Jesyka’s Top Five True Crime Texts of 2021

As we near the end of 2021, all of us at True Crime Index have been looking back on a year of excellent books. We wanted to share these favourites with you in hopes that you too will give them a read. Up first is Jesyka’s Top Five:

  1. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (Penguin Random House, 2021) 

Keefe’s text is truly one of the most important books I’ve read in my lifetime. It not only outlines the path to one of the most dangerous and addictive prescription drugs of all time, but it exposes the deep systemic problems in the American justice system and in the FDA that allowed Purdue Pharma to profit from drug addiction, and then allowed them to get away with it. Everyone needs to read this book. 

2. The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic by Jillian Peterson and James Densley (Abrams Press, 2021) 

Mass shootings are everywhere in the United States, and the reverberations of them stretch far beyond the country’s borders. Even though I grew up in Canada, one of my earliest memories of violence is watching the students of Columbine High School run out of the building with their hands on their heads. I’ve read many accounts of mass shootings, but I’ve never read one like this. These authors have done the research, and they have offered us hope in the form of that research. I hope American policy makers run with it. 

3. A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays by Marc Bookman (The New Press, 2021) 

This is the kind of book that you read and never forget. It is also the kind of book that will leave you convinced in the brutality, and futility, of the death penalty.  Bookman forces you to understand what happens after someone is sentenced to death, why they were sentenced in the first place, and what these laws say about us as a culture. The ugly truth is contained within these essays, and Bookman does not let us look away. 

4. The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy by Katherine Blake (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2021) 

This was not just one of my favorite true crime books of the year, it was one of the best I’ve read in my lifetime. This book goes so far beyond the crime that it assesses—it is a beautiful and impactful memoir in its own right. Although Blake does discuss the murder that her cousin committed, the book surpasses these confines and mediates on death, the prison system, love, and mercy. It is must-read. 

5. Autopsy of a Crime Lab: Exposing the Flaws in Forensics by Brandon L. Garrett (University of California Press, 2021). 

Forensic science is something we think we know a lot about, and I believe this assumption is created from consuming true crime media, and television shows like CSI. We also seem to implicitly trust whatever forensic technique we come across, and as Garrett’s monograph taught me, that is a hugely problematic, and sometimes deadly, assumption. Garrett’s text blew my mind. Folks have been sentenced to years in prison, or to death, on the backs of forensic techniques that are far from scientific. His argument convinced me that the only forensic technique we can really depend on is DNA—and I bet it would convince you too. 


Don’t forget to follow True Crime Index on Twitter and please visit our Goodreads for updates on what we’re reading!

About the Writer: 

Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime is forthcoming from Crime Fiction Studies. 

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