The best books about homicide

8 authors have picked their favorite books about homicide and why they recommend each book.

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American Homicide

By Randolph Roth,

Book cover of American Homicide

In this comprehensive study of homicide in America, Randolph Roth charts changes in the character and incidence of homicide in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. The book is particularly strong in addressing the South’s penchant for violence. In readable fashion, Roth argues that the United States, especially the South, is distinctive in its level of violence among unrelated adults―friends, acquaintances, and strangers.  Roth notes that the homicide rate rose substantially among unrelated adults in the slave South after the American Revolution; and it skyrocketed across the United States from the late 1840s through the mid-1870s, while rates in most other Western nations held steady or fell. That surge―and all subsequent increases in the homicide rate―correlated closely with four distinct phenomena: political instability; a loss of government legitimacy; a loss of fellow-feeling among members of society caused by racial, religious, or political antagonism; and a loss of faith…

Who am I?

I am a professor of history and Director of the Lawton M. Chiles Jr. Center for Florida History at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. I am a specialist in Southern, social, criminal justice, and legal history. I am the author or co-author of seven books, including three that address criminal justice at the state and federal level. My articles and reviews on criminal justice history have appeared in the America Historical Review, American Journal of Legal History, Journal of Southern History, Florida Historical Quarterly, Florida Bar Journal, and Georgia Historical Quarterly.

I wrote...

A Rogue's Paradise: Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida, 1821-1861

By James M. Denham,

Book cover of A Rogue's Paradise: Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Florida, 1821-1861

What is my book about?

A Rogue’s Paradise paints a portrait of law-breaking and law enforcement on the Florida frontier. Using court records, government documents, newspapers, and personal papers, the book explores how crime affected ordinary Floridians - whites and blacks, perpetrators, victims, and enforcers. I contend that although the frontier determined the enforcement and administration of the law, the ethic of honor dominated human relationships. The narrative traces the growth and development of this sparsely settled region through its experience with crime and punishment.

Among the issues examined are Florida’s criminal code, its judicial and law enforcement officers, the accommodation of criminals in jails and courts, outlaw gangs, patterns of punishment, and the attitude of the public toward lawbreakers. Much of the story is told through the lives of those who participated in the Florida criminal justice system at all levels: criminal, sheriff, judge, jury member, and victim.

The Maul and the Pear Tree

By P. D. James, T.A. Critchley,

Book cover of The Maul and the Pear Tree

There is something very wrong with the official version of the Ratcliff Highway Murders of 1811, in which seven were killed – so much that simply does not add up. Detective fiction writer James and historian Critchley teamed up in 1971 to use their respective talents to sift the contradictory accounts of the killings of the Marr and Williamson households. They brilliantly capture the atmosphere of Regency Wapping and come up with an unusual partial solution, exonerating John Williams, whom tradition has always fingered as the killer.

Who am I?

While completing a Master’s degree in Victorian Studies at the University of London, I stumbled across a passing reference to a series of killings in 1831 in East London. I was astonished that I had never heard of these and further research resulted in my first book, The Italian Boy. Three books later I realise now that all my work is an attempt to squeeze out of the archives the less-recorded aspects of the everyday life of ‘marginalised’ people. And I guess that’s why I have selected the true crime books below – they all shine a bright light on previously little-known aspects of our world, and reveal the inter-relationship of victims, criminal, and location of the deed.

I wrote...

The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

By Sarah Wise,

Book cover of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

What is my book about?

How on earth did this series of killings, in Bethnal Green, East London, slip out of public consciousness? Well, for one thing, they were copycat killings in the wake of the far more notorious (and very well documented) Burke and Hare ‘murders for anatomy’ in late-1820s Edinburgh. The ‘Italian Boy Killings’ were very much in the shadow of the Burke and Hare case. With the victims in mind, I decided here was a real-life ‘plot’ via which I could explore the life of the destitute in late-Georgian London, and analyse the way in which the city appeared to connive in the series of events that would lead to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832.

Whoever Fights Monsters

By Robert K. Ressler, Tom Shachtman,

Book cover of Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI

Written by one of the founding fathers of the FBI’s vaunted Behavioral Sciences Unit, this book covers an amazing array of cases that he worked, including those of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Edmund Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Richard Trenton Chase (and even the lesser-known John Crutchley). Full of great details from the perspective of a veteran serial killer expert, this book belongs on any serious true crime aficionado’s bookshelf. 

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.

The Dry

By Jane Harper,

Book cover of The Dry

After watching Australia burn up recently from a series of catastrophic wildfires, I’ve come to appreciate what drought means Down-under. In this mystery, Jane Harper sets the narrative against a background of dry tinder, making the reader feel both parched and anxious. The writing is sophisticated and evocative. I don’t have to travel to Australia to feel that I’ve been there and witnessed its menace and charm.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by mysteries since I was little. I've also always loved puzzles and brain-teasers. I’ve been a student of Jewish folklore, including folktales, superstitions, mystical ideas, and supernatural creatures all my life. I look for books that challenge my ability to unravel tangles and take me out of my everyday experience. I love mysteries that morph into thrillers, changing the question from “Whodunit” to “What’s at stake?” I read incessantly and obsessively, always on the lookout for new exotic locales, some history that I don’t know, eccentric characters, clever plotting. My own writing traces these same paths, and I love learning from new masters of the genre as well as newbies.

I wrote...

The Deadly Scrolls: Volume 1

By Ellen Frankel,

Book cover of The Deadly Scrolls: Volume 1

What is my book about?

A professor’s murder reveals his discovery of a lost Dead Sea Scroll, whose text encodes the secret hiding places of the lost Second Temple Treasures. Israeli intelligence agent Maya Rimon races against time to stop a religious extremist from launching a terrorist attack at the next Blood Moon, triggering the Apocalypse. The story centers around a genuine historical artifact, the Copper Scroll, whose secrets still remain undeciphered by contemporary scholars and treasure hunters. 

Laced with clever spycraft, encrypted electronic files, mysterious ancient puzzles, plastique explosives, car chases, and Sherlockian ratiocination, The Deadly Scrolls explores the timely theme of fanaticism: among Christian millennialists, Jewish messianists, Islamic terrorists, Israeli politicians, Orthodox Jews, conspiracy theorists, devout Zionists—and spies. In other words, it’s a Jewish Da Vinci Code!

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

By Corinne May Botz,

Book cover of The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

As a writer and a teacher of writing, I’m always on the lookout for writing prompts, which is how I came to own this gorgeous photography book of the Nutshell Studies: eighteen dollhouse dioramas produced by Frances Glessner Lee, a master criminal investigator in the 1940s, for the purpose of training in forensics. The images are captivating as much as they are disturbing, and represent a rare but perfect marriage of the realms of the miniature and criminal deduction. In his essay on the subject, Stephen Millhauser writes that ‘the miniature holds out the promise of total revelation.’ In Glessner Lee’s dioramas of tawdry and violent death, we feel the accompanying prospect of a solution to these crimes, tantalisingly hidden in the smallest of details. All we have to do to perceive it, is look closer; and closer; and more closer still.

Who am I?

I grew up in featureless suburbia, where the streets of identical bungalows seemed scrubbed of anything miraculous. Maybe that’s why I came to be fascinated, as a kid, with the idea of tiny things. Here was magic that might exist in my backyard: miniature people trooping through lawns as if they were forests, riding ladybugs, and carrying bramblethorn spears! These daydreams formed some of the first stories I wrote, as a child. And they’ve continued to fascinate me as a reader, and a writer, ever since. I’ve tried to pick stories that might have slipped out of sight amongst ‘bigger’ brethren like The Burrowers and Gulliver’s Travels. I hope you enjoy them!

I wrote...


By Sam Gayton, Alice Ratterree (illustrator),

Book cover of Lilliput

What is my book about?

Her name is Lily. She is a girl three inches tall, her clothes stitched from spider-silk, her eyes like dewdrops. For half her life, she’s been imprisoned in a gilded birdcage by the giant Gulliver. Only dimly does she remember the island that was home, where everything was small. 

Gulliver intends to show her to London, just as soon as he finishes the book of his travels. But Lily doesn’t have time to wait around. Time passes for small folk faster than it does for big ones. She has to get away, before it’s too late. She has to go home to Lilliput.


By Martin Daly, Margo Wilson,

Book cover of Homicide: Foundations of Human Behavior

This husband-wife team uses Darwinian natural selectionist thinking to account for the most important features of homicide throughout the world. A basic principle of Darwinian theory is known as kin selection, which means that people favor kin over nonkin and close kin over distant kin. In this regard, the authors show, for example, that people are much more likely to kill unrelated acquaintances and strangers than genetic kin, and that child homicide is perpetrated much more often by stepparents than by natural parents. The authors also show that there is a huge sex difference in rates of killing. Throughout the world the vast majority of killing is done by men. This is because men are competing with other men for the status and resources needed to secure mates for reproduction.

Who am I?

I have a PhD in sociology but know almost as much about anthropology. I am a comparative sociologist specializing in the study of the entire range of human societies. This gives me an advantage in knowing which social practices are universal, which are only common, and which are uncommon or not found at all. This is critical in being able to assess the basic features of human nature. For over thirty years I have been studying the literature on Darwinian approaches to human behavior, especially sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. I am one of the leading sociologists in the world today studying the biological basis of social behavior. 

I wrote...

Human Nature and the Evolution of Society

By Stephen K. Sanderson,

Book cover of Human Nature and the Evolution of Society

What is my book about?

I wrote this book to show how many fascinating features of human social life have biological foundations and thus can be explained by using principles drawn from Darwinian evolutionary biology and its offshoot, evolutionary psychology. Among the many questions I try to answer are: Why do all societies have an incest taboo? Is there a maternal instinct? Why do some societies allow men to have many wives? Why do humans seek status and it sometimes runs amok? Why are some people gay rather than straight? Why are homicide and war so common, and why is it mostly men who kill? Are there biological races and is racism ancient or modern? Why do some societies have many gods but others only one? 

On Killing

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman,

Book cover of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Grossman is a former Army Ranger who digs deep into the psychological impact of taking human life through countless interviews with fellow soldiers of all kinds. Combining these accounts with thorough psychological research, Grossman comments on society's collective aversion to killing while helping us understand its complicated acceptance—and even encouragement—of wartime killing. What was most surprising to me was that historically, only about 4% of soldiers even fire their weapon during war, and how obviously that skews from the “norm” of combat portrayed in popular media. It’s an honest, eye-opening, and important piece of work that should be required reading for every service member, police officer, or anyone tasked with carrying society’s heaviest burden.

Who am I?

As an equipment operator for the Army Corps of Engineers, I didn’t serve in a “combat” role, per se, but the engineers go wherever the military needs things built, so we were often repairing IED damage, hauling supplies outside the wire, or fortifying bases so the infantry, cavalry, etc. could do their job effectively. Coming home, I owe a lot of my successful reintegration to my writing and the many people who encouraged me to share it with the world. Now with my Master of Arts in English, I’ve taught college courses on military culture, and I present for veteran art groups, writing workshops, and high schools and colleges around the country.

I wrote...

Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI

By Ryan Smithson,

Book cover of Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI

What is my book about?

Like most teenagers, Ryan Smithson was unsure of where life would lead after high school. Inspired by the patriotism following 9/11, he joined the Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Returning home to a new bride and a college campus, he began writing about his combat experiences. What began as an essay for an English class turned into much more when Smithson compiled his writings into an unflinchingly honest memoir: Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI. Since its publication by HarperCollins in 2009, he has traveled the country to talk about his experiences and continues to benefit from the therapeutic aspects of writing, storytelling, and the arts.

To Each His Own

By Leonardo Sciascia, Adrienne Foulke (translator),

Book cover of To Each His Own

A double homicide in Sicily. Innocent, eccentric, small-town characters. The Mafia, the church, and a stifling, frightening nightmare world portrayed with humor, humanity, and a diamond-tipped eye for detail: that’s Leonardo Sciascia’s 1960s detective novel classic, To Each His Own (A ciascuno il suo). The writing is clean, clear, nervy, and seductive—some of the best crime writing, period. It even survives translation. This book is at least as good as The Godfather and better than anything by Andrea Camilleri. As you turn the pages, you’re not only transported to off-the-beaten-track, real-deal Sicily. You feel the grit. You smell it. You enter the heads and hearts of Sicilians. Written over 50 years ago, To Each His Own needs no refreshing. That world never changes.

Who am I?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and reading Dashiell Hammett—I’m from San Francisco. Then opera got hold of me. So, I dropped out of my PhD program, left Dante’s Inferno behind, and moved to Paris to live a modern-day La Bohème. Because I’m half-Italian, I decided I had to divide my life between Paris and Italy. Mystery, murder, romance, longing, and betrayal were what fueled my passions and still do. To earn a living, I became a travel, food, and arts reporter. These interests and the locales of my life come together in my own crime and mystery novels.

I wrote...

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

By David Downie,

Book cover of Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

What is my book about?

Red Riviera is a gripping detective novel set on the Italian Riviera, featuring female sleuth Daria Vinci. 

Its jaws open wide, a firefighting seaplane skims the Gulf of Portofino on Italy’s jagged Ligurian coast, scooping up lone swimmer Joe Gary. The super-rich Italian-American has mob connections and a dirty political past. Is it an accident or murder? It is a wild ride from the tangled trails of the Cinque Terre to glamorous Portofino and roistering Genoa. It’s a Riviera made red by riotous bougainvillea and spilled blood. Half-American, Daria Vinci is an outsider, the rising star of Genoa’s secretive Special Operations Directorate DIGOS. To solve her case, Daria must face down a Fascist police chief, the CIA’s local mastermind, a former World War Two Spitfire fighter pilot, and a plucky hundred-year-old marquise whose memory is as long as it is vengeful.

Murder and the Making of English CSI

By Ian Burney, Neil Pemberton,

Book cover of Murder and the Making of English CSI

This is an important resource for anyone interested in the history of twentieth-century forensic practice, because it explains the rise of forensic science as a discipline separate from forensic medicine. Forensic scientists, based in laboratories, analyse trace evidence found at crime scenes, while forensic pathologists focus on the dead body in the mortuary. An analysis of the 1953 serial murders committed by John Christie at his infamous London address, 10 Rillington Place, shows how murder investigations had by then become team efforts centred on the crime scene itself. 

Who am I?

I work on topics where medicine, crime, and the law intersect, aided by an undergraduate degree in chemistry and stimulated by my fascination with how criminal justice systems work. I have published on the history of poisoning, vitriol attacks, assault, child murder, and the role of scientific expertise in criminal investigations and trials, focusing on Britain since the seventeenth century. I’ve contributed to many TV documentaries over the years, and enjoy the opportunity to explain just why the history of crime is about so much more than individual criminals: it shows us how people in the past lived their lives and helps explain how we got where we are today.  

I wrote...

Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

By Katherine D. Watson,

Book cover of Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

What is my book about?

This study uses 2,600 cases of murder and sexual assault to answer two central questions: what did doctors contribute to the investigation of serious violent crime in the period 1700 to 1914, and what impact did this have?

It shows that medico-legal work — that is, what doctors actually did when they were faced with a body that had become the victim of violence — developed in tandem with and was shaped by the needs of two evolving practices: pre-trial investigative procedures dominated successively by coroners, magistrates and the police; and criminal trials in which lawyers gradually assumed a central role. Doctors were therefore key contributors to the processes that shaped the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales.

The Ranger

By Ace Atkins,

Book cover of The Ranger

Ace Atkins is a master of the crime genre. It’s no wonder Robert B. Parker’s estate tapped him to carry on the Spenser series. He’s great at capturing places and the internal monologues of weary men. He’s also able to tell stories just seedy enough to keep readers curious, without making them cringe. The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is on par with Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens books. Quinn seems entirely real, the small town he returns to after a years-long absence feels lived in and believable. And the pacing is masterful. Whereas Perry drags readers along for the action, Atkins makes you feel as though you’re sitting in the backseat, riding down the winding roads of Tibbehah County in northeast Mississippi as Quinn uneasily approaches another backcountry crime scene.    

Who am I?

I have loved mysteries and crime thrillers since I worked at the legendary R.J. Julia Booksellers in high school. A lifelong love of books and movies led me to pursue a career in screenwriting and later in indie publishing. My most popular books, including Seattle On Ice, Chokecherry Canyon, and The Grimwood Trilogy all mix fast-paced action with film references and plenty of humor.

I wrote...


By Mike Attebery,

Book cover of Firepower

What is my book about?

Firepower is the second book in my Four Corners thriller series, it tells the story of a small-town newspaper reporter investigating a series of fiery murders linked to the New Mexico energy market. This book is the best example of what I aim for in all of my crime novels, specifically, a lightning-quick pace, good characters, a sense of place, and touches of humor. The last element is the key. I don’t enjoy books (or authors) that take themselves too seriously, so I’m always looking for novels with a sense of humor. With Firepower, I think I struck the balance I’ve always been aiming for. In movie terms, I’d say it rests somewhere between Chinatown and Sneakers. 

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