The best true crime books that read like thrillers

Who am I?

I’m a reporter, author of nine books, and the host and producer of the Cold Case Canada podcast. I fell in love with my city’s murky underbelly on a trip to the Vancouver Police Museum in the 1990s. Axe murders, murder by milkshake, Vancouver’s first triple murder—it was all there. I’ve tried to give those true crime exhibits new life by talking to law enforcement, relatives, and friends, digging up never-seen-before photos and documents, and wherever possible, giving the victims back their voice. I run the Facebook group Cold Case Canada where people share their thoughts, and in a best-case scenario, find leads that could help solve a murder. 

I wrote...

Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer

By Eve Lazarus,

Book cover of Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer

What is my book about?

When 40-year-old Esther Castellani died a slow and agonizing death in 1965, the cause was at first undetermined. But soon after, her husband Rene, a charismatic radio personality was charged with capital murder for poisoning Esther with arsenic-laced milkshakes so that he could marry Lolly, the station’s 20-something receptionist. Jeannine, the Castellani’s 11-year-old daughter became collateral damage. Initially, she clung to her father’s innocence, even committing perjury during his trial.

Rigorously researched, and often told from Jeannine’s point of view, Murder by Milkshake is based on dozens of interviews with family, friends, and co-workers and compellingly documents this sensational criminal case. Short-listed for the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Prize (BC Book Prizes), Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award, and the City of Vancouver Book Award.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote,

Book cover of In Cold Blood

Why did I love this book?

There’s a reason why In Cold Blood appears on so many favourite lists six decades after it was published. It’s a brilliant, genre-smashing book that demonstrates just how true crime should be written. Capote tells the story from several perspectives. He dives into the lives of the victims and even forces us to feel empathy for their murderers. And, even though we know what happens—it’s true crime after all—it doesn’t matter, Capote builds suspense in every chapter.

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked In Cold Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The chilling true crime 'non-fiction novel' that made Truman Capote's name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote's comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly…

Book cover of The Blooding: The Dramatic True Story of the First Murder Case Solved by Genetic "Fingerprinting"

Why did I love this book?

A homicide detective I interviewed about the forensics involved in one of his cases a few years back, put me onto this book. And, it’s brilliant, I couldn’t put it down. While we all have a basic understanding of forensics thanks to CSI, this is the first murder case to be solved by DNA and follows the investigation into the rape and murder of two 15-year-old girls in the 1980s. There are lots of red herrings—just like in a real crime novel—along the way of this four-year-long police investigation, and the largest manhunt in British crime history. When the killer is eventually found, it’s not anyone you thought it would be.

By Joseph Wambaugh,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blooding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann's savagely raped and strangled body is found along a shady footpath near the English village of Narborough.  Though a massive 150-man dragnet is launched, the case remains unsolved.  Three years later the killer strikes again, raping and strangling teenager Dawn Ashforth only a stone's throw from where Lynda was so brutally murdered.  But it will take four years, a scientific breakthrough, the largest manhunt in British crime annals, and the blooding of more than four thousand men before the real killer is found.

Book cover of The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy

Why did I love this book?

Sure, you can watch the Netflix adaptation– but get the book and read it anyway, it’s worth it. While you think you might know serial killer Ted Bundy, Ann Rule really did know him, they were colleagues in Seattle who became friends. Her relationship with him and her job as a crime writer intersect, but it still takes a long time for her to come to terms with the fact that her friend is the psychopathic murderer of 36 women. Ann Rule was the 20th century’s Queen of true crime, and this book is a fascinating insight into a serial killer’s mind. Later editions of the book have her covering his trial and corresponding with Bundy in jail prior to his execution.

By Ann Rule,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Stranger Beside Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1971, while working the late-shift at a Seattle crisis clinic, true-crime writer Ann Rule struck up a friendship with a sensitive, charismatic young coworker: Ted Bundy. Three years later, eight young women disappeared in seven months, and Rule began tracking a brutal mass murderer. But she had no idea that the "Ted" the police were seeking was the same Ted who had become her close friend and confidant. As she put the evidence together, a terrifying picture emerged of the man she thought she knew-his magnetic power, his bleak compulsion, his double life, and, most of all, his string…

Book cover of Who Killed Janet Smith?

Why did I love this book?

On July 26, 1924, Janet Smith, 22 was found shot in the head by a .45 calibre automatic revolver in the basement of a Shaughnessy house. The bizarre murder of the Scottish nanny rocked Vancouver, the city where I live. Smith was employed by one of Vancouver’s prominent families and Starkins lays out the incompetent and corrupt police investigation that followed. Janet Smith’s murder is one of Canada’s oldest cold cases and Starkins tells a story that’s both gripping and full of tension. Entitled rich people, high society orgies, poor people, a fall guy, kidnapping, rampant racism, drugs—it’s covered in this book. 

By Ed Starkins,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Who Killed Janet Smith? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literary Nonfiction. New Edition as part City of Vancouver's Legacy Book Project, with foreword by historian Daniel Francis. WHO KILLED JANEY SMITH? examines one of the most infamous and still unsolved murder cases in Canadian history: the 1924 murder of twenty-two-year-old Scottish nursemaid Janet Smith. Originally published in 1984, and out of print for over a decade, this tale of intrigue, racism, privilege, and corruption in high places is a true-crime recreation that reads like a complex thriller.

Anvil Press is pleased to be reissuing this title as part of the City of Vancouver's Legacy Book Project. This new edition…

Book cover of On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women

Why did I love this book?

While Janet Smith was Vancouver’s shame in the 1920s, Willy Pickton was our boogeyman in the ‘90s. How did this pig farmer get away with murdering up to 50 women?—he was convicted of only six—because the women were sex workers and drug addicts that he picked up in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside and the police really didn’t give a shit. An investigative journalist, Cameron does a great job of outlining the botched police investigation and the department’s reluctance to believe it was a serial killer. Pickton is pure evil, and what I loved about Cameron’s work is how she not only gets into his head, but tells the stories of the victims, and in doing so, helps give them back a voice.

By Stevie Cameron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Verteran investigative journalist Stevie Cameron first began following the story of missing women in 1998, when the odd newspaper piece appeared chronicling the disappearances of drug-addicted sex trade workers from Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside. It was not until February 2002 that pig farmer Robert William Pickton would be arrested, and 2008 before he was found guilty, on six counts of second-degree murder. These counts were appealed and in 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its conclusion. The guilty verdict was upheld, and finally this unprecedented tale of true crime could be told.

Covering the case of one of North…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, murder mystery, and Vancouver Canada?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, murder mystery, and Vancouver Canada.

Murder Explore 828 books about murder
Murder Mystery Explore 438 books about murder mystery
Vancouver Canada Explore 32 books about Vancouver Canada