My Favourite True Crime Books

by thethreepennyguignol

Something about these long nights, cold days, and living with a couple of heart-stoppingly horrible cats has me in a real true crime mood recently. Well, for the last year, actually, after the deep-dive I did into one specific case with my dad for our podcast, The Face of Bible John, shameless plug, but you know what I’m getting at.

And basically, this article is a request for a few true crime recommendations – books, movies, podcasts, any of it – and in exchange, I’m sharing with you some of my favourite (and, in my opinion, deserving of more appreciation) true crime books. Here are mine – now you tell me your’s!

  1. The Red Parts – Maggie Nelson

You know, this is one of those books that didn’t just change my attitude towards true crime – it changed my attitude to life in general. I remember climbing into the bath, having grabbed this book once I’d remembered that I’d picked it up and then never bothered reading, and not getting out for three hours until the water was cold and I was totally and utterly enthralled.

Following the story of the author’s murdered aunt and her family’s search for justice, it’s one of those sublime and all-too-rare books that balances personal experience, family history, and broader social consequence to an absurdly masterful degree. There’s an intimacy to the storytelling here, something that brings you in to her rickety little room where she works on her poetry collection about the loss and unfolds the appalling crime that changed her family’s life for good. It’s not just about the crime itself, but the way it’s echoed down the generations of her family that followed, changed their view on death, justice, survival, and more, and my God, it feels like a thousand pages crammed into just a couple of hundred. The Red Parts is a journey, and it’s one that I can’t help but recommend to everyone.

  • Forensics – Val McDiarmid

Now, maybe I’ve just got a soft spot for a no-nonsense Scottish woman, being one myself, but whether you’ve got an affinity for them or not, Val McDiarmid’s Forensics is pretty much a must-read for any of the true crime obsessed amongst you.

It’s basically a handbook to the history and development of various forensic techniques, delivered in McDiarmid’s famously-brisk and precise writing style. Wrapping her own days in true crime reporting around major steps forward in the forensic field, she presents an extremely accessible but not at all amateur-ish deep-dive into the world of forensics. I’m someone who’s not always interested in the nitty-gritty scientific details, but McDiarmid makes them utterly readable, and this is still my go-to reference when I need to remind myself of just what it’s called when they judge the length of time a body’s been exposed for by the type of bugs crawling on it.

  • Fatal Vision – Joe McGinnis

Did I pick this off my dad’s shelf one day because the title happens to be a Macbeth quote? Yes. But am I glad I did? Fuck, yeah. Fatal Vision is a brick of a book that changed the face of true crime writing, as McGinnis is invited by Jeffery MacDonald to interview him after MacDonald was imprisoned for the murder of his family, which he blamed on a nefarious hippy gang.

Over the course of his interviews with MacDonald, McGinnis comes to believe that MacDonald was the one who did it, and his balance of investigation, personal involvement, and the slippery character at the centre of it all in McDonald. Though it proved massively controversial after its release, as some (myself included) felt McGinnis had misled his subject into believing that he was going to produce a book more sympathetic to him than he did in order to continue his interviews, Fatal Vision is still a truly fascinating and incredibly compelling read. You won’t believe you’ve read seven hundred pages on this case by the time it’s done, but you’re sure to have some serious questions about everyone involved by the end of it.

Okay, I’ve done my part! Drop your favourite true crime (trueme?) in the comments below, and give me something to read while I try to ignore the fact that there’s frost on the inside of the windows. Oh, and have a bloody good month to boot!