Best True Crime Novels: Top 5 Thrilling Narratives, According To Experts

True crime novels often offer a direct view into the heinous crimes we see reported on the news every day. Many are addicted to reading true crime novels and peering into the mindset behind the impulsive violence that shocks millions. This blend of entertainment and social reflection makes the best true crime novels not only fascinating but also thought-provoking.

This genre offers a unique exploration of the human psyche, both of the perpetrators and the investigators. It delves into the motives behind crimes, the psychological intricacies of criminals, and the determination of those seeking justice. This in-depth examination of the human condition allows readers to connect with the stories on a profound level, sparking discussions about morality, ethics, and the darker aspects of society.

True crime novels delve into the captivating and often chilling narratives of real-life criminal cases that you may not normally experience. From unsolved mysteries to high-profile trials, true crime novels provide an enthralling exploration of the criminal mind and the tireless pursuit of truth.

These gripping accounts of actual crimes and the investigations that follow have an undeniable allure that continues to captivate readers. But what is it about this genre that makes them so compelling and enduring? Based on reviews from 10 expert sources, we narrowed down the best true crime novels to read next. Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments.

Books (Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash)

The List: Best True Crime Novels, Per Readers


1. “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara

A woman became obsessed with a true crime mystery which led to a best selling book. A reviewer from Elle describes, “True crime author Michelle McNamara became enamored with a man whom she dubbed ‘the Golden State Killer.’ For over ten years, this enigmatic predator committed a slew of assaults and murders, yet he always escaped punishment. Three decades later, McNamara made it her mission to find out the truth about who this man was.”

"I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer" by Michelle McNamara
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara

The word obsession has a negative connotation, but every genius has become obsessed with their craft, including true crime author Michelle McNamara. A reviewer from Time shares, “In April 2018, the police finally caught the suspected Golden State Killer — 40 years after the serial killer and rapist’s first attack. For years detectives obsessed over the more than 50 rapes and at least 12 murders, unsuccessfully trying to catch him. But a break in the case came when an investigator matched DNA recovered from a crime scene to the killer’s great-great-great grandparents. True crime journalist Michelle McNamara joined the search 30 years after his final crimes; she too obsessively combed through every bit of information the Internet had to offer about the elusive rapist-turned-murderer. The extensive research and prose she left behind after her tragic passing have been turned into I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, a cutting account of a criminal mastermind and the terror he sowed across the state of California.”

As though her mission in life was to help solve this mystery and get the information to the public, McNamara became a part of the true crime saga when she passed away while writing the award winning book. A reviewer from Cosmopolitan writes that she “spent much of her life trying to solve the case of the Golden State Killer. In fact, she even named the serial murderer and rapist who was active in the 1970s and ’80s to bring attention to the case. Spoiler alert: It worked, and in 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested.”

2. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote

True crime novels have an element of timelessness, as is the case with Truman Capote’s 1965 true crime thriller, “In Cold Blood.” A reviewer from Business Insider shares, “An iconic true crime novel and one of the most famous non-fiction novels ever written, Truman Capote’s account of a brutal Kansas killing is a must-read. No true crime reading list is complete without it.”

"In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote

A reviewer from Readers Digest shares, “Truman Capote fathered the true crime genre with the 1965 publication of In Cold Blood, considered a masterpiece and one of the best true crime books of all time. The story reads like a novel even though it’s a journalistic account. Capote relays the events of a horrific murder that took place on a farm in Kansas in the late 1950s. The book is filled with suspense and despair as it captures the horror of a meaningless crime and its aftermath.”

But what happened in this true crime thriller? The Mary Sue explains: “This is the classic investigation into the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. The crime itself felt completely random and became a source of speculation and fear in the small town. It begins like a classic Southern Gothic read and then evolves as the piece progresses.”

3. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann

It is true that art imitates life, however, the events that unfolded in the 1920s in Oklahoma in read like perfect fiction. Business Insider describes, “When oil was discovered beneath the land of the native Osage in Oklahoma in the 1920s, they became some of the richest people in the world. But, slowly, the Osage were being killed or dying under mysterious circumstances. As the death toll reached 24, the newly established FBI began to investigate. Famously corrupt at the time, the FBI failed to solve the case until the director teamed up with one of the only Indigenous agents to uncover the mystery around one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history. This shocking historical injustice is an important piece of purposefully buried history that needs to be told.”

"Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" by David Grann
“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann

The FBI as a part of a conspiracy? Who would have thought? A reviewer at Good Housekeeping shares, “This amazing story reveals important elements of law enforcement’s background, as well as how the story might have been handled differently if it took place today.”

This is a real story of true crime and there’s a kicker. Time shares, “Many of those who dared to investigate the killings wound up murdered themselves. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.”

4. “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

What happened in 1893 that is immortalized in the true crime novel “The Devil in the White City”? A reviewer from Elle has the perfect synopsis, “The Devil in the White City follows an architect who constructed the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the serial killer who used the fair as his own personal torture chamber.”

"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson
“The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson

Readers Digest goes a bit more into detail to tease the details explored in this chart-topping true crime book. “This best-selling book tells the chilling tale of the serial killer who overtook the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Erik Larson’s cunning and readable book tells the nerve-racking story of H.H. Holmes, who pretended to be a doctor and lured victims to their death. Alternating chapters tell the story of Daniel Burnham, the architect in charge of building the sprawling fair, which was supposed to be an ode to modern times and industry. Holmes managed to exploit conditions to murder up to 200 people, many of them young women, and his psychopathy is reflected here, in one of the best true crime books you can find.”

A gas chamber and a dissection table are two of the devices used by this serial killer and you would think this could not happen in real life, but it did. Time explains the premise of the novel is about “a serial killer who set up a fake hotel next to it to lure unsuspecting fairgoers to their death. Larson mixes true history with thrilling suspense to make his research on the fair and the spurious hotel nearby seem like a well-crafted work of fiction. He takes the imposing historical murderer that the Chicago Times-Herald at the time called ‘so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such a character,’ and contrasts him with the preparations for the lavish World’s Fair to create an enthralling and suspenseful read.”

5. “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery” by Robert Kolker

Women trying to earn an honest day’s living became the target for the criminal in this true crime novel. “Lost Girls investigates the disappearance of several escorts in their early 20s,” describes a reviewer from Elle. “All of the women advertised on Craigslist and Backpage, which couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. Award-winning investigative reporter Robert Kolker attempts to solve this unsolved mystery and track down the serial killer who’s responsible for the lost lives of young women.”

"Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery" by Robert Kolker
“Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery” by Robert Kolker

Cosmopolitan shares, “Lost Girls tells the wild (and still unsolved!) story of a serial killer operating in Long Island, New York, in the early 2000s. The book profiles each of the murdered women (most of whom were sex workers who were solicited online, killed, and left near a beach) and how one mother’s attempt to find her own daughter led to the discovery of several bodies.”

Although categorized as a true crime novel, the author, Robert Kolker is indeed a social justice advocate. Time explains, “In Robert Kolker’s debut non-fiction book, he explores the lives of five women, all of whom were prostitutes murdered by a serial killer. He explores how the women used the sexual underside of the internet to escape dead-end jobs and bad situations and recounts the authorities’ failure to take their cases seriously, or even solve their murders. Lost Girls is a social critique on how the police and society let these young women down.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Te-Erika Patterson

Te-Erika is the Publisher of The Feisty News for Women, the only full-service news source for women. Te-Erika is also the author of How To Love a Powerful Woman, Leave Your Baby Daddy and Loving Female Led Relationships: Relationships that Empower Women. A graduate of The University of Florida, Te-Erika enjoys a thriving career as a digital content creator that has spanned more than a decade. She enjoys chocolate, wine and solitude, and she is currently living a quiet life in Montgomery, Alabama. Follow her @Te-Erika

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