The best cold case books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about cold cases and why they recommend each book.

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I'll Be Gone in the Dark

By Michelle McNamara,

Book cover of I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

McNamara’s account of the long-unsolved case of the Golden State Killer is gripping by itself, but her decision to include the story of her obsession with solving the case is what really sets this book apart. You feel like you’re right there with her as she pursues theories of the killer’s identity. The timing of the book was also noteworthy as the GSK’s identity was at last determined through familial DNA testing almost contemporaneously with the book’s publication.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the dark side of human nature and the socio-psychological aspects of criminal behavior, especially those of serial killers, and my legal training and experience afforded me apt tools for exploring and writing about true crime. I have been interviewed and appeared on a wide range of podcasts, radio, and TV shows about true crime for nearly a decade.

I wrote...

Devil in the Darkness: The True Story of Serial Killer Israel Keyes

By J.T. Hunter,

Book cover of Devil in the Darkness: The True Story of Serial Killer Israel Keyes

What is my book about?

JT Hunter began researching serial killer Israel Keyes in 2014. He spent the next two years interviewing witnesses, reviewing police files, studying videotaped interrogations of Keyes, and visiting the sites where Keyes committed his crimes. He also obtained the transcript of an interrogation of Keyes that federal authorities tried to keep secret.

Although not as well known to the public as past killers such as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer chronicled in these pages was just as calculating, cruel, and cunning. This is the first detailed account of Israel Keyes and his terrible crimes, a monster who was arguably the most methodical killer in the modern age.

Waiting for the Night Song

By Julie Carrick Dalton,

Book cover of Waiting for the Night Song

Cadie Kessler has spent decades trying to cover up one truth. One moment. But deep down, didn’t she always know her secret would surface? An urgent message from her long-estranged best friend Daniela Garcia brings Cadie, now a forestry researcher, back to her childhood home. Now grown up, bound by long-held oaths, and faced with truths she does not wish to see, Cadie must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people and the forest she loves, as drought, foreclosures, and wildfire spark tensions between displaced migrant farmworkers and locals.

I love how Carrick-Dalton gives us parallel storylines about a secret buried by her protagonist and the truth of the climate crisis that the fossil fuel industry wants to bury.

Who am I?

I am obsessed with books about people fighting for social justice—particularly around racism and the climate crisis (which are definitely interconnected). I have two main approaches: people with longstanding commitments to making change who take increasingly bold steps to fight for justice, and the accidental activists, who had no intention of taking on injustice, but found themselves in unexpected circumstances and rose to the occasion. I write stories about people—mostly women of color—who are part of teams and movements who fight to make the world right, and win. I think of myself as trying to create roadmaps for us to win in the fight against racism and the climate crisis in the real world.

I wrote...

A Spy in the Struggle

By Aya de Leon,

Book cover of A Spy in the Struggle

What is my book about?

When the FBI raids Yolanda Vance’s prestigious Manhattan law firm, Yolanda turns in her corrupt bosses to save her career—and goes to work for the Bureau. Soon she's sent undercover at Red, Black, and Green—an African-American “extremist” organization back in her California college town fighting for climate justice and Black Lives.

She’s anticipating a career win – not for an unexpected romance to open her heart and a suspicious death to open her eyes. Corporate money forces will do anything to bury Yolanda and the movement. As the stakes escalate, and one misstep could cost her life, Yolanda will have to decide between betraying the cause of her people or invoking the wrath of the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

By Holly Jackson,

Book cover of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

Told through interviews, prose, and text messages, we watch a small-town murder mystery come to life when the Nancy Drew-esque detective resurrects a murder case that happened years ago that doesn’t quite sit right with her. I love the characters and it was intriguing to dive into a YA Mystery that doesn’t quite read like all the others. Highly recommend the second one in the series as well.

Who am I?

When I write a book, I try to write it differently from what I’ve seen. I love high concept ideas and always want to give something different. Readers are shifting in their tastes and want to see something fresh, and so I hope I can always give them something new and exciting.

I wrote...

Dear Hero

By Hope Bolinger, Alyssa Roat,

Book cover of Dear Hero

What is my book about?

Up-and-coming teen superhero Cortex is on top of the world--at least until his villain dumps him. If he's going to save his reputation, he needs a new antagonist, and fast. Meanwhile, the villainous Vortex has once again gotten a little overeager and taken out a hero prematurely. Will any young hero be able to keep up with her? Maybe she should work on finding a steady relationship with an enemy she won't kill in the first round.
So the two turn to Meta-Match, a nemesis pairing site for heroes and villains, where they match right away. But not everything in the superhero world is as it seems. Who are the real heroes and villains? And just how fine of a line is there between love and hate? When darkness from the past threatens them both, Cortex and V may need to work together to make it out alive. 
Told entirely through texts, transcriptions, and direct messages, this darkly humorous chat fiction novel goes behind the scenes of the superworld.

My Sister's Grave

By Robert Dugoni,

Book cover of My Sister's Grave

New clues have surfaced surrounding a missing girl. Despite warnings from colleagues, Detective Tracy Crosswhite takes the investigation into her own hands. For years she’s been searching for answers to her sister’s disappearance. Tracy is determined, emotional, and driven to follow up on information that finally makes sense. Dugoni’s descriptive, fast-paced thriller is raw and unsweetened. He gives you the sense of urgency, the sweat, and the dirty truth. Tracy reminded me in many ways of Morgan Jewell in my book. She’s a smart, fierce woman. She’s the type of woman I love to read about, and the type I love to write. 

Who am I?

Haven’t we all seen things? Done things? Felt guilt or remorse over stuff that happened? I’m fascinated by the darkness within and I’m an eternal student of psychology. I was a musician first. I’ve played piano since age three and studied music at Berklee College of Music. Later, I found my artistic calling when I began to write. Those life experiences have added up and it’s not all roses. My characters have good hearts but they’re struggling with demons—like we all do. I hope my readers can relate and if not, maybe they see something true.

I wrote...

Best Kept Secrets

By Tracey S. Phillips,

Book cover of Best Kept Secrets

What is my book about?

Morgan Jewell and Fay Ramsey are enjoying their last summer together before college. Fay is shy, with a controlling mother, and Morgan is the perfect, wild, loud-mouthed yang to Fay's yin. But when Fay is found dead, Morgan's entire world crumbles.

Years later, Morgan,  now a homicide detective, is still haunted by the abrupt end to her best friend's life. She knew Fay held a secret in those final days but the leads have run dry. Until she's called to the scene of a murder: a woman whose body is left mangled, too similar to Fay's to ignore. This is the case to set her back on the killer's trail. The closer she gets, the harder it forces her to confront the memories of herself and her best friend. 

The Night She Disappeared

By Lisa Jewell,

Book cover of The Night She Disappeared

Though the daughter’s story in this novel is full of twists, I connected with her mother who must hold her life together while being a full-time grandma to her missing daughter’s baby, while experiencing a daily living nightmare. While desperately trying to find out why her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend vanished after a date night, she must also step in to care for her daughter’s baby. This story changes POV from the mother and from the daughter’s, building the suspense as the daughter’s POV flashbacks draw closer to the “night she disappeared.” What I really love about Lisa Jewell’s writing is she can take a setting and make it an intriguing character. Also, the whole time I kept imagining how I would survive the disappearance of my daughter and what I would do in this mom’s position. Jewell’s writing is superb. So good! 

Who am I?

Of all of the jobs I’ve had in my lifetime (including writer!) no other job holds more importance than being a mom. These books not only appealed to me as a writer, but stirred something deep in me as a mother. These books play on every mother’s fears and insecurity. And, they made me view motherhood from a different perspective, asking, could I survive that? Would I have handled that differently? But mostly these books stuck with me long after I finished the last page, taught me to judge less, and grow my compassion muscle. These moms are forced to survive the unthinkable and emerge on the other side stronger. As strong as a mother.

I wrote...

Renaissance of the Heart

By Lori M. Jones,

Book cover of Renaissance of the Heart

What is my book about?

After her husband of fifteen years comes out of the closet, a blindsided, forty-year-old Amanda Lewis is forced to salvage what remains of her shattered heart and navigate a new life for herself and her teenage daughter. But will a sizzling secret romance with a famous young NFL quarterback lead her to winning the life she deserves or set her up for her biggest loss yet? As she embarks on the journey of rebuilding her home, Amanda discovers that finding forgiveness and repairing her damaged self-worth are her biggest challenges of all. While searching her soul-and even searching inside her city's history-she finds answers. But will answers come too late and can a broken heart ever be truly fixed?

The Lake House

By Kate Morton,

Book cover of The Lake House

The abandoned Lake House is at the heart of this wonderful family saga that slips in time between the catastrophic events of the Midsummer’s Eve celebrations in June 1933 and the present. The story is centred around Eleanor Edevane and her husband, still shell-shocked after the Great War; their daughter Alice, a budding author, who is secretly in love with the gardener, Ben; and Alice’s two sisters. Each of them has a guilty secret; each feels responsible for the disappearance and probable death of baby Theo. Meanwhile, in the present, disgraced police officer, Sadie Sparrow, seeks to redeem herself by solving this cold case of the missing child.    

Through old letters and diaries, reminiscences and confidences, and with the help of her grandfather and the ageing Alice, Sadie finally discovers the truth of what really happened on that night so long ago.

Who am I?

I write novels for children, YA, and adults, most of which reflect my fascination with history, mystery, crime, and fantasy. I particularly enjoy writing timeslip novels, exploring how the past can inform the present and vice versa. I recently updated and revised my award-winning Shalott trilogy, which visits both the historical past and also the quasi-medieval world of Camelot in a reinterpretation of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and with reference also to The Lady of Shalott, the wonderful and mysterious poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (A reviewer recently compared my Shalott trilogy with the novels of Diana Gabaldon = wow!)

I wrote...

Shalott: Into the Unknown

By Felicity Pulman,

Book cover of Shalott: Into the Unknown

What is my book about?

Through magic and a VR program, five teenagers set out into the unknown to change the legend of Camelot. Instead, they find they are rewriting their own lives and destiny as their true quest is revealed and they become caught up in the illicit love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, the intrigues of the court, and the deadly magic of the ambitious Morgan le Fay and her nephew, Mordred. Are the teenagers replaying the legend—or creating it? What Callie finds in Camelot will break her heart, while her quest will change all of their lives forever.

Shalott: Into the Unknown is Book 1 of the Shalott trilogy.


By Maryanne Melloan Woods,

Book cover of Lazarus

Another good small-town mystery, I recommend Lazarus if you prefer your whodunits full of heart and humor. Margo and Hank are the sweetest teen detective couple since Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson. Only problem is Hank’s dead. 

The book is a dual POV, and their love for each other comes out of the pages as they grapple with what haunts them. In Margo's situation, the cold case death of her mother, and in Hank's, his accidental murderers plotting something nefarious, and wondering what's best for Margo--stay with her to protect her, or move on so she can too.

Every time I thought I figured out who the killer could be, Hank or Margo brought another neighbor’s secrets to light. The cornfield-filled, rural Nebraska setting lent creepy vibes.

Who am I?

I grew up reading Nancy Drew books creekside in an Alabama swamp and developed a deep adoration of mysteries with atmospheric, creepy settings. I love the idea of strong female protagonists who take matters into their own hands and don’t sit idly by, so not only do I read books that have them as main characters, but I write them too. In addition to writing, I’m lucky enough to be a kidlit haint at a haunted indie bookshop, so reading and recommending the books I enjoy is literally my job!

I wrote...

The Existence of Bea Pearl

By Candice Marley Conner,

Book cover of The Existence of Bea Pearl

What is my book about?

If her brother could stop existing, could she too?

Sixteen-year-old Bea Pearl knows her brother isn’t dead—even if her parents don’t agree. Even if the entire town doesn’t believe her. She knows it’s true. When orders came to evacuate Lake George, Alabama due to rising floodwaters, Bea Pearl saw Jim head toward the river. She followed him. Only she returned. 


By William J. Mann,

Book cover of Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

This page-turner dives into the underbelly of old Hollywood and the circumstances surrounding the lurid and still unsolved 1922 murder of actor and director William Desmond Taylor, with more than a splash of sex, drugs, and decadence spilling over everything. It breaks new ground in what was already a well-documented case.

Who am I?

The author, editor, or ghostwriter of more than 100 book titles, Glenn Stout loves to mine microfilmed newspaper archives and specializes in deeply reported historical narrative non-fiction that brings the past to life.  Many of his titles have intersected with the Roaring Twenties, including Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Changed the World, now in development for Disney+ as a major motion picture starring Daisy Ridley.  A long-time aficionado of noir and true crime, Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid was the culmination of more than fifteen years of dogged research, a story The Wall Street Journal called “a hell of a yarn--worthy of an HBO hoodlum epic like Boardwalk Empire.”

I wrote...

Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid: America's Original Gangster Couple

By Glenn Stout,

Book cover of Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid: America's Original Gangster Couple

What is my book about?

Before Bonnie and Clyde there was Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid - smarter, more successful, and better looking. In the wake of war, a pandemic, and an economic depression, Margaret and Richard Whittemore, two love-struck working-class kids from Baltimore reached for the dream of a better life. In the heart of the Jazz Age, they headed up a gang that in less than a year stole over one million dollars' worth of diamonds and precious gems - over fifteen million dollars today.

Set against the backdrop of the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, their story takes the reader from the jailhouse to the speakeasy, from the cabarets where they celebrated good times to the gallows where their story finally came to an end... and left Tiger Girl pining for a final kiss. Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid is a tale of rags to riches, tragedy, and infamy.

The Missing Millionaire

By Katie Daubs,

Book cover of The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him

What became of Ambrose Small? That’s the mystery at the heart of this riveting story of wealth, lies, and betrayal. The Toronto theatre magnate disappeared in 1919, on the day he made a fortune from the sale of his chain of vaudeville and movie houses. Was he kidnapped and murdered before he could cash in, or did he want to disappear? Daubs explores this century-old cold case and immerses readers in 1920s Toronto, a city with a straitlaced reputation—dubbed “Toronto the Good”—but no shortage of sinners and shady characters. This richly detailed account is as absorbing as any fictional whodunit.

Who am I?

True crime stories offer a window into the past, transporting readers to another time and place. They reveal human behaviour at its worst and people striving to do the right thing. And the narrative is always dramatic and compelling, with mysteries to be solved, suspects to be captured, justice to be done. My books profile a Jazz Age con artist, a Victorian Era serial killer, and a gentleman jewel thief of the 1920s. I write a column of true crime stories and book reviews for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and I teach in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I wrote...

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

By Dean Jobb,

Book cover of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

What is my book about?

Before Jack the Ripper, before The Devil in the White City’s H.H. Holmes, the world's deadliest serial killer was the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream. He murdered at least nine women and one man in Canada, the United States, and England before he was finally brought to justice in 1892. This is the first complete account of his crimes, his victims, and how Scotland Yard’s best detectives struggled to identify and capture the ruthless “Lambeth Poisoner.” It exposes the flawed police investigations and primitive forensic tests that enabled him to evade suspicion and detection, how he was convicted and imprisoned in the midst of his poisoning spree, and why he was freed to kill again.

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