22 Best True Crime Books for Adrenaline Seekers

Are you looking for the best true crime books of all time? Take a look at our guide to see the best novels to add to your reading list.

There are lots of people who cannot get enough of suspense and thriller stories, so you might be interested in the best true crime books for the ultimate adrenaline rush. These books follow true stories, or at least based on true stories, and provide readers with an inside look at how a crime unfolds and how it looks to different people. What are some of the best true crime books you might want to explore with so many options available?

1. The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer, 2012

The Executioner’s Song is an aptly-named introduction to the genre. In this case, the crime is a double homicide that is relatively open and shut. Even though the case itself is interesting, this book focuses on the wish of the murderer, Gary Gilmore. He desires to be executed as quickly as possible, but his life is chronicled by Norman Mailer, who focuses not only on the crime but also on the early life of Gary Gilmore. This book has a certain amount of irony surrounding his death, particularly given that the case occurred when the death penalty was reinstated in the United States. 

“Finally he said, “I like everything that wild Irish maniac, J. P. Donleavy, ever wrote.” It wasn’t so much a discussion as a sharing of taste. He also liked The Agony and the Ecstasy and Lust for Life by Irving Stone.”

Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song
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The Executioner's Song
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Mailer, Norman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1136 Pages - 05/08/2012 (Publication Date) - Grand Central Publishing (Publisher)

2. Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith, 1986

The Zodiac Killer is one of the most infamous killers in the country’s history. The Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith, focuses on a series of gruesome murders that gripped Northern California during the 1960s and 1970s.

The author was a cartoonist working for the San Francisco Chronicle during this time. Then, the Zodiac began to send letters to the paper, leading to a mystery that would span more than 50 years. This book looks at the impact on the local community, the various theories that resulted from the mystery, and how the investigation unfolded. This is the perfect book for people who enjoy exploring cold cases. 

“Just because you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

Robert Graysmith, Zodiac
Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation's Most Elusive Serial Killer
  • Graysmith, Robert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 01/02/2007 (Publication Date) - Berkley (Publisher)

3. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, 1994

Truman Capote is one of the top true crime authors of all time. In many ways, In Cold Blood launched the genre that so many people know and love today. This is a story that focuses on a quadruple homicide that takes place in Kansas, absolutely rattling the town to its core. Even though the case is relatively straightforward and quickly closed, the psychology behind it is worth exploring. Based on interviews with killers, research on the victims, and an exploration of how the case unfolded, this book is an excellent way for people to learn more about a unique genre. 

“Once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will-depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.”

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
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In Cold Blood
  • Great book!
  • Truman Capote (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 343 Pages - 02/01/1994 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt, 1999

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt, is often listed as one of the best true crime books of all time. This book is known for its vivid imagery, holistic style, and ability to address the historical backdrop against which the crime is committed. The murder focuses on a male escort who is killed by a local merchant and goes through four trials. But, on the other hand, it is the residents, and their reaction to the crime, that ultimately make this story so interesting. What was it like to work as a male escort in the Deep South during the 1980s? 

“By morning she was dead. She had not died of starvation or committed suicide by any conventional means. She had simply willed herself to die, and being a strong-willed woman, she had succeeded. She had missed dying on her birthday by two days.”

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story
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  • Berendt, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages - 06/28/1999 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

5. The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule, 2008

There are a lot of famous serial killers throughout the history of the United States, and one of the top examples is Ted Bundy. Ann Rule, one of Bundy’s closest friends, wrote this book, The Stranger Beside Me. She seeks to provide a slightly different look at Ted Bundy from the one convicted of murder. She even says she would have trusted Ted Bundy to care for her children before they lost touch in 1974. Even though she did not want to admit that Ted Bundy could have been involved in the crime spree, this book shows what it is like to know someone convicted of such heinous crimes.

“The only clue I had was that my dog (who liked everyone) didn’t like Ted at all. Whenever he bent over my desk at the Crisis Clinic, she growled and the hackles on her neck stood up. The lesson is clear: Pay attention to your dog!”

Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me
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The Stranger Beside Me
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Rule, Ann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 672 Pages - 12/30/2008 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

6. Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, 2001

For better or for worse, society tends to sensationalize heinous crimes. One of the best examples is the Manson family murders, which occurred during the 20th century. This book was written by Vincent Bugliosi, who was responsible for prosecuting Manson in 1970. He seeks to set the record straight regarding how the events unfolded, focusing on the original investigation, the subsequent arrest, and the conviction that followed. At the same time, the book called Helter Skelter describes the chaos that unfolded. 

“You can convince anybody of anything if you just push it at them all of the time. They may not believe it 100 percent, but they will still draw opinions from it, especially if they have no other information to draw their opinions from.”

Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter
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Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders
  • Bugliosi, Vincent (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 689 Pages - 12/17/2001 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

7. Mindhunter, by John E. Douglas, 1995

There are a lot of people who have fallen in love with the series of the same name on Netflix. This is a book that served as the inspiration for that series. A former FBI agent wrote Mindhunter, and he provides an inside look at how the FBI goes through the process of developing criminal profiles. This book discusses some of the most infamous killers of all time and describes how the police can use these profiles to apprehend felons. The title is appropriate and perfect for people who love true crime. 

“So what I truly believe is that along with more money and police and prisons, what we most need more of is love. This is not being simplistic; it’s at the very heart of the issue.”

John Edward Douglas, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Douglas, John E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 445 Pages - 11/26/1998 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

8. The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, 2000

Some people love reading books about true crime but would instead go without the details of gruesome murders. The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, takes place in South Florida. The author does a tremendous amount of research, pairs it with beautiful narration, and focuses on how orchid poachers are caught. Orchids are beautiful flowers, and they can be challenging to raise. Therefore, it can be disheartening when someone starts killing all the orchids. However, even though this book might not have murders, it is just as compelling as any other. 

“I think the real reason is that life has no meaning. I mean, no obvious meaning. You wake up, you go to work, you do stuff. I think everybody’s always looking for something a little unusual that can preoccupy them and help pass the time.”

Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief
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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
  • Orlean, Susan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 01/04/2000 (Publication Date) - Ballantine Books (Publisher)

9. The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcolm, 1990

This is a story that takes place in North Carolina. The Journalist and The Murderer focuses on the case that unfolded after a pregnant woman, and her two children were stabbed to death. Given that the husband survived, he quickly became the prime suspect.

He decided to partner with an author who had published an account of his life to pardon himself. That book is not the one included here. Instead, it focuses on how a journalist pretended to believe the husband was innocent before hatching a strategy to prove that the husband was guilty. What are the moral implications of such a decision on both the husband and the journalist? 

“The concept of the psychopath is, in fact, an admission of failure to solve the mystery of evil—it is merely a restatement of the mystery—and only offers an escape valve for the frustration felt by psychiatrists, social workers, and police officers, who daily encounter its force.”

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer
The Journalist and the Murderer
  • Malcolm, Janet (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 10/31/1990 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

10. Shot in the Heart, by Mikal Gilmore, 1995

Shot in the Heart tells the story of Mikal Gilmore, who grew up with a murderer in the home. There are lots of people who are interested in the upbringing that contributes to someone becoming a murderer. Even though there is probably an element of both nature and nurture, Mikal discusses how he escaped the same fate as his brother. He describes the abuse and alcoholism he and his brother endured at home. While the book is certainly not easy, it is an excellent way for people to get a more nuanced look at how the most vicious criminals are made. 

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older, they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart
Shot in the Heart
  • Gilmore, Mikal (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 08/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

11. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, 2004

Many amateur criminologists have learned much from Jon Krakauer, and Under the Banner of Heaven might be his most famous story. This book focuses on a Mormon family that murders their sister-in-law and her child because they believe God told them to do so. This story will shake you to your core. Still, it also dives into the religion of Mormonism, some controversial elements it preaches, and its impact on society. For example, when people who are not mentally stable believe God is talking to them, the results can be disastrous. 

“As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane-as a means of inciting evil, to borrow the vocabulary of the devout-there may be no more potent force than religion.”

Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven
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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
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  • Krakauer, Jon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 06/08/2004 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)

12. My Dark Places, by James Ellroy, 1997

My Dark Places follows the author as he tries to figure out who killed his mother. Even though the case went cold decades ago, the author never stops trying to figure out who killed his mother. He even hired a detective from the County of Los Angeles to help him solve the case. While the book focuses on how the case unfolds, there are details of his childhood as he goes through his memory bank. Even as he tries to figure out who killed his mother, he reflects on how much his mother genuinely meant to him. 

“They moved me and scared me. I replayed the tapes and nailed the source of my fear. The women sounded smug. They were entrenched and content in their victimhood.”

James Ellroy, My Dark Places
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My Dark Places
  • Ellroy, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 427 Pages - 08/19/1997 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

13. The Innocent Man, by John Grisham, 2012

John Grisham is arguably one of the most famous fiction writers. However, this book, The Innocent Man, contributes to the non-fiction genre. The focus is on an individual who has been wrongly convicted. He was convicted of drugging a young cocktail waitress, raping her, and then murdering her. Even though the person who was wrongly convicted is no angel, this book focuses on how evidence was mishandled and how the desperation of the police to apprehend someone ultimately caused them to frame him. He was ultimately sentenced to death in 1988, but is the outcome necessarily set in stone?

“As Mike Roberts watched Tommy enter the building, he could not imagine that the boy was taking his last steps in the free world. The rest of his life would be behind prison walls.”

John Grisham, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town
  • Grisham, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 03/27/2012 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

14. Columbine, by Dave Cullen, 2010

The Columbine school massacre in the 20th century was one of the most devastating events in the history of the United States. This book, called Columbine, focuses on what happened in the city before, during, and after the events.

This narrative switches between the victims’ experiences and the meticulous planning that the killers completed. There are also horrific descriptions of what happened at the scene of the shooting, creating a genuinely devastating account of a tragedy that was preventable. This is a powerful story that everyone should read, if for no reason other than trying to prevent another one from happening. 

“When I fell out the window, I knew somebody would catch me. That’s what I need to tell you: that I knew the loving world was there all the time. -Patrick Ireland of the Columbine massacre”

Dave Cullen, Columbine
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Columbine
  • Cullen, Dave (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 496 Pages - 03/03/2010 (Publication Date) - Twelve (Publisher)

15. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, 2004

The Devil in the White City focuses on one of the earliest serial killers to be documented in the history of the United States. In 1893, the World Exhibition was in Chicago. At the time, the city was called the White City. The city is in the process of welcoming people from all over the world, and Daniel Burnham is proud of what the city has brought to life until a local pharmacist plans to murder a bunch of people at a local hotel. The authorities must uncover this plot and stop him before killing everyone at the fair.

“Beneath the stars the lake lay dark and sombre,” Stead wrote, “but on its shores gleamed and glowed in golden radiance the ivory city, beautiful as a poet’s dream, silent as a city of the dead.”

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
  • Chicago Exposition
  • Nineteenth Century
  • True Crime
  • Serial Killer
  • Thriller

16. The Poisoner’s Handbook, by Deborah Blum, 2011

The Poisoner’s Handbook, by Deborah Blum, is a great true crime read for people who want to stay away from stabbings and shootings. This is a book that provides an inside look at forensic toxicology. The book takes place during the early 20th century, focusing on what happens in New York City. At the time, Charles Norris decided to team up with a local toxicologist to figure out how people committed unusual crimes during the prohibition era. The story focuses on carbon monoxide, poisonings, and alcohol. This story also focuses on the scientific basis for how the murders unfold. 

“That is the bane of speakeasy life. You ring up your friend the next morning to find out whether he is still alive.”

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner’s Handbook
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The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
  • Blum, Deborah (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 01/25/2011 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

17. Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King, 2013

Devil in the Grove focuses on a controversial court case in 1949. At the time, four young African-American men were accused of sexual assault. Unfortunately, one of them was killed, and the other three individuals were violently beaten by local law enforcement. Then, Thurgood Marshall, the famed attorney from Brown vs. Board of Education, takes the case to defend that. This is a case that turned into a massive civil rights moment, launched his career, and created one of the best true crime stories that people have ever heard of. 

“There is very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefits, they can even change the hearts of men—some men, anyhow—for good or evil.”

Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove
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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
  • King, Gilbert (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 02/19/2013 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

18. People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry, 2010

People Who Heart Darkness took place in 2000. The story focuses on a 21-year-old who moves from England to Tokyo. There, she starts working as a hostess at a local restaurant. Then, all of a sudden, she disappears. The British press became focused on the story, and the Japanese police were busy figuring out what happened. Now, the story is an international phenomenon, as everyone is curious about what happened to her. The story focuses on the sexual culture of Japan, which captivated the young hostess, and how a young white woman can paralyze the media. 

“Even those we know best are strangers, whom we understand, if we ever do, intermittently.”

Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness
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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up
  • Richard Lloyd Parry (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 454 Pages - 11/27/2022 (Publication Date) - Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Publisher)

19. The Brothers, by Masha Gessen, 2016

The Boston Marathon bombing took place in 2013. They killed five people and left countless others with lifelong wounds. The brothers were quickly identified and apprehended, and The Brothers focus on the origins of the bombers, the psychology behind a politically-motivated terrorist attack, and how the brothers believed that they were acting righteously.

The Boston Marathon bombing is still very recent in many people’s minds, and this book provides an inside look at just how it happened, why the perpetrators decided to do it, and what could be done to prevent another one from happening down the road. 

“Neighborhood brothers were inviolate. A male outsider who tried to date a neighborhood girl would be knifed. The single unifying culture of the city with that at the prison.”

The Brothers, Masha Gessen
The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy
  • Gessen, Masha (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 05/10/2016 (Publication Date) - Riverhead Books (Publisher)

20. Five Days at the Memorial, by Sheri Fink, 2013

What would you do in this situation? This story focuses on what happened immediately after Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.

Five Days at the Memorial shines a light on a local medical center that is operating under a tremendous amount of stress. Suddenly, medical professionals and administrators decided to de-prioritize critically ill patients who had signed a DNR, meaning they should not be resuscitated if they died. Steps might have even been taken to hasten their deaths. Medical professionals had to make a difficult choice, and what would you do in this situation? This is an educational story that everyone can learn from. 

“We do not wish to capitalize the sufferings of human beings, but to relieve them.”

Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (ALA Notable Books for Adults)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Fink, Sheri (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 576 Pages - 09/10/2013 (Publication Date) - Crown (Publisher)

21. Who Killed These Girls, by Beverly Lowry, 2017

Who Killed These Girls focuses on a cold case in 1991. Four teenage girls were sexually assaulted, shot, and burned after they were attacked at a local yogurt shop in Austin, Texas. They were working there at the time, and the police showcased a shockingly incompetent display. They arrested several teenage boys, forced them to confess, and waited as DNA evidence proved they did not do it. This case remains unsolved, but the book seeks to remind everyone that these girls should not be forgotten. 

“In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that while investigators shouldn’t threaten possible consequences—grand jury investigation, prison time, execution—or make promises of leniency, they can use tactics of “reasonable deception” and duplicity to solve crimes.”

Beverly Lowry, Who Killed These Girls?: Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders
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Who Killed These Girls?: The Unsolved Murders That Rocked a Texas Town
  • Lowry, Beverly (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 528 Pages - 07/25/2017 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

22. The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson, 2017

Many people believe that lynching has been relegated to history books, but the horrific murder of Emmett Till is still fresh in many people’s minds. The Blood of Emmett Till is a book that focuses on the case that catalyzed the entire American Civil Rights Movement. Even though Emmett Till has become a symbol for so many people, it is easy to forget that he was a boy whose life was cruelly taken from him. This book focuses on the personal and political aftermath of his lynching. 

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best books by Barbara Cartland!

“Because if we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.”

Timothy B. Tyson, The Blood of Emmett Till
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The Blood of Emmett Till
  • Hardcover Book
  • Tyson, Timothy B. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 01/31/2017 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

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