The most recommended true crime books

Who picked these books? Meet our 403 experts.

403 authors created a book list connected to true crime, and here are their favorite true crime books.
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Book cover of Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley

Harvey Klehr Author Of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

From my list on Soviet espionage.

Why am I passionate about this?

For more than fifty years I have been fascinated by the relationship between the Communist Party of the United States and the Soviet Union. When Russian archives were opened to Western scholars after the collapse of the USSR, I was the first American to work in a previously closed archive where I discovered evidence that American communists had spied for the Soviets. Our understanding of twentieth-century history has been transformed by the revelations about the extent to which Soviet spies had infiltrated American institutions. Excavating long-buried secrets is a historian's dream!

Harvey's book list on Soviet espionage

Harvey Klehr Why did Harvey love this book?

In addition to facilitating atomic espionage, Julius Rosenberg supervised several engineers who stole vital technical secrets dealing with radar, sonar, and aviation.  Usdin tells the fascinating story of two of them, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, who defected to the Soviet Union after the Rosenbergs were arrested and helped build the Soviet Silicon Valley.

By Steven T. Usdin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Engineering Communism is the fascinating story of Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, dedicated Communists and members of the Rosenberg spy ring, who stole information from the United States during World War II that proved crucial to building the first advanced weapons systems in the USSR. On the brink of arrest, they escaped with KGB's help and eluded American intelligence for decades.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Barr and new archival evidence, Steve Usdin explains why Barr and Sarant became spies, how they obtained military secrets, and how FBI blunders led to their escape. He chronicles their pioneering role in the…

Book cover of Women in Intelligence: The Hidden History of Two World Wars

Rayna Flye Author Of Secrets, Lies, and Sneaky Spies

From my list on female codebreakers, agents, and spies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I always wanted to be a spy, but as I scare easily and can’t keep a secret, it was never going to happen. My respect and fascination with the intelligence community has never abated however, and I will never pass up an opportunity to engage with spy-related content. From going to spy museums across the globe to attending lectures to watching the latest entertaining (and totally unrealistic) spy flick, I love it all. I channel that love into writing humorous spy novels that feature fun, fearless females and ripped-from-the-headlines scenarios.  

Rayna's book list on female codebreakers, agents, and spies

Rayna Flye Why did Rayna love this book?

Do I judge a book by its cover? Why yes, yes I do! And the moment I saw this gorgeous cover I put it right into my shopping cart, paid full price, and never looked back.

Luckily for me, Women in Intelligence happens to be an excellent book where the content more than matched the expectations I had from the fabulous artwork. Although there are a few familiar faces that appear, most of the women were completely new to me. Not the femme fatales of popular culture; these were patriotic women who often went unseen in the background.

I love that Fry truly delves into uncovering the unsung heroines of WWI and WWII, giving these quiet, determined women a chance to be recognized and to shine.

By Helen Fry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking history of women in British intelligence, revealing their pivotal role across the first half of the twentieth century

From the twentieth century onward, women took on an extraordinary range of roles in intelligence, defying the conventions of their time. Across both world wars, far from being a small part of covert operations, women ran spy networks and escape lines, parachuted behind enemy lines, and interrogated prisoners. And, back in Bletchley and Whitehall, women's vital administrative work in MI offices kept the British war engine running.

In this major, panoramic history, Helen Fry looks at the rich and varied…

Book cover of The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity

Ericka Clay Author Of A Violent Hope

From my list on female protagonists from dysfunctional families.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a female writer, I love digging into the minds of women characters, especially in light of their family circumstances. I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of a strong, loving family unit in terms of personal development. But what’s amazing is how a person’s story can be redeemed even if they were raised in a less-than-ideal environment. Even though I got pretty lucky in the parent department, I know not a lot of people have. And I love showing others through fiction that despite hardships they’ve had to face along the way, they are still loved and still wanted by a God who knows them better than anyone.

Ericka's book list on female protagonists from dysfunctional families

Ericka Clay Why did Ericka love this book?

This book hooked me from the get-go. Axton Betz-Hamilton is raised by two parents who are the victims of stolen identities. She lives in a world of paranoia fostered by this incident and watches as the two people she’s closest to begin to turn on each other. Years later, Axton discovers she’s also the victim of identity theft and the journey she takes to figure out why is a nail-biter!

By Axton Betz-Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Less People Know About Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Axton Betz-Hamilton grew up in small-town Indiana in the early '90s. When she was 11 years old, her parents both had their identities stolen. Their credit ratings were ruined and they were constantly fighting over money. This was before the age of the Internet, when identity theft became more commonplace, so authorities and banks were clueless and reluctant to help Axton's parents.

Axton's family switched PO Boxes, changed all of their personal information and moved to different addresses but the identity thief followed them wherever they went. Convinced that the thief had to be someone they knew, Axton and her…

Book cover of Blood Sugar

Tamim Ansary Author Of The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

From Tamim's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Afghan American History buff Secular mystic

Tamim's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Tamim Ansary Why did Tamim love this book?

On the surface, Blood Sugar seems like a suspense thriller told in workman-like prose without literary pretensions: it just sets forth what happened next and next and next, hooking you with suspense that keeps tightening until your fingers are sore from gripping the book.

Many might finish the novel and see nothing more. I however saw Rotschild doing here what Nabokov did in Lolita. The key lies in the fact that the story is told in first person by an unreliable narrator. After you’ve finished it, you find yourself pondering what really happened and who the various characters really are—because, remember, you don’t know anything about any of them except through the eyes of that unreliable first-person telling the story. 

By Sascha Rothchild,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

She's accused of four murders. She's only guilty of three...

When Ruby was a child growing up in Miami, she saw a boy from her school struggling against the ocean waves while his parents were preoccupied. Instead of helping him, Ruby dove under the water and held his ankle down until he drowned. She waited to feel guilty for it, but she never did.

And, as Ruby will argue in her senior thesis while studying psychology at Yale, guilt is sort of like eating ice cream while on a diet - if you're already feeling bad, why not eat the…

Book cover of Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America

Gary Krist Author Of Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

From my list on narrative nonfiction involving murder and mayhem.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a former novelist who now writes historical narrative nonfiction, mainly about American cities and the people who give them life. Each book focuses on an important turning point in the history of a specific metropolis (I've written about Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), often when the city goes from being a minor backwater to being someplace of significance. And I try to tell this story through the lives of real individuals who help to make that transformation happen. My goal is to use the skills I developed as a fiction writer to create historical narratives that maintain strict standards of scholarship while being as compelling and compulsively readable as novels.

Gary's book list on narrative nonfiction involving murder and mayhem

Gary Krist Why did Gary love this book?

As any objective historian can tell you, there are very few spotless heroes in history, and very few villains whose wrongdoing isn't firmly rooted in the psychological and sociological forces that shaped them.

So I really admire writers who, like Kali Nicole Gross, take pains to put the bad actions of their subjects in the context of their time and circumstances. In this measured and nuanced account of a sensational 19th-century murder, Gross carefully examines Gilded Age attitudes toward race and gender, tracing their influence on the crime, its investigation, and its punishment.

The result is a book both scholarly and absorbing – not an easy feat for any author to pull off.

By Kali Nicole Gross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortly after a dismembered torso was discovered by a pond outside Philadelphia in 1887, investigators homed in on two suspects: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working-class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor whom Tabbs implicated after her arrest.

As details surrounding the shocking case emerged, both the crime and ensuing trial-which spanned several months-were featured in the national press. The trial brought otherwise taboo subjects such as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community to public attention. At the same time, the mixed race of the victim and one of his assailants exacerbated anxieties over…

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

Kathryn Canavan Author Of Lincoln's Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of America's Greatest President

From my list on true crime stories written by insiders and experts.

Why am I passionate about this?

One of my first newspaper jobs was as a crime writer, covering and discovering crime stories in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There's a lot of chaff among the wheat in the true crime genre. Some books are padded with the author's personal lives. Some have paper-thin plots. The books I've recommended are well-told, well-researched stories that are hard to put down.

Kathryn's book list on true crime stories written by insiders and experts

Kathryn Canavan Why did Kathryn love this book?

I learned so much from reading this book by the bureau's pioneering profiler.

Books by profilers and local police who solve major murders often focus on the author's career. No one cares. Douglas's books focus on the crimes and the perpetrators.

He has interviewed Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, Lynette Fromme, John Wayne Gacy, Edmund Kemper, Sirhan Sirhan, Richard Speck, Sara Jane Moore, and Charles Manson. He explains what makes them tick.

By Mark Olshaker, John E. Douglas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now a Netflix original series

Discover the classic, behind-the-scenes chronicle of John E. Douglas’ twenty-five-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he used psychological profiling to delve into the minds of the country’s most notorious serial killers and criminals.

In chilling detail, the legendary Mindhunter takes us behind the scenes of some of his most gruesome, fascinating, and challenging cases—and into the darkest recesses of our worst nightmares.

During his twenty-five year career with the Investigative Support Unit, Special Agent John Douglas became a legendary figure in law enforcement, pursuing some of the most notorious and sadistic serial…

Book cover of The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!: The Incredible True Story of the Art Heist That Shocked a Nation

Noah Charney Author Of The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World

From my list on art crime.

Why am I passionate about this?

Back in 2006, a New York Times Magazine feature article about me announced that I had essentially founded the field of the study of art crime, while still a postgraduate student. I’m often mentioned as the world’s leading authority on the history of art crime and I’ve been a professor teaching the subject for more than a decade (I’m not actually that old). I also founded ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, the world’s first think tank and research group on art crime. We launched the first academic journal on the subject, The Journal of Art Crime, as well as the first academic study program, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, which runs every summer in Italy. I’m also the author of more than a dozen books, many best-sellers, and one a Pulitzer finalist. I write on art crime for TED Ed videos, I host TV programs on the subject, and I recently curated a virtual exhibit of lost art called Missing Masterpieces.

Noah's book list on art crime

Noah Charney Why did Noah love this book?

If you saw the recent film, The Duke, then you’ll know the story of Kempton Bunton and the crazy art heist from London’s National Gallery, when Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen. This is one of the most interesting and quirkiest of all art heists and this book is the definitive telling of it.

By Alan Hirsch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1961, a thief broke into the National Gallery in London and committed the most sensational art heist in British history. He stole the museum’s much prized painting, The Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya. Despite unprecedented international attention and an unflagging investigation, the case was not solved for four years, and even then, only because the culprit came forward voluntarily.

Kempton Bunton, an elderly gentleman, claimed he executed the theft armed with only a toy gun, a disguise purchased for five shillings, and a getaway car inadvertently provided by a drunkard. Shortly after turning himself in, Bunton also invoked…

Book cover of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft

Tim Maleeny Author Of Hanging the Devil

From my list on planning an art heist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by art, not just the paintings themselves but their historical significance, the personalities behind the canvas, and the seemingly arbitrary value placed on one artist’s work versus another. Writing my latest novel, Hanging the Devil, was a chance to delve into the illicit side of the art world, where forgers and smugglers consort with organized crime. I’ve been an award-winning mystery author for more than a decade—this is my sixth novel—and the great thing about writing crime fiction is the chance to get lost in the research and learn something new, so writing this novel was a great excuse to visit museums, talk to experts, and plan a heist!

Tim's book list on planning an art heist

Tim Maleeny Why did Tim love this book?

The biggest unsolved art crime is the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, during which two men disguised as policemen stole 13 works of art worth an estimated $500 million.

Not one of the stolen paintings has been recovered, and rumors about their whereabouts and the identity of the thieves continue to fuel investigations across the globe. This book is a rapid-fire read and a terrific crash course in the many challenges involved in tracing lost art, let alone ever catching the thieves.

When writing a mystery novel that opens with an audacious museum heist in the very first chapter, it’s probably a good idea to research the biggest museum robbery in history. The Gardner heist shocked the art world and revealed how many museums around the world have shockingly bad security protocols relative to most office buildings, let alone a bank, even though priceless art is…

By Ulrich Boser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5 million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth as much as $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and their theft one of the nation's most extraordinary unsolved mysteries. Art detective Harold Smith worked the theft for years, and after his…

Book cover of In Broad Daylight: A murder in Skidmore, Missouri

Neal W. Fandek Author Of Peter Pike and the Revenge of the Romanovs

From my list on psycho killers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of the Peter Pike private eye series. Pike regularly tangles with psychos; you can’t have crime novels without them. Why? People love psychos. Psychos horrify and fascinate us. Do we wish we could be them? Maybe. The best psychos are outwardly lovable and charming and get whatever they want, making you laugh and shudder at the same time. Wish fulfillment? Fantasy? Subconscious longings? Again, maybe. I know such fiction lets you dive deeply into what’s now called transgressive territory without consequences. Does fiction get any better than that?

Neal's book list on psycho killers

Neal W. Fandek Why did Neal love this book?

This isn't a novel but a true crime narrative, a depiction of a man named Ken McElroy gunned down on the main street of a small Missouri town in, well, broad daylight. No witnesses. No suspects. Well, the whole town, the whole county, are suspects. This guy raped very young girls then got them to marry him, shot people, stole cattle and equipment, burned down houses. This book was a jolt to me because my wife is from that area, an area I, a man who's spent most of my life in urban areas, had always thought bucolic, filled with amiable, honest, peaceful people. I started looking at the natives in a different light after this. And, not to freak anybody out here, chances are pretty good there’s been a terrible crime, if you’re lucky an unsolved one, committed not very far at all from where you are right now.

By Harry N. MacLean,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ken Rex McElroy was an illiterate hog farmer who lived on the outskirts of a small town in Northwest Missouri. For over twenty years he raped, robbed and burned almost at will. Cops were scared to arrest him, prosecutors were scared to prosecute him, judges were scared to judge him, and juries were scared to convict him. Over the years, Skidmore and many other small communities became convinced that the law was incapable of protecting them from McElroy. They watched in awe as he walked away from one crime after another. Ken McElroy was shot to death on the main…

Book cover of Arsenic Under the Elms: Murder in Victorian New Haven

Robert Wilhelm Author Of So Far from Home: The Pearl Bryan Murder

From my list on murder in America’s Gilded Age.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been researching and writing about 19th-century American murders since 2009, and my blog, Murder by Gaslight (, includes illustrated stories of more than 500 murder cases. My book, The Bloody Century: True Tales of Murder in 19th Century America, compiled fifty of the most famous murders. In researching these stories, I prefer to use primary sources such as newspaper articles, pamphlets, and books from the time of the murder. They present the attitudes surrounding the crime without modern analysis and preserve details that tend to disappear over time. My latest book, So Far from Home: The Pearl Bryan Murder, draws almost exclusively from newspaper accounts in 1896 and 1897.

Robert's book list on murder in America’s Gilded Age

Robert Wilhelm Why did Robert love this book?

Arsenic Under the Elms tells the story of two sensational but unrelated murders in New Haven, Connecticut, in the late 19th century. Mary Stannard a 22-year-old domestic servant was found stabbed and poisoned on a path near her home. The prime suspect was her pastor, former employer, and alleged seducer, Rev. Herbert H. Hayden. Jennie Cramer, a beautiful young woman from a poor family was also poisoned, her body found floating in the ocean. Suspicion fell on Jimmie and Walter Malley, nephew and son of the richest man in New Haven. In both cases, the disparity in social class between victim and suspect became the defining feature of the case and the greatest impediment in obtaining justice for the murdered woman.

By Virginia A. McConnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arsenic Under the Elms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The attorney Virginia A. McConnell provides a riveting view of Connecticut in the late 1800s as revealed through the unrelated but disturbingly similar murders of two young women. The first, Mary Stannard, was an unmarried mother who worked as a domestic and believed herself to be pregnant for a second time. The man accused of her murder, Reverend Herbert Hayden, was a married lay minister whose seduction of Mary was common knowledge. Three years later, Jennie Cramer, another woman of low social status, was found floating facedown in Long Island Sound off West Haven. The characters involved in the commission,…