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

Howard Sounes Author Of This Woman: Myra Hindley’s Prison Love Affair and Escape Attempt
By Howard Sounes

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.

The books I picked & why

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Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell

By John Preston,

Book cover of Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell

Why 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. 


Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

By Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry,

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

Why 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.


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

By Junichi Saga, John Bester (translator),

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

Why 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.


The Executioner's Song

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Why 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.


Killing For Company

By Brian Masters,

Book cover of Killing For Company

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mass media, murders, and Tokyo?

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