True crime books have enjoyed a resurgence since the podcast Serial and Netflix series Making a Murderer woke a new generation to the thrill of real-life investigations. For the new fan, there is a rich vein of excellent narrative nonfiction ready to tap into, not least Truman Capote’s classic, genre-defining In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.
The resurgence of enthusiasm for true crime has also seen a wave of brilliant new writing in recent years. The New Yorker’s David Grann, himself the author of the best-selling, award winning Killers of the Flower Moon, highlighted in an interview some of the best true crime books that had influenced his work, while the crime novelist Jax Miller independently contributed her favourite reads in the genre. Casey Cep’s book, Furious Hours, was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction in 2019. The chair of the judges, Stig Abell, said it was “flat out one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.”
Why do women kill? What does violence tell us about human nature? How do the methods of the criminal justice system speak to an era? Cara Robertson—a lawyer, author and expert on the famous Lizzie Borden case—picks five true crime books that deal in murder, individual psychology, public trials and justice.
True crime books can be all too easily chalked up as a genre of grisly murders and cheap, voyeuristic thrills—but to do so would be to overlook compelling evidence to the contrary. David Grann, whose true crime book revisits long-forgotten, or concealed, crimes in the Osage community of Oklahoma, raises the bar with examples of true crime books rich in historical discovery, literary merit and the kind of political inquiry these murky times are calling for