Sierra Crane Murdoch
Yellow Bird is a gripping true crime mystery and an examination of the greed, violence, and exploitation that have defined America’s relationship with Native Americans. Following her release from prison in 2009, Lissa Yellow Bird came home to a world vastly different than the one she had previously known. An oil boom brought unexpected wealth to her tribe and with it, a host of outside interests. When a young, white oil worker mysteriously goes missing, Lissa finds herself obsessing over the case and is pulled into a deepening spiral of danger rooted in long simmering conflict.
Kate Winkler Dawson
With the ubiquity of modern forensics in popular culture—you can’t throw a piece of popcorn without hitting a “CSI NCIS: [Insert City]”—it can be easy to forget just how recently forensic science was pioneered. American Sherlock chronicles the fascinating four-decade career of Edward Oscar Heinrich—a brilliant investigator who, beginning in the 1930s, solved two thousand cases and led the invention of a number of forensics tools still used today. It’s a gripping history of a man who changed the course of the criminal investigation.
The Scientist and the Spy
Tales of Chinese-led espionage have been all over the news in the past year or so—including a recent incident with four Chinese military hackers. Unfortunately, it’s nothing particularly new and espionage—particularly industrial espionage—by the Chinese has long been an issue in US/China trade relations. The Scientist and The Spy recounts the shocking tale of how the trespassing arrest of three Chinese men on an Iowa farm led to a two-year federal investigation pitting an FBI special agent against a seemingly innocuous Florida man who took a questionable job with a Chinese Agricultural company.
Patrick Radden Keefe
In December of 1972, a middle-aged mother of ten was dragged from her home in Belfast by masked members of the I.R.A. and never seen again. Her name was Jean McConville and the shocking act of violence is one of the most notorious incidents during the period in Irish history known as the Troubles. In 2003, shortly after an uneasy peace was reached in Ireland, a set of bones—eventually identified as belonging to Jean McConville—were found on a beach. In Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe uses the horrifying story of Jean McConville’s abduction and murder to explore the tumultuous period in Irish history and the brutal violence that defined the era.
Jo Ann Parks made national headlines in 1989. Initially, reactions to Park’s story were sympathetic as she was the sole survivor of a house fire that claimed the lives of her three children. Eventually, she received the public’s scorn as investigators determined that Parks set the blaze herself. She is currently serving a life sentence. However, advances in forensic science may prove Jo Ann Park’s innocence. Burned begs the question: was a monster brought to justice or was a grieving mother’s life ripped further apart?
Have you heard of Israel Keyes? Odds are you haven’t and you’re not alone. What’s surprising about this is that Keyes is one of the most prolific and terrifying serial killers in U.S. history, operating during the late 90s and into the 2000s. Keyes buried “kill kits”—weapons, cash, body disposal tools—across the country. He would fly to a location, rent a car, pick up a kit, and commit a murder before returning to his home in Alaska. His meticulous method allowed him to operate virtually undetected for years. This is the chilling story of how he was eventually brought to justice.
Set against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s, Starvation Heights is the true story of murder and grift at a sanitorium tucked into the forest near Olalla, Washington. When a pair of British heiresses arrived at what the locals called “Starvation Heights,” they expected a leisurely holiday and a revolutionary diet treatment. What they soon discovered was a brutal “fasting treatment” that left them as shadows of their former selves and a truly evil doctor intent on taking them for everything they had. The sisters were far from the first victims of Starvation Heights, but they fought to escape with their lives.
The Murder of the Century
In an example of truth being stranger than fiction, The Murder of the Century centers around a series of grisly murders that both enthralled and horrified New York City in the late 1890s. It began when severed limbs began appearing across New York from Long Island to the Lower East Side and Harlem. The newspapers of legendary media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst began vying for scoops in a wildly escalating war for readership. Amidst it all, a trio of unlikely investigators—a cop, a young reporter, and an eccentric professor—setting about solving the disturbing case.
The Lost City of Z
For a good portion of his life as an adventurer and explorer, Percy Fawcett charted the largely unexplored depths of the Amazon jungle in search of a mythical civilization—his lost city of Z. In 1925, joined by his oldest son, Fawcett began his largest foray into the wilds of the Amazon. He and his son would never be seen again. With The Lost City of Z, David Grann traces Percy Fawcett’s all-consuming obsession from its earliest days to its final moments, all while Grann himself undertakes his own expedition into the Amazonian jungle in search of the mystery of Percy Fawcett.
Hidden Valley Road
The Galvin family led a seemingly picturesque life. They had a beautiful home, a comfortable post-war middle class existence, and twelve wonderful children. Beneath the surface, however, a shocking secret lurked: violence, psychological strife, and hidden abuse. By the 1970s, six of Don and Mimi Galvin’s sons were diagnosed as schizophrenic. This extraordinary fact led to the Galvin family becoming one of the first families studied by the National Institute of Mental Health and their history has informed decades of research into a devastating disease.
The Devil in the White City
The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was a fascinating moment in American history—an unprecedented six-month celebration of art, culture, and architecture in a city that had literally just risen from the ashes of devastating fire. However, there was a dark underbelly to the proceedings. One of the most notorious serial killers in history, Dr. H.H. Holmes, was stalking his victims just in the shadow of the momentous event. In the outwardly benign façade of his “World’s Fair Hotel”, Holmes hid a crematorium, dissection table, and host of other macabre devices to torture and kill his myriad victims. It’s an unnerving and fascinating tale that has to be read to be believed.
When Killers of the Flower Moon arrived on bookshelves in 2017, it became an instant classic. A compulsively readable combination of a stranger-than-fiction true story that reads like bestselling thriller. The tale of a haunting series of murders set against the backdrop of the Osage Indian Nation and the 1920s oil boom sat at the center of a shocking conspiracy that really has to be read to be believed. With an adaptation from Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro on the way, there’s really no better time to revisit David Grann’s bestseller—or pick it up for the first time. However, if Flower Moon has already left your TBR pile, there are a host of other narrative nonfiction gems that would be happy to take its place.
Featured image: Kevon Nicholas