Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold Blood

This post is the first in a series of reading guides, each of which will be dedicated to a specific category in the 2018 reading challenge—but you don’t have to be doing the challenge to read and enjoy. Inspiration is all-inclusive.


In Cold Blood is arguably the most famous true crime book, which makes it all too obvious as a choice for this category.

For those that have already read In Cold Blood, or those who want something a little more contemporary, here are six more true crime books worth looking up, on subjects from terrorism to murder to cybercrime.

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 386
Goodreads | Amazon

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

This one may be nonfiction, but it’s written as if it were a novel, with a strong narrative voice and a large cast of complex and fleshed-out characters. It follows the events of a killing that took place in Savannah, Georgia in 1981: a male prostitute was shot by another man in the other man’s home, and it ultimately took four trials and nearly a decade to determine whether the shooting was murder or an act of self defense. This isn’t a new book—it was published in 1994—but its quality is well assured. It won a boatload of awards and remains the longest-standing New York Times bestseller of all time, having topped the chart for 216 straight weeks (for reference, that’s over four years).

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodThe Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 426
Goodreads | Amazon

Three of the greatest detectives in the world--a renowned FBI agent turned private eye, a sculptor and lothario who speaks to the dead, and an eccentric profiler known as "the living Sherlock Holmes"--were heartsick over the growing tide of unsolved murders. Good friends and sometime rivals William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter decided one day over lunch that something had to be done, and pledged themselves to a grand quest for justice. The three men invited the greatest collection of forensic investigators ever assembled, drawn from five continents, to the Downtown Club in Philadelphia to begin an audacious quest: to bring the coldest killers in the world to an accounting. Named for the first modern detective, the Parisian eugène François Vidocq--the flamboyant Napoleonic real-life sleuth who inspired Sherlock Holmes--the Vidocq Society meets monthly in its secretive chambers to solve a cold murder over a gourmet lunch.

The true crime book of choice for Sherlock Holmes fans: this book’s protagonists form a sort of elite detective society to investigate and solve some of the world’s most tricky cold case murders, aiming to bring the perpetrators to justice at long last.

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, Mario Spezi
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 322
Goodreads | Amazon

In 2000, Douglas Preston fulfilled a dream to move his family to Italy. Then he discovered that the olive grove in front of their 14th century farmhouse had been the scene of the most infamous double-murders in Italian history, committed by a serial killer known as the Monster of Florence. Preston, intrigued, meets Italian investigative journalist Mario Spezi to learn more. This is the true story of their search for--and identification of--the man they believe committed the crimes, and their chilling interview with him. And then, in a strange twist of fate, Preston and Spezi themselves become targets of the police investigation. Preston has his phone tapped, is interrogated, and told to leave the country. Spezi fares worse: he is thrown into Italy's grim Capanne prison, accused of being the Monster of Florence himself. Like one of Preston's thrillers, The Monster of Florence tells a remarkable and harrowing story involving murder, mutilation, and suicide--and at the center of it, Preston and Spezi, caught in a bizarre prosecutorial vendetta.

Douglas Preston is primarily an author of thriller fiction (he’s well known for his Pendergast series in collaboration with Lincoln Child). It seems somehow fitting that his actual life should become something of a thriller. Certainly not a lot of people, upon finding out that their idyllic new home in Italy was the scene of a grisly double murder, would set out to investigate and solve the case; but Preston did, and wrote this book to tell the tale.

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodUnderground by Haruki Murakami
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 309
Goodreads | Amazon

In spite of the perpetrators' intentions, the Tokyo gas attack left only twelve people dead, but thousands were injured and many suffered serious after-effects. Murakami interviews the victims to try and establish precisely what happened on the subway that day. He also interviews members and ex-members of the doomsdays cult responsible, in the hope that they might be able to explain the reason for the attack and how it was that their guru instilled such devotion in his followers.

Like the previous author, Haruki Murakami mostly writes fiction. What nonfiction he’s done is mostly about music—and then this, a sort of philosophical investigation of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995. The book is composed of transcripts from Murakami’s many interviews with victims of the attack, relatives of those who died, and members (or former members) of the cult that was responsible.

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 578
Goodreads | Amazon

Utterly unique in its astonishing intimacy, as jarringly frightening as when it first appeared, Ann Rule's The Stranger Beside Me defies our expectation that we would surely know if a monster lived among us, worked alongside of us, appeared as one of us. With a slow chill that intensifies with each heart-pounding page, Rule describes her dawning awareness that Ted Bundy, her sensitive coworker on a crisis hotline, was one of the most prolific serial killers in America. He would confess to killing at least thirty-six young women from coast to coast, and was eventually executed for three of those cases. Drawing from their correspondence that endured until shortly before Bundy's death, and striking a seamless balance between her deeply personal perspective and her role as a crime reporter on the hunt for a savage serial killer--the brilliant and charismatic Bundy, the man she thought she knew--Rule changed the course of true-crime literature with this unforgettable chronicle.

In one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction situations, Ann Rule was an investigative crime reporter working on a horrifying serial killing case. She was also a coworker and friend of the man who would eventually be identified as the murderer: Ted Bundy. The book has been revised and added to a few times since its original publication in 1986; the most recent revision came out in 2008. And while one may not be able to call Ann Rule a great writer, technically speaking, her position on both sides of the case was a unique and chilling one that makes for a fascinating read.

Reading Guide: 6 True Crime Books That Aren’t In Cold BloodGhost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 393
Goodreads | Amazon

Kevin Mitnick was the most elusive computer break-in artist in history. He accessed computers and networks at the world's biggest companies, and however fast the authorities were, Mitnick was faster, sprinting through phone switches, computer systems, and cellular networks. He spent years skipping through cyberspace, always three steps ahead and labeled unstoppable. For Mitnick, hacking wasn't just about technological feats; it was an old-fashioned confidence game that required guile and deception to trick the unwitting out of valuable information.

Driven by a powerful urge to accomplish the impossible, Mitnick bypassed security systems and blazed into major organizations including Motorola, Sun Microsystems, and Pacific Bell. As the FBI's net began to tighten, Mitnick went on the run, engaging in an increasingly sophisticated cat-and-mouse game that led through false identities, a host of cities, plenty of close shaves, and an ultimate showdown with the Feds, who would stop at nothing to bring him down.

If murder isn’t your thing, try this one: it’s about computers. Not only that, unlike most true crime books, this one is autobiographical. It was written by the former criminal (who now uses his powers for good as a cybersecurity consultant) about his experiences and exploits as one of the world’s most elusive, high-profile hackers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.