The best books about Serial killers

24 authors have picked their favorite books about serial killers and why they recommend each book.

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The Holmes-Pitezel

By Frank P. Geyer,

Book cover of The Holmes-Pitezel: Case a History of the Greatest Crime of the Century and of the Search for the Missing Pitezel Children

Geyer describes the painstaking work he did over two months in 1895 as the lone detective on a highly challenging case. He’d recently lost his wife and daughter in a fire, but he set out to find the missing children of Benjamin Pitezel, a man just murdered by the notorious serial killer, H. H. Holmes. The difficulty of this investigation lay not just in the killer’s clever maneuvers but also in the many places he’d taken the children and the different names he’d adopted to accomplish his dirty deeds. Holmes might have killed and discarded the children anywhere along his circuitous route. This book demonstrates the best work of a master detective. Geyer used the most tenuous leads to develop more. Some lead to dead ends, while others sent hm in a productive direction. Since reporters covered his journey from town to town, he enlisted them to elicit interest from…


Who am I?

I’ve been immersed in books about true crime investigation for nearly thirty years, as a writer, a blogger for Psychology Today, and a professor of forensic psychology. Of my 68 published books and over 1,500 articles, many are devoted to historical accounts of forensic science, investigation, and serial murder, so I’ve perused hundreds of books from different time periods. Around a dozen books stand out for the quality of research and narrative momentum, or for the dogged persistence of a real-life Sherlock Holmes. Those five that I picked effectively demonstrate how an investigation should proceed, no matter the odds.


I wrote...

How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

By Katherine Ramsland,

Book cover of How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

What is my book about?

From forensic innovation and solid police work to mistakes killers made, this book covers the different ways in which thirty serial killers have been caught. Among them are famous cases like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, as well as lesser known offenders like the Italian soapmaker who dismembered three friends to save her son and the Japanese predator who posed as a partner for suicide pacts.

Hell's Princess

By Harold Schechter,

Book cover of Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men

Belle Sorrenson Gunness is a rare female serial killer who was exceptionally predatory. This Norwegian-American had insured her first husband and two of her children before killing them in the early 1900s to enrich herself. She bought a pig farm in LaPorte, Indiana, which she soon turned into her personal graveyard. The twice-widowed Belle published matrimonial ads, and those men who answered arrived, one after another, before each disappeared. She’d warned them not to reveal where they were going, but Andrew Helgelein did. When Andrew’s brother announced he was coming to look for him, Belle’s six-year spree abruptly ended in a house fire in which she seemed to have perished. A search of the property produced bodies and body parts. Before it was over, an estimated twelve to thirteen sets of remains had been removed from the ground. Schechter vivdly describes this case every step of the way, and dispels…


Who am I?

I’ve been immersed in books about true crime investigation for nearly thirty years, as a writer, a blogger for Psychology Today, and a professor of forensic psychology. Of my 68 published books and over 1,500 articles, many are devoted to historical accounts of forensic science, investigation, and serial murder, so I’ve perused hundreds of books from different time periods. Around a dozen books stand out for the quality of research and narrative momentum, or for the dogged persistence of a real-life Sherlock Holmes. Those five that I picked effectively demonstrate how an investigation should proceed, no matter the odds.


I wrote...

How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

By Katherine Ramsland,

Book cover of How to Catch a Killer, Volume 1: Hunting and Capturing the World's Most Notorious Serial Killers

What is my book about?

From forensic innovation and solid police work to mistakes killers made, this book covers the different ways in which thirty serial killers have been caught. Among them are famous cases like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, as well as lesser known offenders like the Italian soapmaker who dismembered three friends to save her son and the Japanese predator who posed as a partner for suicide pacts.

Mindhunter

By Mark Olshaker, John E. Douglas,

Book cover of Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

John Douglas and I were FBI Agents during the same time period. He is the Bureau’s criminal profiling pioneer specializing in serial killers and was a member of its Investigative Support Unit while I was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Squad. Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor in the Criminal Justice Program at a Community College in Oregon. In curriculum courses that include aggression and violence my resources emphasize books written by both Douglas and Olshaker for their thoroughness and true crime exposure of those sick minds of the criminal subjects. I was personally involved in the investigation of one of the most wanted serial killers, Ted Kaczynski, aka, Unabomber, and can vouch for the difficulty in solving these cases.


Who am I?

My entire fifty-year professional life has been dedicated to law and order, investigating crime and corruption at its highest levels in government and the private sector. I’ve worked on hundreds of cases together with local, state, and federal law enforcement. Also, internationally with Scotland Yard, GSG9, New South Wales, and the Soviet KGB. There is deep gratification in taking the “bad” guy off the street, protecting those who cannot protect themselves. I have a law degree and am an Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law looking forward in contributing to winning the battle of “equality for all” in the justice system.


I wrote...

The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover

By Paul Letersky, Gordon L. Dillow,

Book cover of The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover

What is my book about?

From the 1920’s “Palmer Raids” and later during the ’60s and ’70s with a backdrop of the Vietnam War, protests, riots, and domestic terrorism ravaged most cities. Political assassinations and corruption found their way to the highest levels of government,

I was there in the late ’60s; a member of J. Edgar Hoover’s personal office staff. Meeting with icons and legends, setting up appointments with dignitaries, celebrities, and politicians; witnessing Hoover’s reaction when I informed him of the shooting of Martin Luther King. Bits of untold history unfolded daily as we became privy to the quid pro quo of political poker as played in Washington. There were internal politics and serious national events, often interrupted by the quirky demands of the Director.

Every Dead Thing

By John Connolly,

Book cover of Every Dead Thing: A Charlie Parker Thriller

Supernatural Thrillers: Every Dead Thing by John Connolly is the first novel in Connolly’s Charlie Parker series (it contains Parker’s origin story). If you like your thrillers with a blood-curdling slice of the supernatural, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and pick up this novel. Haunted by his dead wife and daughter, Parker is an ex-cop turned private detective. And the cases Parker works—Good Lord!—best sleep with the lights on. Though John Connolly’s an Irish lad, his Parker novels take place along the East Coast (Parker lives in Portland, Maine). You’ll realize how literary and poetic Connolly’s prose is as the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise and you refuse to investigate that sound you just heard coming from the basement.


Who am I?

I’ve been a bookworm ever since my grandfather lent me his Louis L'Amour books when I was in grade school. Eventually, I gravitated towards mystery/thrillers as my all-time favorite reads (including the various subgenres brought up in my book recommendations). In addition, I’ve been writing mystery/thrillers for the past dozen years. I am the author of the Mace Reid K-9 mystery series about the danger Reid and his pack of human remains detection dogs (cadaver dogs) get into and, hopefully, out of.


I wrote...

The Finders

By Jeffrey B. Burton,

Book cover of The Finders

What is my book about?

Jeffrey B. Burton's The Finders is the beginning of a fast-paced new series featuring a heroic golden retriever cadaver dog named Vira and her handler, Mason “Mace” Reid. Reid lives on the outskirts of Chicago and specializes in human remains detection. He trains dogs to hunt for the dead. He adopts a rescue dog with a mysterious past—a golden retriever named Vira. And when Reid begins training Vira as a cadaver dog, he comes to realize just how special the newest addition to his family truly is.

Suddenly, Reid and his prize pupil find themselves hurled into a taxing murder case. Mace must put all his trust in Vira's abilities to thwart a serial killer who has now set his sights on Mace himself.

In a Lonely Place

By Dorothy B. Hughes,

Book cover of In a Lonely Place

Unlike contemporary thrillers that portray killers as inhuman two-dimensional monsters, Hughes portrays Dix Steele as a human being gone horribly wrong. We see how his actions arise from feelings that most people experience as difficult and uncomfortable but that he experiences as intolerable, torturing, and unresolvable.

The novels of Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith are obvious descendants of this one. All three writers have insight and descriptive power that allow you to see, feel and inhabit some disturbing forms of human psychopathology. Hughes' female characters are strong, clear-eyed, and wise. They're the drivers of the story, not the victims. All her characters are fully drawn, and the tension builds consistently throughout. It's a hard book to put down, and you continue to feel it even after you've finished it.


Who am I?

In college, I studied Literature with a capital L: those timeless classics the professors worship and revere. Then a woman in a used book store in Seattle handed me a copy of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280 and said, "Read this." I was hooked. The pulp fiction of the 1950s is visceral and raw. Like Greek tragedy, it examines the darker drives of human nature--greed, lust, loneliness, anger--and their consequences. Pulp writers were paid by the word to crank out lurid thrills. But like Shakespeare writing for the groundlings, some of them just couldn't help going above and beyond. Their work remains in print because it hits on universal truths that still resonate today.


I wrote...

To Hell with Johnny Manic

By Andrew Diamond,

Book cover of To Hell with Johnny Manic

What is my book about?

John Manis, aka Johnny Manic, isn't who he says he is. He seems to get richer as the people close to him disappear, but he's beginning to learn that money can't ease the burden of his dark secret. Marilyn Dupree, passionate and volatile, wants out of a bad marriage to a wealthy man with secrets of his own. In Johnny, she recognizes what she's been looking for. They have a chemistry like nitrogen and glycerin.

Detective Lou Eisenfall just wants to keep the peace in his rich, idyllic town. He can't tell who's playing whom in this unlikely triangle, but his intuition tells him it isn't going to end well. This dark tale of deception and murder is "a feverishly readable psychological noir." Kirkus Reviews

Island

By Richard Laymon,

Book cover of Island

Laymon provides the perfect mix of psychological horror and serial killer madness in this cult novel that is part murder mystery and part survival horror. In Island, a family boat trip to a remote island goes horribly awry when someone starts offing family members one by one. It will leave you shocked and satisfied with its overwhelming tension and disturbing ending.

Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of horror because a good scare makes the adrenaline flow. Personally, I don’t think ghosts and demons are real, and they don’t scare me. But humans…humans can be downright evil. This is why I gravitate toward serial killer and slasher fiction when I’m looking for a scare. Sometimes I just want to test my endurance for the dark side of human nature. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to write a really depraved book without taking the time to make the reader care about the characters, which is why these novels are my favorite works of darkness. These are great, disturbing books with genuine pathos.


I wrote...

The Summer I Died: The Roger Huntington Saga, Book 1

By Ryan C. Thomas,

Book cover of The Summer I Died: The Roger Huntington Saga, Book 1

What is my book about?

Dubbed one of “The Most Intense Horror Novels” ever written by many thriller review sites, The Summer I Died is the first book in the Roger Huntington saga and a cult classic among fans of dark thriller fiction. Best friends, Roger and Tooth, are shooting beer cans at Bobcat Mountain, catching up on lost time, thinking about their futures, when they are suddenly thrust into the middle of a nightmare. Forced to fight for their lives against a sadistic serial killer, they must decide: are heroes born, or are they made? Blumhouse.com says “You’re in for a surprise!” and Bloodydisgusting.com says, “If you want to freak yourself out on your next camping trip, you can’t really do any better than The Summer I Died!”

The Bad Box

By Harvey Click,

Book cover of The Bad Box

Sarah Temple has ended her relationship with an abusive boyfriend and is now stuck in a dingy apartment living next to some very peculiar people. When her ex is unsuccessful in his attempt at reconciliation, he hooks up with her neighbor. Several days later he emerges as a strange new man. Sarah decides to investigate. And so the adventure begins.

Sometimes extreme horror stories fall short because the authors just want to shock and disgust readers. That’s fine for some, I suppose. But when an author can create a truly good, horrific story and make it disturbing, to boot, It’s a truly winning combination. Harvey Click does just that in The Bad Box. This story is creepy, suspenseful, mysterious, full of action, gory, imaginative, and masterfully written with rich, descriptive language and great imagery:

"A stench of damp dirt and worms and fungus and rotting animals belched up from…


Who am I?

I've been a passionate lover of all things horror. I strive to take my readers on an unforgettable journey, one that often places them well out of their comfort zone. I believe that horror should make readers uncomfortable, whether through a mounting sense of unease or full-blown exposure to gore and depravity. I do my best to pull readers into my stories so that they can almost personally experience the horrors. If I don’t make them cringe and wince, then I have failed. As outrageous as my books may be, they're not full of violence and gore for the sake of mere shock value. I do my best to create well-developed characters with thought-provoking and immersive storylines. 


I wrote...

Man Cave

By Angel Gelique,

Book cover of Man Cave

What is my book about?

Because bad things happen....When Sophie and Amber leave their college campus and travel across the state in pursuit of love, they find lust instead. Or rather, the lustful, sadistic man they know only as Ben. Abducted and held within Ben's dirty garage, things rapidly turn grim for Sophie and Amber who are repeatedly tortured, raped, and abused in horrific ways--physically, mentally, and emotionally. With an unquenchable thirst for savagery, Ben's brutality increases with each passing day, leaving the poor young women entirely at his mercy. Unfortunately for them, his ability to be merciful is about as limited as his supply of morals.

Will Sophie and Amber find a way to escape? Will they survive the depravity? Or will their lives end there in Ben's deplorable man cave?

Succulent Prey

By Wrath James White,

Book cover of Succulent Prey

Wrath is truly the king of extreme horror and this is his best book. The over the top sex and violence will leave you traumatized in this tale of a cannibalistic serial killer. At times erotic and at times disgusting, this book at no point bores the reader and is a good introduction to an amazing writer.


Who am I?

My experience and expertise – I am not only a reader of horror, in particular extreme horror, but I am a published writer with several hundred writing credits. I have had hundreds of stories and articles published on many websites, magazines, and anthologies including a story in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5. For eleven years I wrote articles on the bizarre and morbid for Girls and Corpses magazine. I have been consistently writing for 20 years, and have also helped write several independent horror films. I have written many reviews and interviews as well, most recently in Phantasmagoria Magazine.


I wrote...

Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

By David L. Tamarin,

Book cover of Hurting My Toys: Spiritual Suicide

What is my book about?

Hurting My Toys is an extreme horror tale about a schizophrenic drug-addicted serial killer who cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. In his deluded mind, he can become a God who controls the universe provided that he kills enough people. Warning - may be traumatic to some.

Killer on the Road

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of Killer on the Road

This book blew my mind when I first read it. In my opinion, it is one of the most visceral, scary, and under-rated serial killer novels of all time. Published in 1986 in the midst of America’s much-hyped real and fictional serial killer ‘epidemic,’ Killer on the Road stands out as a first-person serial-killer narrative, as well as putting forward a new kind of character (for the 1980s) – the homosexual serial murderer. In this novel, Ellroy delves into the phenomenon of motiveless serial murder from the perspective of the killer on a subversive journey through a hellish suburban America. From the prologue to the epilogue the reader is presented an interior world-view saturated with violence and nightmarish insights into the psychopathology of a disturbed killer. 


Who am I?

As a writer of Psychological Horror who specializes in stories about serial killers, the first-person serial killer narrative stands out as a fascinating vehicle to explore the psyche of real human ‘monsters.’ Which is precisely what I did, using books from this list as subject material for my Master’s thesis. The research also informed Blood Related, my debut novel, a first-person serial killer narrative and the most controversial book I’ve written so far. Perhaps, gaining insight from fictional serial killers would be a failed enterprise if life didn’t imitate art, but the fact is that these types of narratives are mostly informed by their real-life counterparts. Be warned – read at your own discretion.


I wrote...

Blood Related

By William Cook,

Book cover of Blood Related

What is my book about?

Tough-as-nails Detective Ray Truman battles his demons, as he tracks a family of prolific serial killers in this nail-biting psychological thriller. For over two decades, Truman has been searching for the killer or killers who have terrorized Portvale. The remains of young female prostitutes have been the killer’s victims of choice, but now other districts are reporting similar gruesome discoveries. 

This disturbing tale of a family tree of evil will embed itself in the mind of the reader, long after the last page has been turned. If you’re looking for a truly haunting ride into the primal depths of the psychopathic mind, Blood Related is for you. Be sure to leave the lights on.

I Am Not a Serial Killer

By Dan Wells,

Book cover of I Am Not a Serial Killer

John is a teenager who is starting to work in his family’s business, which is a mortuary. He is concerned about how much he enjoys being around death, and worries that he might be a sociopath. His concerns take a back seat when a murdering demon comes to town and John’s the only one who seems to know what is happening. A surprisingly warm and engaging book, given the subject matter. It’s also been made into a film.


Who are we?

We've been writing together for over ten years now. A theme that we’ve come back to lots of times is the horrible workplace with its bosses from hell. Feedback from readers tells us that the ways in which we’re made miserable at work are universal and it can be fun to examine them in fiction. We doubled down on the theme in the Oddjobs series of books. We both love to read and write horror, and we spend time with lots of horror authors, so this list came together very easily.


We wrote...

Oddjobs

By Heide Goody, Iain Grant,

Book cover of Oddjobs

What is my book about?

Unstoppable horrors from beyond are poised to invade and literally create Hell on Earth. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but someone still needs to do the paperwork.

Morag Murray works for the secret government organisation responsible for making sure the apocalypse goes as smoothly and as quietly as possible. Trouble is, Morag’s got a temper problem and, after angering the wrong alien god, she’s been sent to another city where she won’t cause so much trouble. But Morag’s got her work cut out for her. She has to deal with a man-eating starfish, solve a supernatural murder and, if she’s got time, prevent her own inevitable death.

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