The best books on the history of murder

Why am I passionate about this?

As an academic, I have been researching Canadian police and criminal justice history since the 1980s and I teach courses on the history of policing, crime, drugs and homicide, and capital punishment. In 2014 I began to cover a high-profile murder trial in my region of Canada and ended up writing a best-selling book on the case. The Oland case reinforced my interest in true crime, both as a research topic and a cultural phenomenon. True crime, whether set in the distant past or contemporary times, offers writers and readers alike fascinating forays into specific societies and communities as well as human nature.


I wrote...

Truth & Honour: The Oland Family Murder Case That Shocked Canada

By Greg Marquis,

Book cover of Truth & Honour: The Oland Family Murder Case That Shocked Canada

What is my book about?

Truth and Honour explores the 2011 murder of Saint John businessman Richard Oland, of the prominent family that owns Moosehead Breweries, the ensuing police investigation, and the arrest, trial, and conviction of the victim's son, Dennis Oland, for second ­degree murder.

Oland's trial would be the most publicized in New Brunswick history. What the trial judge called "a family tragedy of Shakespearian proportions," this real­life murder mystery included adultery, family dysfunction, largely circumstantial evidence, allegations of police incompetence, a high-powered legal defence, and a verdict that shocked the community. Truth and Honour explores this question: was Dennis Oland responsible for the death of his father?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter

Greg Marquis Why did I love this book?

This book was written not as a work of history, but contemporary non-fiction by two reporters covering one of Canada’s highest-profile murder cases of the 1970s, the killing of Christine Demeter, a former model married to flamboyant Toronto businessman and Hungarian immigrant Peter Demeter. By Canadian standards, the authors had unprecedented access to lawyers and others involved in the 1974 trial of Demeter for the murder of his wife and benefited from evidence and a cast of characters straight out of a best-selling crime novel. Demeter was found guilty and while serving his sentence he was convicted of instigating two separate plots to have people kidnapped and murdered. By Persons Unknown broke new ground in Canadian true crime writing.   

By George Jonas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By persons unknown: The strange death of Christine Demeter [Jan 01, 1977] Jonas, George


Book cover of The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

Greg Marquis Why did I love this book?

This is an amazing book that serves as a template for academic writers seeking to reach a wider readership. Flanders delves into not only Victorian Britain’s obsessive fascination with homicide and its detection, but also how newspaper editors and reporters, playwrights, and novelists benefited from and were influenced by particularly gruesome crimes with compelling victims and perpetrators. The book incorporates academic scholarship and recalls some of the most famous crimes of the era and explores their impact on Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other cultural producers.   

By Judith Flanders,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Invention of Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'We are a trading community, a commercial people. Murder is doubtless a very shocking offence, nevertheless as what is done is not to be undone, let us make our money out of it.' Punch

Murder in the 19th century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous - transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera - even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts.

In this meticulously researched and compelling book, Judith Flanders - author of 'The Victorian House' - retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder - both famous…


Book cover of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder

Greg Marquis Why did I love this book?

Similar to my second choice, this American study explores the impact of a sensational unsolved death on early Victorian New York and America in general. In 1841 Marie Rogers, an attractive young woman who worked in a tobacco shop, was found dead in the Hudson River, suspected to be a victim of murder. The case was well covered in the press and exposed weaknesses in the city’s system of policing.  The author details how Edgar Allen Poe furthered early detective fiction in his story The Mystery Marie Roger, which although set in Paris borrowed heavily from the New York events. An example of how the public can make a celebrity out of a murder victim who is not from the elite.     

By Daniel Stashower,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Beautiful Cigar Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

On July 28, 1841, the body of Mary Rogers, a twenty-year-old cigar girl, was found floating in the Hudson-and New York's unregulated police force proved incapable of solving the crime. One year later, a struggling writer named Edgar Allan Poe decided to take on the case-and sent his fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin, to solve the baffling murder of Mary Rogers in "The Mystery of Marie Rogt."


Book cover of The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

Greg Marquis Why did I love this book?

We all know that Grisham writes best-selling fiction that has been turned into several Hollywood blockbusters. But the most frightening book by this former small-town defence lawyer is his only work of non-fiction, an account of the wrongful conviction of Ronald Keith Williamson of the 1982 sex murder of Debra Sue Carter. Williamson, who was low-hanging fruit for police and prosecutors in Ada, Oklahoma, languished in prison for 11 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence. This book should be mandatory reading for police, prosecutors, and judges and is a useful reminder that public opinion and justice are often mutually exclusive.

By John Grisham,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

__________________
***NOW A MAJOR NETFLIX SERIES***

A gripping true-crime story of a shocking miscarriage of justice, from international bestselling thriller author John Grisham.

In the baseball draft of 1971, Ron Williamson was the first player chosen from Oklahoma. Signing with Oakland, he said goodbye to his small home town and left for California to pursue his dreams of glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits - drinking, drugs and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and…


Book cover of Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation

Greg Marquis Why did I love this book?

This is a compelling Canadian true-crime tale that captures the atmosphere of early 20th-century Toronto and explores the intersection of class, ethnicity, and societal expectations of proper moral conduct by men and women during wartime. The Masseys were a wealthy Ontario family that amassed a fortune manufacturing agricultural equipment. In 1915 Carrie Davies was an 18-year old English maid working in the home of C.A. “Bert” Massey. She killed her married employer with a revolver in front of a witness and freely admitted carrying out the crime, explaining that he had been making sexual advances towards her. I enjoyed this book as it reminds us of how legal rules and arguments in the past could be overwhelmed by public pressure and cultural expectations. Davies, who many viewed as a heroine, was acquitted of murder by an all-male jury in less than 1 hour.       

By Charlotte Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Non-Fiction
Winner of the Toronto Book Award
Winner of the CAA Lela Common Award for Canadian History
Winner of the Heritage Toronto Book Award
A Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
Finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize, the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, the Ottawa Book Award, the Libris Award, the OLA Evergreen Award

A scandalous crime, a sensational trial, a surprise verdict—the true story of Carrie Davies, the maid who shot a Massey

In February 1915, a member of one of Canada’s wealthiest families was shot and…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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Interested in murder, murder mystery, and miscarriages of justices?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, murder mystery, and miscarriages of justices.

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