The best true-crime books that read like a classic Agatha Christie mystery

Who am I?

I started out as a technical writer for computer magazines and my specialty was explaining complex subjects in language the average person could understand. I got tired of that and began writing for general interest magazines, then wrote a couple of thrillers, then plays. For years, I’d been hearing the story of a gentleman farmer who was murdered in 1918, toward the end of WWI, not far from where I live. The murder was never solved and was rumored to involve German espionage. I decided to tackle the story, which involved a mountain of research into historical documents and uncovered a case that was as compelling as any fictional mystery.


I wrote...

Deep Water: Murder, Scandal, and Intrigue in a New England Town

By Ken Sheldon,

Book cover of Deep Water: Murder, Scandal, and Intrigue in a New England Town

What is my book about?

In the waning days of WWI, William K. Dean was brutally murdered, his body hog-tied and dumped in a rainwater cistern on his farm in the quiet town of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Suspicion quickly fell on Dean's wife, an invalid in the early stages of dementia. Others pointed to a former tenant of Dean’s, suspected of being a German spy. Still others believed that Dean's best friend, a powerful banker and judge, was the murderer. Deep Water is a true-crime story that reads like an Agatha Christie mystery, with multiple suspects, red herrings, and surprising plot twists. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Ken Sheldon Why did I love this book?

This is frankly, one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, intertwining the true story of a fiendish serial killer with that of the creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where the killer operated. Erik Larson is a master at weaving historical details into page-turning narratives and I consciously studied his technique when it came to writing my own book. You might not think you’ll care that much about the Chicago World’s Fair but trust me, you’ll need a break from the other chapters about the monstrous H.H.Holmes and his crimes. Leave a light on when you read this one.

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Devil in the White City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Chicago World Fair was the greatest fair in American history. This is the story of the men and women whose lives it irrevocably changed and of two men in particular- an architect and a serial killer. The architect is Daniel Burnham, a man of great integrity and depth. It was his vision of the fair that attracted the best minds and talents of the day. The killer is Henry H. Holmes. Intelligent as well as handsome and charming, Holmes opened a boarding house which he advertised as 'The World's Fair Hotel' Here in the neighbourhood where he was once…


Book cover of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Ken Sheldon Why did I love this book?

Most true-crime books are about one victim, or maybe a few. The victims in David Grann’s heartbreaking book are an entire people, the Osage Indians—made rich when oil was discovered on their land and made victims when corrupt officials decided to take their money away. I was inspired in my own writing by the vast amount of research that Grann did for this book and for the way he crafted it into a compelling story of murder and the birth of the FBI. He excels at creating narrative drive, and I only hope I achieved as much as he did.

By David Grann,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Killers of the Flower Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. But the bureau badly bungled the investigation. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover…


Book cover of Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Ken Sheldon Why did I love this book?

How much do you know about President Garfield, except perhaps the fact that he was assassinated? Neither did I, until I read Candice Millard’s fascinating book, a true-crime story that details how a madman became unhinged and shot Garfield, a good, honorable man who might have gone on to do great things if only his doctors had left him alone. My book is about a lesser-known but equally admirable and patriotic man who came to a cruel and tragic end, and who deserved to have his story told.

By Candice Millard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Destiny of the Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The extraordinary account of James Garfield's rise from poverty to the American presidency, and the dramatic history of his assassination and legacy, from the bestselling author of The River of Doubt.
 
James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, a renowned congressman, and a reluctant presidential candidate who took on the nation's corrupt political establishment. But four months after Garfield's inauguration in 1881, he was shot in the back by a deranged office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. Garfield…


Book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Ken Sheldon Why did I love this book?

On an early trip to Savannah, I stayed a block from the mansion where the murder at the heart of John Berendt’s bestselling book took place and where the movie was filmed. I wrote much of my own book in another apartment not far away. In my writing, I was inspired by the way Berendt included himself in his story and I decided to incorporate some of my own struggles to uncover the truth about the brutal murder of William K. Dean.

By John Berendt,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Genteel society ladies who compare notes on their husbands' suicides. A hilariously foul-mouthed black drag queen. A voodoo priestess who works her roots in the graveyard at midnight. A morose inventor who owns a bottle of poison powerful enough to kill everyone in town. A prominent antiques dealer who hangs a Nazi flag from his window to disrupt the shooting of a movie. And a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a 'walking streak of sex'.

These are some of the real residents of Savannah, Georgia, a city whose eccentric mores are unerringly observed - and whose dirty linen…


Book cover of Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found

Ken Sheldon Why did I love this book?

If you’re like me, you’ve never been the victim of senseless, cruel injustice, and may find it hard to believe that anyone could inflict that on another person. Injustice—the false accusation of rape made against an innocent young Black man—is at the heart of King’s book and it might just break your heart, as it did mine. Reading it reinforced my conviction that William Dean—murdered not far from where I live—deserved justice, even if the crime took place a hundred years ago. 

By Gilbert King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beneath a Ruthless Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR and THE WASHINGTON POST

"Compelling, insightful and important, Beneath a Ruthless Sun exposes the corruption of racial bigotry and animus that shadows a community, a state and a nation. A fascinating examination of an injustice story all too familiar and still largely ignored, an engaging and essential read." --Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in…


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Make Her Pay

By Miranda Rijks,

Book cover of Make Her Pay

Miranda Rijks Author Of The Homemaker

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Mountain-lover

Miranda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A twisty psychological thriller about beautiful, successful Leonie who has just met Markus, the man of her dreams. But Leonie has a secret. Ten years ago, she was involved in an accident in which another driver died. Leonie shouldn’t have been behind the wheel that night – so she fled the scene. And ever since, she’s struggled with the terrible guilt.

Now, as her wedding to Markus draws near, it seems someone is out to get her. It’s little things at first but it soon escalates into a terrifying campaign which threatens her business, her family and even her life. Leonie realizes there’s a link to the accident that happened all those years ago. Someone knows what she did. Someone is determined to make her pay.

Make Her Pay

By Miranda Rijks,

What is this book about?

Leonie has the perfect life. Someone wants to take it away.

Leonie is living her best life. Still in her twenties, she’s beautiful, successful and has just met Markus, the man of her dreams.

But Leonie has a secret. Ten years ago, she was involved in an accident in which another driver died. Leonie shouldn’t have been behind the wheel that night – no license, no insurance – so she fled the scene. And ever since, she’s been struggling to deal with the terrible guilt.

Now, as her wedding to Markus draws near, it seems someone is out to get…


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