I came to write my first book, I held The Executioner’s Song in mind as a high standard to aspire to. Mailer shows that it is possible to render a sordid murder case into a work of literature that is true to the facts, and revealing, but has the descriptive and dramatic qualities of fiction.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Executioner's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW O'HAGAN

In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. For those murders Gilmore was sent to languish on Death Row - and could confidently expect his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. In America, no one had been executed for ten years.

But Gary Gilmore wanted to die, and his ensuing battle with the authorities for the right to do so made him into a world-wide celebrity - and ensured that his execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.


Book cover of Killing For Company

Howard Sounes Why did I love this book?

The strength of Masters’s book about the London serial killer Dennis Nilsen, convicted in 1983, is access. Nilsen spoke to Masters at length, and apparently truthfully, about his life and crimes. As we follow Nilsen from birth to conviction, we begin to understand how he came to think and act as he did.

By Brian Masters,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Killing For Company as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive story of the Dennis Nilsen case featured in BBC's The Nilsen Tapes, and the book behind ITV's Des, starring David Tennant

***WINNER OF THE GOLD DAGGER AWARD FOR CRIME NON-FICTION and THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER***
__________________
Dennis Nilsen, who died in May 2018, admitted to killing at least 15 people before his arrest in 1983. This ground-breaking criminal study of his killings was written with Nilsen's full cooperation, resulting in a fascinating - and horrifying - portrait of the man who worshipped death.

In February 1983, residents of Muswell Hill had been plagued by blocked drains.…


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Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


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