The best true crime books that read like thrillers

The Books I Picked & Why

In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Why 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.


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

By Joseph Wambaugh

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

Why 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.


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

By Ann Rule

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

Why 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.


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Who Killed Janet Smith?

By Ed Starkins

Who Killed Janet Smith?

Why 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. 


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

By Stevie Cameron

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

Why 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.


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