The best true crime memoirs written by actual participants in the story

The Books I Picked & Why

The Hoax: A Memoir

By Clifford Irving

The Hoax: A Memoir

Why this book?

A rising star in the American book scene of the 1960s, novelist Clifford Irving suddenly claimed his greatest fame in 1972 as a criminal who almost succeeded in the most brazen literary hoax of all time by selling rights to a bogus autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Exposed and convicted of fraud, Irving spent 16 months in federal prison and returned his $765,000 advance. But he may have had the last laugh with the 1981 publication of this raucous and hilarious inside account of the scam, removing all his skeletons from the closet and shaking them for everyone to see. A movie starring Richard Gere as Irving followed in 2006. Irving died at the age of 87 in 2017.


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Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang

By William Queen

Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang

Why this book?

Vietnam vet William Queen was capping a 20-year law enforcement career in 1998 when the ATF agent wangled an invitation to join the San Fernando Valley chapter of the notorious Mongols motorcycle club under the code name Billy St. John. He spent the next 28 months rising undercover to the rank of treasurer and vice president, allowing him to provide documents for the arrest and indictment of 54 members by 700 officers in four different states. Queen’s 2005 bestselling true crime memoir of his Mongols days ranges from bone-chilling to side-splitting for terror and laughs. Although Mel Gibson reportedly bought the screen rights, a movie has yet to appear.


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Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake

By Frank W. Abagnale, Stan Redding

Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake

Why this book?

Most readers will know this general story through the 2002 blockbuster movie from the controversial 1980 book, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. But reading the book offers an opportunity to ponder the dilemma of true crime memoir authenticity. Is this a con man author conning book buyers with exaggerations about his cons? Does it matter? Corroborating documentation may be weak, but the entertainment value is strong. Readers can enjoy the ride then debate the merits. It still deserves a spot high on anyone’s list of autobiographical crime adventures.


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Manchild in the Promised Land

By Claude Brown

Manchild in the Promised Land

Why this book?

In this 1965 memoir, the late Claude Brown recounts his experiences coming of age on the mean streets of Harlem just after World War II as part of that first generation of black refugees from the south to resettle in New York. Besides ranking as a classic of black literature, Manchild provides plenty of adventure for fans of true crime with an inside look at juvenile gangs, incarceration, and, ultimately, the redemption Brown enjoyed, reflecting themes that remain relevant into the current century.


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Till Death Us Do Part: A True Murder Mystery

By Vincent Bugliosi, Ken Hurwitz

Till Death Us Do Part: A True Murder Mystery

Why this book?

Best known for Helter Skelter--his classic 1975 true crime memoir on prosecuting the Manson family, former Los Angeles deputy DA Vincent Bugliosi wrote this book later about a complicated but lesser-known double-homicide case he tried in 1966, three years before the Manson murders occurred. As the prosecutor on these cases, Bugliosi boasted access to background details that only an insider can share, merging psychological analysis with trial strategy concerns. Echoing themes of the noir thriller Double Indemnity, this true account unveils the plot of two lovers to murder their respective spouses and explains the complex police work required to catch them.


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