My favorite books inspired by true crime that would be criminal not to read

Why am I passionate about this?

I chose this list for two reasons—one, true crime has always held great fascination for me. I have a real hunger to understand the motivations behind the darkest sides of human nature, which I believe exists in us all. My own book, The Man from Milwaukee, dives deep into this obsession by sympathetically portraying a closeted young gay man in 1991 Chicago, who sees the cannibal killer as a victim himself of his own irresistible murderous impulses, likening them to our main character’s own self-loathing toward his same-sex desires. 


I wrote...

The Man from Milwaukee

By Rick R. Reed,

Book cover of The Man from Milwaukee

What is my book about?

It's the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

Dahmer isn't Emory's only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory's desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of In Cold Blood

Rick R. Reed Why did I love this book?

The grandfather of all true-crime-based fiction, this one skews close to the actual facts. It’s the terrifying story of the brutal murders of the Clutter family in Kansas by misfit criminals. Its chilling narrative remains with me to this day, largely because of how well Capote describes the killings in the deep of night in what should have been a safe space—the family home.

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

17 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 Alias Grace

Rick R. Reed Why did I love this book?

Atwood’s marvelous historical novel chronicles the 1843 trial of a 16-year-old Canadian girl, Grace Marks. She was tried for murdering her employer and his mistress. Atwood has woven a tale of power and mystery, the pieces sewn together, much as the quilt Grace sews during the narrative.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Alias Grace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale

Now a major NETFLIX series

Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.' Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.

'Brilliant... Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin' Hilary Mantel

'The outstanding novelist of our age' Sunday Times

'A sensuous, perplexing book, at…


Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Rick R. Reed Why did I love this book?

Mailer’s opus dramatizes the cursed life of Gary Gilmore. In 1976, he robbed and killed two strangers. After being tried and sentenced to death, Gilmore insisted on being executed, to the disagreement of the justice system, who wanted him to remain alive. Written simply and with great compassion, the novel is disturbing, yet ultimately thought-provoking and redemptive.

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Executioner's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW O'HAGAN

In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. For those murders Gilmore was sent to languish on Death Row - and could confidently expect his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. In America, no one had been executed for ten years.

But Gary Gilmore wanted to die, and his ensuing battle with the authorities for the right to do so made him into a world-wide celebrity - and ensured that his execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.


Book cover of We Need to Talk about Kevin

Rick R. Reed Why did I love this book?

Shriver’s epistolary novel tells the story of a murderous student in letters from his parents. Inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School killings in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 fellow students and a teacher. Chilling and heartfelt, the book makes us confront feelings about motherhood, society, and retribution.

By Lionel Shriver,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked We Need to Talk about Kevin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2010

ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD

Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of a boy named Kevin who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who had tried to befriend him. Now, two years after her son's horrific rampage, Eva comes to terms with her role as Kevin's mother in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband Franklyn about their son's upbringing. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to…


Book cover of Little Deaths

Rick R. Reed Why did I love this book?

Flint’s novel combines literary fiction with the darkness of true crime and draws its inspiration from the 1965 Alice Crimmins case in Queens, NY. Her own small children disappeared from home, later found dead. The prosecution portrayed Crimmins as a woman with poor morals. An all-male jury convicted her on thin circumstantial evidence. Flint’s chronicle of the case is heartbreaking and perfectly evokes the time period.

By Emma Flint,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Little Deaths as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.

It's the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth's perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip…


You might also like...

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, murder mystery, and death row?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, murder mystery, and death row.

Murder Explore 910 books about murder
Murder Mystery Explore 478 books about murder mystery
Death Row Explore 14 books about death row