In Cold Blood
Capote’s account of the brutal murders of the Clutter family in 1959 grips readers thanks to in-depth research and a narrative style that considers the perspectives of the victims, their neighbors, and the killers. But part of what accounted for that can’t-put-downness was novelist Capote’s tendency to change and add certain details for the sake of the story. While “In Cold Blood” is true crime, this inability to trust all of the text makes it an excellent read after seeing how the facts were presented in “Serial” and “Making a Murderer.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition)
“Poor people lose all the time,” Steven Avery tells his parents in one of the documentary’s more heartbreaking moments. Similarly, Skloot’s investigation into the person behind the famous HeLa cells that have assisted in polio vaccines, cancer discoveries, and cloning developments reveals the insidious side of history: the racial and financial inequalities that allowed scientists to take Henrietta’s cells without her knowledge, her family struggling with a legacy she never gave permission for.
The Run of His Life
Toobin’s exhaustive reporting on the O.J. Simpson trial for “The New Yorker,” aided by incredible access to everyone from prosecutors and forensic experts to TV personalities, is even more engaging in book form. Compelling in the way the best true-crime is, it serves as the basis for FX’s miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” When your book gets Ryan Murphy’s attention, you know you’ve got a solid story.
The Journalist and the Murderer
We wouldn’t know about Steven Avery or Adnan Syed if it weren’t for journalists peeling apart the layers of these complex cases and translating the facts into plot points we can understand. Journalist Joe McGinnis did the same for accused killer Jeffrey MacDonald trial in 1979, except that his plan involved more subterfuge: Befriend MacDonald, join his defense team, then publish a book about how MacDonald was a psychopath. Enter journalist Janet Malcolm to reframe this story of perception, ethics, and a good story.
Shot in the Heart
A lesser-known but equally celebrated blend of true crime and memoir, Mikal Gilmore’s account offers an almost painfully close look at his infamous brother Gary Gilmore, who asked for the death sentence (the first time in almost ten years) after he committed two murders in the 1970s. As Gary’s favorite brother, Mikal details the cycle of poverty, alcoholism, and violence “from inside the house where murder is born… a house that, in some ways, [he has] never been able to leave.”
Since 2014, we have been gripped by true crime stories that play out over multiple (and often interlocking) forms of media: Sarah Koenig’s podcast Serial, about convicted murderer Adnan Syed, and the Netflix documentary Making of a Murderer, about the wrongfully accused (for one crime) Steven Avery and the machinations that put him back in jail. The same fans who have been following these cases on their computer screens, smartphones, and all over the Internet will be pleasantly surprised to find that there are countless true crime books that will scratch that same itch for harrowing, real-life mysteries. Better yet, the books in these list tie into some of the most compelling parts of both series: the socioeconomic issues and biases that put the accused at a disadvantage; the investigators and writers who get too emotionally invested; and how a case changes when it plays out in pop culture history.
What books do you find yourself turning to after you close Netflix and iTunes?
Bookshelf curated by Natalie Zutter.
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