The best books about criminal investigations

30 authors have picked their favorite books about criminal investigations and why they recommend each book.

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Body In Question

By Brian Innes,

Book cover of Body In Question: Exploring the Cutting Edge of Forensic Science

This book is forensics for the layman. No mechanical component replaces education and knowledge. Electronics break down and computers are just machines. It is a good "old-fashioned" investigation work that solves crimes. This book explains how. It is easy-to-read, exciting for students, "couch cops," and even investigators. This book appeals to all types of learners with a thorough history of investigative processes filled with photos, charts, sketches, and maps. It also includes case studies of criminals and criminal behavior, manner of death, and profiling.

No, this book doesn't discuss the latest in lasers and it only briefly touches on DNA. It's about the natural investigative process: reasonable doubt, time and cause of death, criminal behavior, and courtroom proceedings. Want to read up on the future of orbiting satellites in investigative technology? Try another book. Want to see human eyelashes magnified by 50x in order to understand skin and hair samples?…

Who am I?

I am an award-winning true crime author, criminologist, and victims advocate who has written and presented on crime for over 30 years. I know that history teaches us how and why crime occurs and why it will happen again, but crime doesn't happen in a vacuum. History, personality, and human nature all play a part. There is always a "story behind the story." I appreciate true crime books that teach us rather than sensationalize. The faster we share knowledge, the easier it is to catch criminals.

I wrote...

When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

By Judith A. Yates,

Book cover of When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

What is my book about?

He was evil personified. In the Spring of 1997, a serial killer held Nashville, Tennessee in an icy grip of terror. Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. was caught and sentenced to seven death sentences, yet a new chapter began in the saga of one of the most heinous serial killers in our time, and the people whose lives he cut short. The victims were reduced to being called "the victims of Paul Reid." Until now. Here, for the first time, and with the approval of the family and friends, are the stories of those innocent, young people whose lives were ended far too soon. It is also the story of how a crime ripped a city apart.

18 Tiny Deaths

By Bruce Goldfarb,

Book cover of 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics

This is a biography of one of the unsung heroines of forensic science, and a lady who should never have ventured into the world of work at all. A socialite born in 1870 is an unlikely feminist hero, but she not only made the investigation of violent crimes her life’s work, she revolutionised the methodologies. Once you’ve read this book you’ll never look at a doll’s house the same way again.     

Who am I?

I write historical mysteries, and developed an interest in early forensics when I was a police officer. I have worked in private industry, as a civilian police worker, and in a department connected to the Home Office. Historical mysteries particularly appeal to me as they present a different, and very specific, challenge. There’s no lab to process evidence, and everything needs to be double-checked for anachronisms, even down to the colour of light from gas lamps in different areas. Extensive research acted as the foundation for developing the characters in The Innocents Mystery Series. I like my mysteries twisty, complex, and intricate; through a fog of history and a touch of light humour.  

I wrote...

Innocent Bystander

By Christine Anne Asbrey,

Book cover of Innocent Bystander

What is my book about?

Pinkerton Agent Abigail MacKay’s spoiled sister, Madeleine, has eloped with a widower whose wives mysteriously die—leaving behind a great deal of money each time. No doctor has been able to establish a cause of death for any of the women, but Abigail is sure they were murdered—and that her younger sister is going to be next. The only person who can help is the charismatic criminal, Nat Quinn—and Abi left him cooling his heels in jail at their last meeting.

Two competing reporters get involved, and cause chaos, along with an old nemesis of Nat’s coming into the mix. One thing is certain: David Bartholemew is a murderer. But how is he doing it?

The Troubled Man

By Henning Mankell,

Book cover of The Troubled Man

I love good writing, and I love the escapism provided by detective and spy thrillers. Choosing between so many quality authors: Le Carré, Dexter, James, Rankin, Nesbo, etc. is almost impossible and completely unfair. However, the series of Wallander novels by Mankell is one of my favourites. I have chosen the final book in the series – but obviously you should start with the first! As with most detective stories, Mankell’s hero has a messy life, his father doesn’t understand him (and vice-versa), his wife has left him, he has a hit & miss relationship with his only daughter, but in this novel you can feel that Wallander’s life is slowly, but perceptibly, unravelling. The key events that are the focus of this tale become more and more apparently contradictory and complex and at times the tension is almost palpable. It must be difficult for novelists to draw a close…

Who am I?

As a teacher and researcher my primary interest has been focused on the natural history, biology, functional mechanics and interactions between animals through time. Observation and interpretation are keys to my approach, and my little book about dinosaurs explores the range and variety of ways in which science can take observations (the bare fossil bones) and lead to science-based interpretations of what those bones mean. Similarly, the books that I enjoy relate, thematically, to that interest in observation and interpretation/understanding: ranging from attempting to understand the deep history of animal life, to a boy exploring Corfu or even a fictional detective observing and attempting to interpret the scene of a crime.

I wrote...

Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction

By David Norman,

Book cover of Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

The popularity of dinosaurs seems never-ending, as evidenced by the popularity of films such Jurassic Park and documentaries like Walking with Dinosaurs. But how much do these types of entertainment really tell us about recent scientific discoveries and the latest research into the world of the dinosaur?

This is the first book that explains how scientists have been able to put together a picture of how dinosaurs looked, what they ate, and how they moved and interacted with each other. Taking a new approach to the subject, David Norman combines different areas of science, such as anatomy, genetics, forensics, and engineering design, to piece together the latest evidence of how animal life evolved on earth. 

Missing, Presumed

By Susie Steiner,

Book cover of Missing, Presumed

Missing, Presumed introduces us to Manon Bradshaw, a single thirty-nine-year-old detective. She’s sad and lonely but also funny and full of observations on life that have you cheering along. She’s devoted to her work but is also trying to find love, and the book opens with her on a date with a profoundly dull man who’s obsessed with newts. I was hooked by this character and ready to follow her anywhere.

Who am I?

I’m a writer, and an enthusiastic reader, of crime fiction. And although I love dark fiction, I’ve realised that subtle humour is the spice that takes a book to the next level for me. Whether it’s a turn of phrase that makes me guiltily cheer along or an interaction with a partner or colleague that makes me wince with recognition, I love dark books that make me smile! These are some of my favourites – I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

I wrote...

The Devil's Dice

By Roz Watkins,

Book cover of The Devil's Dice

What is my book about?

Detective Inspector Meg Dalton is on a mission to reinvent herself in her new job in Derbyshire. When she's assigned a suspicious death, it's her chance to prove she's fully sane and functional again. But it's a sinister case – a poisoned corpse has been found in a cave under a centuries-old carving that seems to predict the man's death.

With talk of a curse extending to the times of the witch trials and a labyrinth where teenagers go to hang themselves, Meg's struggling to tell what's real or right. Is death always bad or can it be a gift, as her mother claims? Meg finds her own life at risk as she's torn between solving the case and keeping her family's darkest secrets.

Transient Desires

By Donna Leon,

Book cover of Transient Desires: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

With this book, we get to visit Venice which might be my favorite Italian city. Ms. Leon has written a long-running series always set in Venice. It features an Italian detective (Commissario Guido Brunetti), his professorial wife, two children, an incompetent supervisor, and a secretary that is an IT geek. I like the series as I can feel myself walking down the streets of Venice Island over bridges, and in boats on the canals. The inspector goes home for lunch most days, something that you don’t find in America. She does a good job of describing a way of life in Venice beyond the mystery story.

Who am I?

I love good stories and I like to learn about other cities even if it is in a work of fiction. With few exceptions, every story I’ve written is in a location I’ve visited. When you can’t visit a place, then reading about a city in modern-day fiction is a close substitute. How many readers feel like they know the English countryside after reading multiple British mysteries? Or feel like you know Boston when reading the Robert Parker Spenser series? That’s the point of a good mystery – to take you someplace you’re not.

I wrote...

Sicilian Murder

By Alec Peche,

Book cover of Sicilian Murder

What is my book about?

An American Forensic Pathologist is called by the family of a CEO found dead in the Mt. Etna crater on the island of Sicily. The family lacks faith in the decision made by the local police that he died of a heart attack and fell down the crater.

Jill Quint, MD, and friends arrive in Sicily and discover evidence that says it is homicide. Jill must navigate the Italian Police with her team avoiding becoming victims of the killer themselves. If you want a tour of the island of Sicily, this is your book. This is the 8th book in a series that doesn’t need to be read in order.

None Shall Sleep

By Ellie Marney,

Book cover of None Shall Sleep

Ellie is an Australian writer and we share the same publisher so I’ve got to know her a little. This is her first book set in the States (us antipodean writers need bigger readerships!) and I think she’s done great. I can’t even start to imagine the research that’s gone into it to make every fact right. And the blood! I love this book. I think it’s the perfect introduction for teenagers into the world of crime fiction. Go Ellie!

Who am I?

I’ve always loved crime books and I love writing YA so why not combine the two! It makes fun school talks (I get to do a lot – so much more enjoyable than talking to adults!), especially when you get to discuss crimes with teenagers before the teachers realise! Most of them are amazed the kids are getting into reading before they actually realise we’re discussing ways to kill people! And this is what books should be about (not necessarily violence of course) but thrilling, page turning, who did it, what happened stories. If I can get kids reading – then job done!

I wrote...

Rain Fall

By Ella West,

Book cover of Rain Fall

What is my book about?

Even if you wear a coat or use an umbrella it doesn’t stop you getting wet. This rain doesn’t just fall. It wraps itself around you, you breathe it in, the whole world becomes water, constant falling water.

Horse-mad fifteen-year-old Annie lives in Westport on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island where rainfall is measured in metres not inches. As she rides her horse along the beach, her raincoat flapping behind her, she becomes tangled up in a murder mystery. The detective who comes to town brings his teenage son and a rodeo horse that needs exercising. But this is a coal mining town and the mines are closing. Annie quickly realises that nothing is ever going to be the same again.


By Val McDermid,

Book cover of Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, Dna, and More Tell Us about Crime

Journalist and award-winning crime writer Val McDermid is known for her gritty novels. In Forensics, she draws on her connections to introduce us to forensic crime fighting around the world. The best part for me: she introduced behind-the-scenes elements to cases I thought I already knew. And she is a novelist. She knows how to tell a good story.

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 must admit that, over several decades now, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Real life is full of stories that, if told as fiction, would leave readers rolling their eyes in disbelief. The gruesome and cruel don’t interest me. I’m drawn to the storytellers who can capture the worst moments and turn them into finely written, compelling, accurate stories, showing us the complexity of life. 

I wrote...

Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Charlotte True Crime Stories: Notorious Cases from Fraud to Serial Killing

What is my book about?

Crimes that captivated the Charlotte area over the years run the gamut from missing people to the wrongly accused. This collection of headline stories features a little woman who got away with murder, violent motorcycle gangs, crusading mothers, a fraudster who claimed a president was poisoned by his wife, a serial killer who broke all the rules, and even the man who made Bigfoot. With a mystery novelist's ear for a good tale, Cathy Pickens presents more than a century of sensational sinister deeds that marked this diverse and dynamic city.

Nearly Gone

By Elle Cosimano,

Book cover of Nearly Gone

This one shook me and changed my reading experience forever. First of all, the whole personality of Reece Whelan is so similar to Lucas in my book it legit made my heart ache. Lucas is based on a real person from my life and a real relationship. (If you didn’t know... now you do!) So, being able to read his personality type in a similar situation, pinged my heart instantly. The suspense kept me hanging on right along with the paranormal, yet not paranormal, element of Nearly Boswell’s ability to taste people’s emotions. It’s a win-win if you ask me. Nearly reminds me a lot of myself, too.

Who am I?

I never write anything without having first experienced it. To give you context, I’d never been slapped before, couldn’t tell you what it felt like or even sounded like. So, I legit had someone slap me so I could accurately depict it. Every mental health aspect in Death 2 My Past, I’ve personally experienced. Every loss, heartbreak, trauma, life event, etc. On some level, I’ve experienced it. And through everything, I learned something very important. Embrace it. I can’t stop the bad things from happening. But I can embrace the suspense of it, experience the romances, and grieve the death that encompassed my life. Death is a Butterfly.

I wrote...

Death 2 My Past

By Angelia Bailey,

Book cover of Death 2 My Past

What is my book about?

Abby has the freedom to do whatever she wants in a city with endless possibilities like Rouen. But with no memory of her life before she was ten years old and multiple mental health diagnoses, partying isn't exactly priority #1. When she goes out to celebrate handling her mental health recovery like a boss, a bright red cherry of a distraction in the form of a familiar boy with an annoyingly monstrous ego is smashed on her insanity sundae of a life. Of course, she has to at least figure out how she knows him. Curiosity killed the cat... So, thank the saints Abby isn't a cat.

Blue Monday

By Nicci French,

Book cover of Blue Monday: A Frieda Klein Mystery

Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist dedicated to helping her patients overcome their private horrors. She tells them that they are in a safe place with her—nothing will go beyond these walls. Until one day, a patient’s dreams and desires accord so closely to the case of a missing child that she decides to break that promise.

She finds herself involved in a complex police investigation that can only be solved with her specialist insight. The tension mounts to breaking point as she tracks down the killer, ending in a shocking climax that comes straight out of the left field.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading crime fiction all my life. I love following the detective sifting through the evidence—the clues, the false trails, and the eventual denouement. It was a crime fiction book that made me realise that history is not fixed but is, in fact, detective work. It changes as more evidence is discovered or a new interpretation is accepted. That book made me decide to take history as my subject at university and I spent six deliriously happy years examining evidence, evaluating it, and, reaching conclusions. Amongst my case studies were the princes in the tower, the gunpowder plot, and witchcraft. Happy days!

I wrote...

A Gift for Murder: A Tommy Ross mystery

By Jenny Twist,

Book cover of A Gift for Murder: A Tommy Ross mystery

What is my book about?

In the 1990s Oxford’s dreaming spires become a killer’s secret playground. It begins when Joshua finds the girl shivering in the stream, clutching a severed hand. Then he is plagued by the same nightmare—someone is coming through the corn, getting closer, eager to kill.

This is Tommy Ross’s first murder case and he has no idea how to solve it. How do you find a killer when you can’t even find the body? 

The Unarmed Truth

By John Dodson,

Book cover of The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious

Dodson was an officer for the ATF working along the border with Mexico. He stumbled across the scandal behind Operation Fast and Furious, and rather than keeping quiet, he took the risky step of whistleblowing on covert operations by US government agencies in collusion with the drug gangs of Mexico, and the death of Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry.

Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.

I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

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