Rachel’s Top Ten True Crime Books

Hi all! This week as we continue to introduce ourselves and the world to this site, Rachel has her Top Ten True Crime Books (so far!). While her list is an eclectic mix of time periods and authors, you can definitely tell where she brings together her interest in Victorian scholarship and true crime. Click on each author’s name to follow them on Twitter, and click on the name of their book to add it to your Goodreads shelf!

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  1. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (2019)

The latest and perhaps most important book on the famous series of killings in the summer of 1888 in London, Rubenhold’s The Five upends traditional serial killer narratives by focusing on the—as yet untold—lives of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. Extensively researched and expertly told, this book represents a marked shift in true crime by focusing on the victims and their families. Additionally, Rubenhold provides a fascinating look at the social, political, and gendered situations of these women and their cultural moment. As a Victorianist and a lover of true crime, this book was undeniably a favourite and is a credit to the genre. If you’re looking for a new and heartbreaking way to read these murders, this is the book for you!

2. The Lazarus Files by Mathew McGough (2019)

McGough covers the murder of Sherri Rasmussen in this comprehensive examination of the specifics of this case as an example of the wider corruption present within the Los Angeles Police Department. McGough’s research and his use of primary documents—such as the diary kept by the killer and the LAPD ‘murder books’ is commendable. He works tirelessly to establish a patter of corruption and gatekeeping within the LAPD that ripples widely beyond this particular devastating crime. This is an incredible book and I could not possibly recommend it enough.

3. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (1980)

What’s a Top Ten True Crime list without Ann Rule? A powerhouse and pioneer of true crime, Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me is the book to read. Rule’s experiences with Bundy are expertly conveyed in this book, and I think what makes it unique is Rule’s detailed emotional struggle with the facts of this case as the book unfolds. Her work to break into a distinctly male-led genre with this book is commendable. This is just a must-read true crime favourite for me.

4. The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (2018)

As a literature scholar, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) is a favourite book of mine. I admit that I was woefully unfamiliar with the real facts of the case that Nabokov based his fictional novel on until I read Weinman’s book. This text works carefully to dispel an established mythos around Nabokov’s work and attempts to re-center the sensationalized story around a very really young girl who was victimized at the hands of an abuser. This book is extremely powerful and well-researched. It’s worth reading, whether you’re familiar with Lolita or not.

5. Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen (2019)

I bought this as soon as it hit shelves last year and started reading right away. From his dedication onward, Jensen demonstrates the compassionate and careful skill that he seems to bring to every aspect of his investigative work. Not only is this book focused on Jensen and his own arrival at an interest in true crime, but it also provides vignettes of famous or unknown cases, and serves as an instructive manual for anyone interested in participating in private investigation or internet sleuthing. There isn’t another book of this kind out there, and this one is well-worth having on your shelf.

6. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (2018)

Speaking of citizen detectives, this book changed my life and I know it changed Jesyka’s, too. If you haven’t read this, please let me take the time to ask you: where on earth have you been? McNamara blends the modes of personal memoir and true crime together so brilliantly here, and her focus on the victims is a commendable tactic after so many years of uncertainty and mystery around this case. This book is beyond powerful—if you read anything on this list, let it be this.

7. Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca (2017)

You know I love a historical true crime book! Mrs. Sherlock Holmes is a true crime/biography hybrid that works so well. Detailing the pioneering efforts of New York lawyer Grace Humiston in the early part of the twentieth century and her efforts to solve the case of a missing young girl when detectives could not. This book is a powerful look at gender politics and social obstacles in the period.

8. Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (1995)

Like The Stranger Beside Me, Mindhunter is another true crime classic that I can’t recommend enough. The origin story behind the Behavioural Sciences Unit at the FBI isn’t much like Netflix or The Silence of the Lambs would have you believe; however, it is fascinating and incredibly well-told. A crucial look at how and why we came to understand serial killers and true crime the way we do, this one has a lot to offer. I recommend reading a newer version with added forewords and commentary for the full, modern picture!

9. Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime by Claire Harman (2019)

When I say that this is very much my thing, I really mean it. Claire Harman is an excellent historian—and Charlotte Brontë’s latest biographer—and she really brings to life a very obscure aspect of nineteenth-century history that unites a real-life murder with Victorian anxieties about literature’s influence on crime and criminality. Like The Five, this one is both a phenomenal addition to the true crime genre as well as an interesting and vivid portrait of nineteenth-century British life. I highly, highly, recommend it.

10. Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present by Peter Vronsky (2018)

Vronsky’s book has every obscure, historical serial killer story you never knew you wanted to read about—all working toward an interesting social/physical/intellectual evolutionary argument. While many true crime books are focused on America and Britain (and sometimes Canada), Vronsky widens his scope, as he should, to the world at large and the various crimes that shocked different cities or countries throughout history. By no means exhaustive, Vronsky’s catalogue of historical crimes is nonetheless impressive. He invites us to consider predatory behaviour and aberrant psychology from a different perspective, which is altogether refreshing.

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