The best books about court trials

3 authors have picked their favorite books about court trials and why they recommend each book.

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Justice

By Dominick Dunne,

Book cover of Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments

Every month when my copy of Vanity Fair arrived, I’d flip directly to Dominick Dunne’s column and savor every word. Each story in this collection reads like those columns: full of juicy details alongside human pathos. While most of the pieces cover the O.J. Simpson trial (for which Dunne was front and center in the courtroom every day), he also writes about other high-profile cases of the rich and infamous such as the Menendez Brothers and Sunny von Bulow. But the first story in the book is about the murder of Dunne’s own daughter, Dominique, reminding us that at the other end of these sensationalized stories is a real person whose life has tragically been cut short. One of the things that affected me most about Dunne’s writing is that he was always on the side of the victim, and that’s displayed here in spades.

Justice

By Dominick Dunne,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I’ve always hated horror movies and anything scary—but I love true crime. I’m particular in how I consume it; I prefer to listen to it rather than read it and never at night. But give me a Dateline marathon and I’m a happy woman. While much of my own writing is far from true crime (Twin Willows Trilogy is YA urban fantasy, and What They Don’t Know is contemporary YA), my thriller The Forgetting explores dark subject matters—so dark, in fact, that my agent said to me, “But you seem so nice.” I am, for the most part…but I’m also not afraid to shine a flashlight into the darkness that lives in all of us.

I wrote...

The Forgetting

By Nicole Maggi,

Book cover of The Forgetting

What is my book about?

When Georgie Kendrick wakes up after a heart transplant she feels…different. The organ beating in her chest isn’t in tune with the rest of her body. Like it still belongs to someone else. Someone with terrible memories…memories that are slowly replacing her own. A dark room, a man in the shadows, the sharp taste of adrenaline—these are her donor’s final memories. Pieces of a deadly puzzle. And if Georgie doesn’t want them to be the last thing she remembers, she has to find out the truth behind her donor’s death…before she loses herself completely.

A 2016 International Thriller Writers Thriller Award Finalist, A 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection, and #1 Kindle Bestseller. “From the tender moments to the thrilling climax, this one will keep your heart racing.” —Natalie D. Richards

The Whole Truth

By Nancy Pickard,

Book cover of The Whole Truth

Nancy Pickard is one of my favorite authors, starting with her Jenny Cain series. The Whole Truth, featuring true-crime writer Marie Lightfoot, was a shift for her. The novel simultaneously follows Marie as she researches the case of a dangerous serial killer and as she writes about it, which gives an interesting insight into the difficulties of living in a world where crime is real.

The Whole Truth

By Nancy Pickard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Whole Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Nancy Pickard pushes at the presumed limits of [crime fiction]" said the Los Angeles Times Book Review, praising the award-winning creator of the Jenny Cain mysteries. Now, Pickard blurs the line between fiction and reality in a novel of gripping intensity, and premieres a superb new heroine: true-crime author Marie Lightfoot. For her next surefire bestseller, Marie is covering the trial of a Florida killer -- a case that penetrates her own life, layer by disturbing layer.

Whether real like Ted Bundy, or imagined like Hannibal Lecter, few killers of our time are in the same league as Raymond Raintree.…

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 love traditional, play-fair mysteries and the puzzles they present. But I also love writers who get the technical details right while also writing engaging novels I can get lost in. Nothing better than curling up with a good mystery.


I wrote...

Triangle True Crime Stories

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Triangle True Crime Stories

What is my book about?

North Carolina's Triangle region is known for its universities, research facilities, and politics, but even in such a prosperous, diverse, modern environment, crime helps define the edges. These cases cover several decades of murder, fraud and betrayal. Read about the nation's largest prison escape and a couple of North Carolina's poisoners. From a civil rights-era clash of Old South and New and a suspected Cold War spy to new-tech sleuths and tales of diligent as well as discredited investigators, these stories will keep you entertained and aghast at the dark side of daily life. Writer Cathy Pickens brings a mystery writer’s eye to the region’s true crime. 

Book cover of Joe Cinque's Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

This book remains one of the most evocative texts for me about where truth lies in a story. But this beautifully crafted version of the events that ended Joe Cinque’s life is no fiction. My heart breaks every time I read it, my rage at the callousness of his murderer and deep-seated sadness at the carelessness of his friends bubbles anew with each foray into the pages. Garner’s writing takes me to the scene, to the court, and into the very core of his family’s grief. Powerful. 

Joe Cinque's Consolation

By Helen Garner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Joe Cinque's Consolation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Everybody lies. Good people, evil-doers, and the well-intentioned. My fascination began when I discovered through genealogy the mistruths, obfuscations, and lies by omission that peppered my own family tree. In my case the forebears believed there were good reasons to lie and no reason to think that the truth would ever be uncovered. But DNA profiling has shone a big light on the dark corners. Also being a teacher for a few decades means I’ve heard just about every permutation of alleged truth there is! These books focus on the character’s journey through deception and fabrications to arrive at a version of truth that is less unbearable than the lies.


I wrote...

Wither

By Tracey Lee, Serena Sandrin (editor),

Book cover of Wither

What is my book about?

Lily O’Hara searches the past to solve problems of the present. Her own and those of others. The answers to these mysteries are often hiding in plain sight, but it takes Lily and her unlikely sidekicks to find the evidence buried in the memories of the living and the artefacts of the dead. In Wither, the second book of the series, she sifts through the lies, obfuscations, and half-truths to uncover the brutal reason for a young man’s death. Lily believes lives are like jigsaws, and to see the whole picture, one must have most of the pieces. Her journey takes her through the lives of those looking for answers, and those intent on covering them up.

The Trial

By Franz Kafka,

Book cover of The Trial

A surreal, tense, almost absurd story that was never supposed to see the light of day. Published after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the story of Joseph K, who is unexpectedly arrested for an unspecified crime and subjected to the mercy of a court system that is as irrational as it is inexplicable. Despite its absurdity, the story holds a real menace and ever-present claustrophobia related to the desperate and futile attempts of Joseph K. to find answers and clear his name. The perfect dystopian book to feed your rebellion against inaccessible and unjust institutions and their systems. 

The Trial

By Franz Kafka,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

All my life, I have been drawn to the dark, twisty, unconventional, rebellious stories; I was always a little disappointed with the Disney-fied fairytales, always enthralled by the dark imaginings of the originals. As I grew older, I recognised that these dark fables were not just confined to stories of fantasy, but present as seeds of discontent and destruction in our own reality—in the injustices of the present, and disasters of our potential future. As an author, I use these modern parables and prophecies—in dystopian, weird, and gothic science fiction—as a way to explore and critically reflect on our humanity and its future.  


I wrote...

Resistance

By Mikhaeyla Kopievsky,

Book cover of Resistance

What is my book about?

In a dystopian future, Paris is now the walled city-state of Otpor and revelling in its latest Golden Age: an intoxicating mix of abandon and apathy made possible by the Orthodoxy. The population is engineered into four neuro-social classes, ensuring citizens exist in complete equality, fraternity, and liberty. But, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo. When forbidden murals start appearing in the city, the Government moves quickly: realigning the neural conditioning of one of their Peacekeepers, Anaiya 234, and sending her deep undercover to infiltrate the resistance. As her realigned identity fractures and the city descends into chaos around her, Anaiya is forced to confront a different truth to the one she's been conditioned to obey.

The Return of Martin Guerre

By Natalie Zemon Davis,

Book cover of The Return of Martin Guerre

Davis’s history of the crafty peasant Arnaud du Tilh is another reminder that when it comes to history, truth is stranger than fiction. It’s also the book that confirmed my desire to do microhistory. Davis digs into trial documents to narrate the tale of Arnaud, who after being mistaken at an inn for the disappeared Martin Guerre, learns everything he can about the missing man before taking over his life. The real mystery here is not how Arnaud manages to fool the villagers in the small French town of Artigat, but why even those who couldn’t possibly have been fooled – like Martin’s wife Bertrande – go along with the ruse. 

The Return of Martin Guerre

By Natalie Zemon Davis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Return of Martin Guerre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The clever peasant Arnaud du Tilh had almost persuaded the learned judges at the Parlement of Toulouse when, on a summer's day in 1560, a man swaggered into the court on a wooden leg, denounced Arnaud, and reestablished his claim to the identity, property, and wife of Martin Guerre. The astonishing case captured the imagination of the continent. Told and retold over the centuries, the story of Martin Guerre became a legend, still remembered in the Pyrenean village where the impostor was executed more than 400 years ago.

Now a noted historian, who served as consultant for a new French…


Who am I?

I fell in love with historical fiction as a kid when I spent a week sick in bed reading the entire Horatio Hornblower series. I got hooked on history while studying the French Revolution in college. I remember thinking: these people are absolutely bonkers! I loved it. As a historian, I study the history of identity: the tools people had to craft a self-definition, and how those tools were themselves created. As a novelist, I draw on my research so that I can – like the authors in this list – recreate not just the settings and events of the past, but also the weird and wonderful world inside people’s heads.


I wrote...

Eagle (Saladin Trilogy)

By Jack Hight,

Book cover of Eagle (Saladin Trilogy)

What is my book about?

The Middle East in 1158 is a land riven by civil war and infighting. Two kings sit uneasily on their thrones: Baldwin in Jerusalem and Nur ad-Din in Aleppo. War between the kingdoms is inevitable. It is a world balanced on a knife’s edge, where one man can be the difference between victory and defeat. 

That man is Saladin. Arriving at court as a young warrior, he will navigate webs of intrigue, survive epic battles, and form a lasting friendship with John, the Saxon slave who becomes his best friend. This is one man’s incredible journey, set against the backdrop of world-changing events. Great leaders are not born. They are made. This is the story of the making of Saladin.

The Innocent Man

By John Grisham,

Book cover of The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

We all know that Grisham writes best-selling fiction that has been turned into several Hollywood blockbusters. But the most frightening book by this former small-town defence lawyer is his only work of non-fiction, an account of the wrongful conviction of Ronald Keith Williamson of the 1982 sex murder of Debra Sue Carter. Williamson, who was low-hanging fruit for police and prosecutors in Ada, Oklahoma, languished in prison for 11 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence. This book should be mandatory reading for police, prosecutors, and judges and is a useful reminder that public opinion and justice are often mutually exclusive.

The Innocent Man

By John Grisham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Innocent Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

__________________
***NOW A MAJOR NETFLIX SERIES***

A gripping true-crime story of a shocking miscarriage of justice, from international bestselling thriller author John Grisham.

In the baseball draft of 1971, Ron Williamson was the first player chosen from Oklahoma. Signing with Oakland, he said goodbye to his small home town and left for California to pursue his dreams of glory.

Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits - drinking, drugs and women. He began to show signs of mental illness. Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and…


Who am I?

As an academic, I have been researching Canadian police and criminal justice history since the 1980s and I teach courses on the history of policing, crime, drugs and homicide, and capital punishment. In 2014 I began to cover a high-profile murder trial in my region of Canada and ended up writing a best-selling book on the case. The Oland case reinforced my interest in true crime, both as a research topic and a cultural phenomenon. True crime, whether set in the distant past or contemporary times, offers writers and readers alike fascinating forays into specific societies and communities as well as human nature.


I wrote...

Truth & Honour: The Oland Family Murder Case That Shocked Canada

By Greg Marquis,

Book cover of Truth & Honour: The Oland Family Murder Case That Shocked Canada

What is my book about?

Truth and Honour explores the 2011 murder of Saint John businessman Richard Oland, of the prominent family that owns Moosehead Breweries, the ensuing police investigation, and the arrest, trial, and conviction of the victim's son, Dennis Oland, for second ­degree murder.

Oland's trial would be the most publicized in New Brunswick history. What the trial judge called "a family tragedy of Shakespearian proportions," this real­life murder mystery included adultery, family dysfunction, largely circumstantial evidence, allegations of police incompetence, a high-powered legal defence, and a verdict that shocked the community. Truth and Honour explores this question: was Dennis Oland responsible for the death of his father?

Book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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…


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. 

Alias Grace

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of Alias Grace

When I was a university student, I lived down the street from the shut doors of the Kingston Penitentiary, where the infamous Victorian murderer Grace Marks lived for 15 years. Atwood’s novel opens those heavy doors and invites readers in to make what we will of Grace’s own telling of her story. Is she—or Atwood—reliable? Whose memories matter when looking at guilt? Using fictional characters to explore the historical record of this terrible case, Atwood creates an immersive and compelling look at women’s culpability, craft, violence, and desire. 

Alias Grace

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

5 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…


Who am I?

I was named after my father’s aunt, who moved from Canada to Switzerland in the 1920s to join a travelling church. Family lore remembers she rode a bicycle in the mountains and when she was dying, her sisters sent her maple leaves in the mail to remind her where she started. As a child, I was fascinated by this mysterious other Katie. Why did my father choose her name for me? Would I be like her? Did I get to choose? As a novelist, I love choosing names. Their power is subtle but strong, and when a writer gives a character more than one name, new layers emerge and stories bloom.


I wrote...

The Aerialists

By Katie Munnik,

Book cover of The Aerialists

What is my book about?

The Aerialists is a rich historical novel based on a true story life of a teenaged hot air balloonist who captured the heart of Victorian Cardiff.

Laura is living on the streets of Paris, far from the American Prairies where she was born. When rescued by the entrancing aerialists, Ena and Auguste Gaudron, she finds herself ensconced in the family hot air balloon business and soon learns all about performing from Gaudron’s other balloon girls. The Gaudrons accept an invitation to be part of the Cardiff Great Exhibition, presenting a daring show of balloon ascents and parachute descents. When the newspapers announce the upcoming flight of Mademoiselle Albertina, who will wear the costume—and whose turn will it be to claim the sky for herself?

Devil's Garden

By Ace Atkins,

Book cover of Devil's Garden

Ace Atkins has written a number of excellent historical crime novels based on true stories, and Devil’s Garden is my favorite of the bunch. 

The 1921 murder trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle created headlines around the world, and Devil’s Garden illustrates the fall from grace of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Atkins brings to life Prohibition-era Hollywood, real-life Pinkerton operative Dashiell Hammett who investigates the murder, William Randolph Hearst, actress Marion Davies, and a large cast of grifters, B-girls, politicians, and hangers-on revolving around Fatty’s trial for the murder of actress Virginia Rappe.

Devil's Garden

By Ace Atkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Devil's Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am the author of the Will Anderson Detroit mystery series, which began with The Detroit Electric Scheme. I love vivid novels, those that pull me inside the pages and into the story. My interests balance between crime, historical fiction, and literary fiction. In short, I like a good story, and I don’t much care what label is placed on it. I live in Michigan with my wife and a pair of reasonably friendly cats.


I wrote...

The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

By D.E. Johnson,

Book cover of The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Will Anderson is a drunk, heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancée, Elizabeth. He's barely kept his job at his father's company—Detroit Electric, 1910's leading electric automobile manufacturer. Late one night, Elizabeth's new fiancé and Will's one-time friend, John Cooper, asks Will to meet him at the car factory. He finds Cooper dead, crushed in a huge hydraulic roof press. Surprised by the police, Will panics and runs, leaving behind his cap and automobile, and buries his blood-spattered clothing in a garbage can.

What follows is a fast-paced, detail-filled ride through early-1900s Detroit. Through it all, Will learns that clearing himself of the crime he was framed for is only the beginning. To survive, and for his loved ones to survive, he must also become a man.

And the Sea Will Tell

By Vincent Bugliosi, Bruce Henderson,

Book cover of And the Sea Will Tell

In 1974, two couples sailed into the Palmyra Atoll in search of a tropical paradise—but only one couple sailed back. When Eleanor “Muff” Graham’s body washes up on shore 6 years later, Buck Walker and his former girlfriend Stephanie Stearns are charged with her murder, but the outcome of their trials surprises everyone. Written by Stearns’ famed defense attorney Vincent Bugliosi, this story has everything: a tropical island teeming with tension, two couples whose ideologies were bound to come to a head, and a wild court case that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

And the Sea Will Tell

By Vincent Bugliosi, Bruce Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And the Sea Will Tell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ALONE WITH HER NEW HUSBAND on a tiny Pacific atoll, a young woman, combing the beach, finds an odd aluminum container washed up out of the lagoon, and beside it on the sand something glitters: a gold tooth in a scorched human skull. The investigation that follows uncovers an extraordinarily complex and puzzling true-crime story. Only Vincent Bugliosi, who recounted his successful prosecution of mass murderer Charles Manson in the bestseller Helter Skelter, was able to draw together the hundreds of conflicting details of the mystery and reconstruct what really happened when four people found hell in a tropical paradise.…

Who am I?

I’ve always hated horror movies and anything scary—but I love true crime. I’m particular in how I consume it; I prefer to listen to it rather than read it and never at night. But give me a Dateline marathon and I’m a happy woman. While much of my own writing is far from true crime (Twin Willows Trilogy is YA urban fantasy, and What They Don’t Know is contemporary YA), my thriller The Forgetting explores dark subject matters—so dark, in fact, that my agent said to me, “But you seem so nice.” I am, for the most part…but I’m also not afraid to shine a flashlight into the darkness that lives in all of us.

I wrote...

The Forgetting

By Nicole Maggi,

Book cover of The Forgetting

What is my book about?

When Georgie Kendrick wakes up after a heart transplant she feels…different. The organ beating in her chest isn’t in tune with the rest of her body. Like it still belongs to someone else. Someone with terrible memories…memories that are slowly replacing her own. A dark room, a man in the shadows, the sharp taste of adrenaline—these are her donor’s final memories. Pieces of a deadly puzzle. And if Georgie doesn’t want them to be the last thing she remembers, she has to find out the truth behind her donor’s death…before she loses herself completely.

A 2016 International Thriller Writers Thriller Award Finalist, A 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection, and #1 Kindle Bestseller. “From the tender moments to the thrilling climax, this one will keep your heart racing.” —Natalie D. Richards

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