Iconic True Crime Books to Read Before You Die

Talk about page-turning!

By Taylor Stephan Nov 12, 2019 8:00 PMTags
E-Comm: True Crime Books

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We love a good murder mystery as much as anyone (let's call it human nature, shall we?).

But what makes some crime stories better reads than others? The fact that they're based on true stories, that's what. A real-life twist just makes the storyline that much more bone-chilling—as any good Oxygen viewer can attest. But with crime book upon crime book to choose from, landing on a solid choice can be overwhelming, to say the least. 

So if you're novice and don't quite know where to start, we've got you with these nine best-sellers.

20 Gifts for True Crime Fans

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi & Carl Gentry

Talk about a classic: This up-close account of the Manson Family murders is the best-selling true crime book—ever. That's probably due to the fact the book's co-author Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the 1970 trial of Charles Manson himself. From the 1969 murders, to the arrest all the way through the trial, this account leaves no detail untouched. 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The name Truman Capote might ring a bell to you, thanks to his famous novella—a little diddy called Breakfast at Tiffany's. However, this true crime novel (which recounts the quadruple murder of the Herbert Clutter family in a rural farm town in Kansas) signified the real height of the author's career. It was an instant hit and went on to become the second best-selling true crime novel behind Helter Skelter.

The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin

Very few are oblivious to the O.J. Simpson murder case, but for the nitty-gritty details this New York Times best-seller gives all the play-by-plays. Not only was it written by one of the foremost legal journalists of our time (and the basis for the first season of the TV hit American Crime Story), the candid timeline, from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to the trial itself, will leave you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

If the fact that this 1996 novel topped the New York Times Best Seller list for a whopping 216 weeks isn't enough to peak your interest, we don't know what is. Berendt's first book is set in the deep South and includes some strange characters. The main narrative follows the homicide of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute, by Jim Williams, a prominent Savannah antiques dealer (played by Kevin Spacey in the 1997 film adaptation).

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

This journalistic book, written by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, details the year he spent following with the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit. It was so real and raw that it inspired not one, but two fictionalized TV shows: the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO's The Wire.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

You know Ted Bundy: the serial killer who infamously murdered a number of Chi Omega sorority sisters at Florida State University in 1978. Well, the book's author Ann Rule did too—personally. The book begins by outlining her relationship with Bundy, and delves into the real-time details of the case, weaved in with personal pauses from Rule (who refused to believe Bundy was guilty all the way until the end).

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This real-life crime story is set at Chicago's 1893 World's Fair and follows the true tales of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect behind the fair, but more notably Dr. H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the fair to bait his victims. (The storyline is so intriguing that Leonardo DiCaprio purchased the screen rights in 2010.)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

This 2009 non-fiction recounts the horrific details of the 1999 Columbine high school shooting, in which two students planned and executed a mass campus killing. The book, which took a decade to write, has two plots: the killers' progression ahead of the attack, and the survivors' reality in dealing with the aftermath.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Talk about a page-turner: This real-life mystery is still unsolved to this day. The book, penned by Robert Graysmith, who was a cartoonist working for The San Francisco Chronicle, follows the self-named Zodiac killer as he targeted his victims in California in the '60s and '70s. But don't worry: The book inevitably narrows in on two possible suspects, explaining possible scenarios in which each would be found guilty.

Looking for some more light-hearted books? Check out these beach reads!

—Originally published July 19, 2017 at 6 a.m. PT

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