The best books on the truth and lies of ordinary lives

Tracey Lee Author Of Wither
By Tracey Lee

Who am I?

Everybody lies. Good people, evil-doers, and the well-intentioned. My fascination began when I discovered through genealogy the mistruths, obfuscations, and lies by omission that peppered my own family tree. In my case the forebears believed there were good reasons to lie and no reason to think that the truth would ever be uncovered. But DNA profiling has shone a big light on the dark corners. Also being a teacher for a few decades means I’ve heard just about every permutation of alleged truth there is! These books focus on the character’s journey through deception and fabrications to arrive at a version of truth that is less unbearable than the lies.


I wrote...

Wither

By Tracey Lee, Serena Sandrin (editor),

Book cover of Wither

What is my book about?

Lily O’Hara searches the past to solve problems of the present. Her own and those of others. The answers to these mysteries are often hiding in plain sight, but it takes Lily and her unlikely sidekicks to find the evidence buried in the memories of the living and the artefacts of the dead. In Wither, the second book of the series, she sifts through the lies, obfuscations, and half-truths to uncover the brutal reason for a young man’s death. Lily believes lives are like jigsaws, and to see the whole picture, one must have most of the pieces. Her journey takes her through the lives of those looking for answers, and those intent on covering them up.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

By Helen Garner,

Book cover of Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

Why this book?

This book remains one of the most evocative texts for me about where truth lies in a story. But this beautifully crafted version of the events that ended Joe Cinque’s life is no fiction. My heart breaks every time I read it, my rage at the callousness of his murderer and deep-seated sadness at the carelessness of his friends bubbles anew with each foray into the pages. Garner’s writing takes me to the scene, to the court, and into the very core of his family’s grief. Powerful. 

Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

By Helen Garner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Joe Cinque's Consolation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE

A true story of death, grief and the law from the 2019 winner of the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.

In October 1997 a clever young law student at ANU made a bizarre plan to murder her devoted boyfriend after a dinner party at their house. Some of the dinner guests-most of them university students-had heard rumours of the plan. Nobody warned Joe Cinque. He died one Sunday, in his own bed, of a massive dose of rohypnol and heroin. His girlfriend and her best friend were charged with murder.

Helen Garner…


Vertigo

By Amanda Lohrey, Lorraine Biggs (illustrator),

Book cover of Vertigo

Why this book?

Vertigo is not so much about the lies people tell, more the reasons why they can’t face the truth. The story unfolds as the reader is immersed in the physical world of the characters. The environment frames the sense of loss and isolation they experience and is described in detail. You can almost hear and smell the land around them. Lohrey also evokes the power of the Australian bushfire season and its power to destroy everything we build. Having lived through the New Year’s Eve fire in NSW in 2019/20 I feel every raw nerve ignite through her description. 

Vertigo

By Amanda Lohrey, Lorraine Biggs (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Luke and Anna, thirty-something and restless, decide on a sea change. Worn down by city life and wounded by a loss neither can talk about, they flee to a sleepy village by the coast. There, surrounded by nature, they begin to feel rejuvenated. But when bushfire threatens their new home, they must confront what they have tried to put behind them.

Vertigo is a fable of love and awakening by one of Australia's finest writers, about the unexpected way emotions can return and life can change.

‘Vertigo will keep you up much too late but it’s worth a one-sitting read.’…


The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger,

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Why this book?

This classic American novel was the first real book I read at school. I was 16 and felt a little connected to Holden Caulfield’s sense of disillusionment and self-alienation. I hadn’t been expelled like Holden, nor was I burdened with the grief of loss or the silence he had to endure after the death of his brother, but I was definitely experiencing some sense of apprehension and insecurity. I really wanted a red hunting hat…still do. Holden was the quintessential liar; he lied and obfuscated to avoid the inevitability of suffering, personal responsibility, and the wild ride of adolescence. My first visit to New York included what was left of Holden’s haunts; the Natural History Museum, the Central Park duck pond, and West 57th

The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Catcher in the Rye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After leaving prep school Holden Caulfield spends three days on his own in New York City.


Hypothermia

By Arnaldur Indridason,

Book cover of Hypothermia

Why this book?

I love Nordic crime and Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason writes a good game. His Detective Erlendur is a complex man who has little luck in his relationships with the living; but when it comes to solving murder and mystery, he is like a dog with a bone. Like all his Reykjavik Murder Mysteries there are several strands interwoven to create a multi-layered puzzle. At the heart of the series, and this fifth book, is the one mystery that he can’t, yet most desperately wants to solve, his brother’s disappearance in a snowstorm when they were boys. Everyone lies, particularly the guilty.

Hypothermia

By Arnaldur Indridason,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam at her holiday cottage. At first sight, it appears like a straightforward case of suicide; Maria had never recovered from the death of her mother two years previously and she had a history of depression. But then the friend who found her body approaches Detective Erlendur with a tape of a seance that Maria attended before her death and his curiosity is aroused.

Driven by a need to find answers, Erlendur begins an unofficial investigation into Maria's death. But he is also haunted by another unsolved mystery -…


The Empty Room

By Brian McGilloway,

Book cover of The Empty Room

Why this book?

Brian McGilloway’s novel is told in the first person from the perspective of a grieving mother who tries to pick through the lies and secrets to uncover what happened to her only child. On her journey she uncovers the brutal truth; everybody lies. The book takes a realistic look at Dora Condron’s emotional descent into a bleak world where she comes to believe that no one will tell the truth. I like most of all that it is crime novel, a mystery, and a family drama that is told from the single perspective. The mother’s introspection about her failings as a parent really hits home when we consider what our own last words might have been to a loved one who walks out the door and never walks back in. 

The Empty Room

By Brian McGilloway,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What do you do when your child disappears?

'A hugely compelling story of loss, grief and vengeance, The Empty Room is probably the best novel yet by one of our finest mystery writers. Unmissable.' John Connolly

'The tension and heartbreak kept me turning the pages' Patricia Gibney

'A searing, thrilling and heartbreaking look at life, loss and revenge, expertly handled by a hugely talented storyteller' Chris Whitaker

Pandora - Dora - Condron wakes one morning to discover her 17-year old daughter Ellie, has not come home after a party.

The day Ellie disappears, Dora is alone as her husband Eamon…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, court trials, and criminal investigations?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, court trials, and criminal investigations.

Murder Explore 493 books about murder
Court Trials Explore 25 books about court trials
Criminal Investigations Explore 275 books about criminal investigations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Into the Wild, Anne of Green Gables, and World War Z if you like this list.