The best true crime books for those who (think they) don’t like true crime

Cathy Pickens Author Of Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing
By Cathy Pickens

Who am I?

When I started writing mysteries, beginning with St. Martin’s Malice Award-winning Southern Fried, I wanted to get the medical, investigative, and courtroom details right. What better resource than good first-hand accounts from professionals who do those things every day? I must admit that, over several decades now, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Real life is full of stories that, if told as fiction, would leave readers rolling their eyes in disbelief. The gruesome and cruel don’t interest me. I’m drawn to the storytellers who can capture the worst moments and turn them into finely written, compelling, accurate stories, showing us the complexity of life. 


I wrote...

Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

What is my book about?

Crimes that captivated the Charlotte area over the years run the gamut from missing people to the wrongly accused. This collection of headline stories features a little woman who got away with murder, violent motorcycle gangs, crusading mothers, a fraudster who claimed a president was poisoned by his wife, a serial killer who broke all the rules, and even the man who made Bigfoot. With a mystery novelist's ear for a good tale, Cathy Pickens presents more than a century of sensational sinister deeds that marked this diverse and dynamic city.

The books I picked & why

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Corpse Had a Familiar Face

By Edna Buchanan,

Book cover of Corpse Had a Familiar Face

Why this book?

In 1987, the year I first got serious about writing mystery fiction, Pulitizer prize-winning Miami Herald crime-reporter Edna Buchanan published this book on some of the 5,000 cases she’d covered. I’m a lawyer by training and knew the importance of getting the details right, and Edna’s book was my first training ground in real crime. Her wry humor made even tragic daily news readable and memorable—and she was a fierce lady who wrote not about cops or crime, but about people.


Classic Crimes

By William Roughead,

Book cover of Classic Crimes

Why this book?

Roughead wrote leisurely, almost Dickensian accounts of UK criminal trials in the 1920s and 1930s. He brought a sharp lawyer’s eye, a flair for the unusual, and a witty, knowledgeable voice to the trials and to the people involved. Madeleine Smith, Constance Kent, and Donald Merritt are among the 12 cases in this sampling from his many collections. Roughead set the bar for literate crime writers who followed.


Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, Dna, and More Tell Us about Crime

By Val McDermid,

Book cover of Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, Dna, and More Tell Us about Crime

Why this book?

Journalist and award-winning crime writer Val McDermid is known for her gritty novels. In Forensics, she draws on her connections to introduce us to forensic crime fighting around the world. The best part for me: she introduced behind-the-scenes elements to cases I thought I already knew. And she is a novelist. She knows how to tell a good story.


Texas Crime Chronicles

By Texas Monthly,

Book cover of Texas Crime Chronicles

Why this book?

I discovered Texas Monthly magazine and its in-depth crime reporting when one of my sisters lived in Fort Worth. I was hooked. Writers Skip Hollandsworth, Mimi Swartz, Mark Seal, Gary Cartwright, and others dig into each story. This isn’t “just the facts, ma’am” reporting. It’s why it happened and how it affected people. Some made international headlines (the military school cadets convicted of an odd love-triangle murder or the cheerleader’s mom who plotted to kill her daughter’s rival). Some could only happen in Texas. All are memorable, well-told tales.


Masterpieces of Murder: The Best True Crime Writing from the Best Chroniclers of Murder

By Jonathan Goodman,

Book cover of Masterpieces of Murder: The Best True Crime Writing from the Best Chroniclers of Murder

Why this book?

This collection features a range of stories, a range of time and places, written by many of the best true-crime writers. Goodman, himself a master storyteller, has pulled together a wide sampling of all manner of crimes stories, all well-told. Goodman wisely included his own likely solution to one of my favorite unsolved crimes, the Liverpool case of Julia Wallace, which has fascinated novelists from Raymond Chandler to Dorothy L. Sayers and P.D. James.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murders, Texas, and journalists?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murders, Texas, and journalists.

Murders Explore 339 books about murders
Texas Explore 95 books about Texas
Journalists Explore 100 books about journalists

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Recipes for Love and Murder, Sharp Objects, and Easy Motion Tourist if you like this list.