The best true crime-adjacent books

Who am I?

When asked to describe the nonfiction genre I work in, I often say “true crime-adjacent,” meaning that while there is crime in my books, I’m more interested in the people, circumstances, and culture in which those crimes occur than the act itself. I love books that go deep into character analysis and motivation, as well as the author’s inclination toward the subject. These true crime-adjacent books are all-absorbing, thought-provoking page-turners, with stories so wild you won’t believe they’re completely real. 


I wrote...

Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America's Prisons

By Elizabeth Greenwood,

Book cover of Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America's Prisons

What is my book about?

Over the course of five years, Elizabeth Greenwood followed the ups and downs of five couples who met during incarceration. In Love Lockdown, she pulls back the curtain on the lives of the husbands and wives supporting some of the 2.3 million people in prisons around the United States. In the vein of Modern Love, this book shines a light on how these relationships reflect the desire and delusion we all experience in our romantic pairings. Love Lockdown infiltrates spaces many of us have only heard whispers of—from conjugal visits to prison weddings to relationships between the incarcerated themselves.

A fascinating and unputdownable deep-dive from the “quirky, engaging, and surprisingly uplifting” journalist Elizabeth Greenwood. - Eric Weiner, New York Times bestselling author

The books I picked & why

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Savage Appetites: True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

By Rachel Monroe,

Book cover of Savage Appetites: True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

Why this book?

Women are the top consumers of true crime. But why, when the stories so often feature women as victims of violence? New Yorker journalist Rachel Monroe profiles four different women in the roles of Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer to see what it’s all about. The reporting and context in this book are staggering, and Monroe’s writing is both critical and empathic. 


The Journalist and the Murderer

By Janet Malcolm,

Book cover of The Journalist and the Murderer

Why this book?

I could name any number of Malcolm’s books as favorites but I have to go with the granddaddy of ‘em all, The Journalist and the Murderer. Malcolm dissects a trial in which a man convicted of murder sues an author who wrote about his crime for libel. And the murderer wins. Can you believe?! Malcolm uses the case to analyze the journalistic transaction between writer and subject and thirty-three years after publication the book reads as contemporary. When talking about Malcolm’s writing, what doesn’t get mentioned enough is how laceratingly funny she is, and this book showcases that humor at its most cutting.


Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga

By Benjamin Lorr,

Book cover of Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga

Why this book?

You might be wondering why a book about yoga is on this list, and I tell you it’s because crime is everywhere! Lorr does incredible immersive journalism and for this book he embedded with Bikram yoga teachers and ended up breaking the story of Bikram Choudhury’s sexual misconduct. The book deconstructs the culture of cult-like thinking to reveal how crimes are perpetrated, excused, and covered up, and you’ll learn a lot about yoga in the process. Lorr is also hilarious but in a more maximalist gonzo manner. 


The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

By Alex Marzano-Lesnevich,

Book cover of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Why this book?

Marzano-Lesnevich was a Harvard law student working a summer internship when they encountered the case of Ricky Langley, who was being held on death row in Louisiana. That case opened up a personal wound for the author, and they vividly and powerfully intertwine the two stories. The author uses speculation and imagination to attempt to fill in blanks that are unanswerable. I recently taught this book in a seminar at Columbia on creative license in nonfiction, and my students were floored. 


Them: Adventures with Extremists

By Jon Ronson,

Book cover of Them: Adventures with Extremists

Why this book?

I always describe this as “the book I wish I’d written,” and was completely formative in defining the kind of nonfiction writing I do. Ronson hangs out with conspiracy-minded groups who on the outset would likely hate each other (neo-Nazis and Jihadists, for example) but all believe the same thing: a cabal of powerful people run the world. It shows that Qanon and its ilk are nothing new, and somehow Ronson walks the line of being with repugnant people yet also reveling in their inherent ridiculousness. 


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