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

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Rachel Monroe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A “necessary and brilliant” (NPR) exploration of our cultural fascination with true crime told through four “enthralling” (The New York Times Book Review) narratives of obsession.

In Savage Appetites,Rachel Monroe links four criminal roles—Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession. From a frustrated and brilliant heiress crafting crime-scene dollhouses to a young woman who became part of a Manson victim’s family, from a landscape architect in love with a convicted murderer to a Columbine fangirl who planned her own mass shooting, these women are alternately mesmerizing, horrifying, and sympathetic. A revealing study of women’s…

Book cover of The Journalist and the Murderer

Why did I love 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.

By Janet Malcolm,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Journalist and the Murderer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible'

In equal measure famous and infamous, Janet Malcolm's book charts the true story of a lawsuit between Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, and Joe McGinniss, the author of a book about the crime. Lauded as one of the Modern Libraries "100 Best Works of Nonfiction", The Journalist and the Murderer is fascinating and controversial, a contemporary classic of reportage.

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Benjamin Lorr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Author Benjamin Lorr wandered into a yoga studio—and fell down a rabbit hole

Hell-Bent explores a fascinating, often surreal world at the extremes of American yoga. Benjamin Lorr walked into his first yoga studio on a whim, overweight and curious, and quickly found the yoga reinventing his life. He was studying Bikram Yoga (or "hot yoga") when a run-in with a master and competitive yoga champion led him into an obsessive subculture—a group of yogis for whom eight hours of practice a day in 110- degree heat was just the beginning.

So begins a journey. Populated by athletic prodigies, wide-eyed…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Alex Marzano-Lesnevich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Part memoir, part true crime, wholly brilliant.' - Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train.

When law student Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is asked to work on a death-row hearing for convicted murderer and child molester Ricky Langley, she finds herself thrust into the tangled story of his childhood. As she digs deeper and deeper into the case she realizes that, despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

The Fact of a Body is both an enthralling memoir and a groundbreaking, heart-stopping investigation into how the law is personal, composed of individual stories, and…

Book cover of Them: Adventures with Extremists

Why did I love 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. 

By Jon Ronson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A wide variety of extremist groups -- Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis -- share the oddly similar belief that a tiny shadowy elite rule the world from a secret room. In Them, journalist Jon Ronson has joined the extremists to track down the fabled secret room.

As a journalist and a Jew, Ronson was often considered one of "Them" but he had no idea if their meetings actually took place. Was he just not invited? Them takes us across three continents and into the secret room. Along the way he meets Omar Bakri Mohammed, considered one of the most dangerous men in…

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