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  • Lauren Passell 3:00 pm on 2014/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: ann rule, charles graebere, god'll cut you down, helter skelter, , janet malcolm, joe mcginniss, john safran, , normal mailer, serial, the good nurse, the journalist and the murderer, , ,   

    14 Books to Read if You’re Hooked on “Serial” 

    FullSizeRender (1)Since it first aired in October, Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” podcast has been drawing people to their radios (okay, computers) to listen to the story of Adnan Syed, currently sitting in jail for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, unfold before their ears. “Serial” is addictive not only because the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys are intoxicating (they are), but because Koenig is presenting the tale in a uniquely personal way. It’s all about the murder, yes, but it’s also all about the storytelling and her own reflections on the case. The true crime books below offer a bit of both, as well. So if you’ve wet your whistle on true crime with “Serial,” these books are a natural follow-up when the series ends at the end of the year.

    God’ll Cut You Down, by John Safran
    Rare is the true crime book that makes us laugh and laugh and laugh, but here it is! God’ll Cut You Down is the story of John Safran’s investigation into the Mississippi murder of a white supremacist named Richard Barrett. The case seems fairly straightforward until Safran begins to reveal the colorful relationship he develops with murderer Vincent McGee, a young black man. The story is so voicey you’ll want to grab a beer with Safran, and you’ll find yourself puzzled about how much dark subjects can make you chuckle. Wacky Safran goes there, and much like the story in “Serial,” his will have you spending hours pondering the case, the villains, and the depth of the characters.

    Lying in Wait, by Ann Rule
    Ann Rule fans, rejoice! The true crime queen returns with Lying in Wait, the seventeenth collection of stories in her Crime Files series. Per usual, Ann digs into the stories like nobody else can, presenting us with the cold, hard facts we crave. If you’re simply obsessed with bloody trails, Houdini-like escapes, kidnappings, and other horrifying crimes, you’ll eat up Lying in Wait like a holiday feast.

    The Good Nurse, by Charles Graebere
    Here’s a story we would love to see Sarah Koenig sink her teeth into. Charles Cullen, RN, was behind the deaths of as many as 300 patients over a span of 16 years. Charles Graebere fleshes out the beastly career of Cullen using interviews with colleagues and family members, presenting a dedicated portrait of a sinister and unexpected murderer. The book also sheds light on America’s medical system, and will appeal to anyone interested in justice or just straight-up evil.

    Smoke, by Meili Cady
    For a wildly entertaining ride, seek out Smoke in March 2015. It has everything you loved about Serial, The Bling Ring, Blow, Catch Me If You Can, and even Orange Is The New Black. When aspiring actress Meili Cady is introduced to the drug smuggling “Korean Paris Hilton” Lisette Lee in L.A., she finds herself in a dangerous friendship she doesn’t know how to escape. Tempting rewards like luxury cars and red-carpet events keep her tangled in a life of crime, and before she realizes what she’s bitten into, it’s too late to turn around. The story, told by Cady herself, will have you at the edge of your seat. If you listen to “Serial” wishing you could hear more from the alleged criminal’s perspective, you’ll be thrilled to dig into the thoughts and rationale Cady brings to the table.

    LAPD ’53, by James Ellroy
    James Ellroy digs deeper into the L.A. crime scene in 1953 than anyone has before, with an extensive portrait that uses the Los Angeles Police Museum’s archives to flesh out the gritty police work of the time. “Serial” fans might be addicted to Adnan’s story, but readers hungry for gruesome imagery will not be disappointed with LAPD ’53—there are more than 80 duotone photos spread throughout the book that enrich the masterful storytelling Ellroy dishes up. This book drops in May 2015.

    The Job: True Stories of a New York City Cop, by Steve Osborne
    If you love crime reading but crave vibrant storytelling alongside black-and-white facts, à la “The Moth,” “This American Life,” or “Serial,” The Job will be your next favorite book. With 20 years as an NYPD street cop under his belt and a knack for the spoken word, Steve Osborne tells story after story of unbelievable true crime with a brash and honest slant. Here’s a book that will give you a new appreciation for the police force, and a deeper understanding of the seedy NYC underbelly of the 1980s and ’90s. Look for it in April 2015.

    The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule
    Get this: years ago our girl Ann Rule befriended Ted Bundy before anyone would have guessed that he kidnapped and murdered at least 30 women. The two were coworkers and friends at a crisis hotline in 1971. The Bundy atrocities are already pretty unbelievable, but hearing Rule talk about her friendship with the serial killer (even after he was convicted) will give you goosebumps, and it will blur the line between friend and foe. (If you’ve listened to “Serial” and thought, “Adnan sounds like such a good egg, there’s no way he’s guilty!” then this is a good reminder that we don’t really know anyone, now do we?) It’s weird upon weird, real upon real, like having a dream within a dream. Rule tries to tell the story in an unbiased manner, to separate herself from what she was set to report on. But it’s impossible, and reading about her investment in the crime and her odd friendship with Bundy is addictive.

    Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
    If “Serial” has you hooked on crime stories, pick up one of the most twisted crime stories of all time. Credit that to the enigmatic character that is Charles Manson, the blind devotion of his followers, the horrific nature of this sick story, and the lively storytelling of Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the case. Bugliosi breathes so much life into the motives behind the characters and the complexities of the trial you almost feel like you’re in the court room with him, or at the very least, that you’re listening to him tell his story via podcast. The story touches on themes of law, human nature, religion, murder, the Beatles, Hollywood, and down right screwed-up-ness. (There are some nasty pictures, too.)

    Columbine, by Dave Cullen
    Everyone knows what happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, but it takes the detailed version written by Dave Cullen, who remained in Aurora for ten years after the shooting, to really get a feeling for what occurred that day. Cullen dives into the world of high schoolers who kill, something that might be of interest to anyone fascinated with Adnan and Jay. In one scene, students hide under desks as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold storm through classrooms, looking for their next victim. Not until reading Cullen’s words was I able to fathom what it would be like to be there—targeted and waiting for two violent, unstable, fearless boys to act. Cullen takes us under those desks. He takes us through the whole thing, splitting fact from fiction, offering insight into the why, and coloring in all the gaps of the tragedy we thought we understood.

    In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    You listened to “Serial” and now you’ve been bitten by the true crime bug? You have to read the most classic true crime story of all time. Capote’s account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two of their four children in Holcolm, Kansas, is one of the finest examples of investigative journalism out there. Capote writes with the finesse and prowess that made him one of the best storytellers of our time. It’s emotional, but so well-researched that it’s obvious Capote took thousands of pages of notes in the process of getting into the lives of the victims and criminals in a way nobody else could. Too bad this couldn’t have been a podcast. Hearing Capote unveil the grisly details himself would be priceless.

    Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinniss
    In 1979, Green Beret Captain and physician Jeffrey MacDonald woke up to find three hippies butchering his pregnant wife and two young daughters with a knife, ice pick, and club, saying “acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” Or so he says. The Army didn’t believe him, and formally charged him with the murder of his family. Those charges were dismissed, but he was convicted anyway, nine years later in a civilian trial. He’s been sitting in prison for 30 years, and still, the evidence doesn’t really add up for either side. MacDonald is an unlikeable, narcissistic liar who at times seems obviously guilty (with a pretty wild version of events, to boot). But because solid evidence never surfaced, it’s not completely clear if MacDonald is a monster or the victim of a horrible injustice. To write Fatal Vision, Joe McGinniss was granted far-flung access to MacDonald’s life—MacDonald believed the book was being written in his defense. But when the final, published result was not what MacDonald had hoped for, MacDonald sued McGinniss (and won). Which leads us to wonder: what does Sarah Koenig really believe in all of this? She’s pretty open and freely admits her cluelessness, but still. There is a chance she’s wooing Adnan only to pull a fast one in the end. (Another book, Errol Morris’s A Wilderness Of Error, was written in the name of MacDonald’s innocence.)

    The Journalist And The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
    Janet Malcolm revisits the Jeffrey MacDonald story, reporting on both the murder and Joe McGinniss’s account of it in Fatal Vision. Her book is more tightly focused on the ethics and psychopathology of journalism. As she interviews MacDonald and tells his story, she’s aware that she, as a journalist, is a player in it—very much like Sarah Koenig is a player in Syed’s story. Syed believes and trusts that Koenig will tell his story, but it’s a risky thing to do. As he sits behind bars and Koenig broadcasts her side to the world, how she tells the story is completely out of his control. Nobody knows this better than Jeffrey MacDonald. And nobody seems to have more awareness of it than Janet Malcolm. The Journalist and the Murderer will shine new light onto the Koenig/Syed relationship and give a richer understanding of what’s going on beneath the surface of “Serial.”

    Small Sacrifices, by Ann Rule
    In May of 1983, Diane Downs claimed that a “bushy-haired stranger” came up to her car while she was driving with her three children and shot at them, killing one of the kids immediately. But not so fast, Diane Downs! Ann Rule (and everyone) is onto your story. Downs’ story smelled fishy because it was, and it didn’t take long for investigators to figure out the tragedy was at her own hands. (Possible motive: she was in love with a man who didn’t want children, so she thought, “I guess I’ll have to get rid of them.”) Unlike Adnan’s story, there’s not a lot of guesswork needed here. Small Sacrifices delves into the life of a shattered woman, and how she crafted an unlikely story of being the victim of an unspeakable crime—and how she stood by her word despite all signs pointing to her guilt. Her surviving children, severely disabled for life, were old enough to remember what happened, and they were traumatized and terrified of their mother.

    The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer
    People whine that Norman Mailer goes on and on (for 1,000+ pages) in telling the story of Gary Gilmore and two strange things Gilmore did: robbed and murdered two random people in 1976, and then, after being tried and convicted, insisted on dying for his crime. They say that all the excruciating detail is, well, excruciating. And that’s acceptable commentary coming from an amateur true crime fan. If you legit love crime books, and can never get enough of the meat and potatoes of a true crime story, you will be enveloped in Gilmour’s twisted logic and surprising actions, you’ll appreciate all of those details, and you’ll be glad Mailer got so down with this story, which was awarded a Pulitzer and the National Book Award. The moment you open The Executioner’s Song, you’re taking on a beast of a book. It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s the litmus test of true crime, and it separates the champions from the wimps.

    And The Sea Will Tell, by Vincent Bugliosi
    Set on Palmyra Island in the 1970s, And The Sea Will Tell is the story of two sailing couples, Mac and Muff Graham (experienced sea travelers) and Buck Walker and Jennifer Jenkins (an ex-con and his hippie girlfriend, both doomed by their lack of survival know-how). One day, months after both couples set sail, Buck and Jennifer were found sailing the Grahams’ beautiful boat off the coast of Hawaii…and the Grahams were nowhere to be found. Until 1980, when their bodies were discovered in aluminum containers on the shores of the island. Sounds clear-cut, right? But Vincent Bugliosi, normally a prosecutor (remember Helter Skelter?), decides to defend Jennifer Jenkins—a truly surprising tidbit when you hear how thin the woman’s case is. Bugliosi is a phenomenal attorney, illustrating the case with colorful dialogue and brilliant detective work. You spend 600 pages or so wondering how anyone with a brain could defend someone so stupid and culpable…but Bugliosi waits until the end to reveal a powerful detail that steers the story to a shocking conclusion that might absolve Jennifer of the crime. Crime storytelling at it’s best! I read this book once a year because I’m enamored with the writing and the case in general. I have nightmares about Palmyra Island and the atrocities that occurred there, and I’m tortured that I’ll never know exactly what happened. I could say the exact same thing about the first episode of “Serial.”

    What’s your favorite true crime book?

  • BN Editors 3:30 pm on 2014/10/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , helter skelter, , , , , patrick suskind, perfume, , , , , , the veldt, ,   

    The Scariest Stories We’ve Ever Read 

    Scariest. Books. EVER.To celebrate Halloween, we asked our bloggers to name the scariest books they’ve ever read, and most of them got the heebie-jeebies just thinking about their answer. They explored the deepest, darkest parts of their minds to recall that story still haunting them today. We recommend these horrifying books with caution—they could make you sleep with the lights on for weeks. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

    Nicole: Boom. Hands down. No contest. “The Veldt,” by Ray Bradbury 
    There are a number of books that have scared the pants off me­—the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe, Say Cheese and Die, 1984—but legitimately nothing has frightened me more than Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt,” in which a family is destroyed by its not-made-for-Disney Smart House. From the first ominous line, “George, I wish you’d look at the nursery,” to the last sinister cup of tea, the heebie-jeebies are set to stun, probably because the idea that our technology will one day be our downfall seems so plausible. I’ve never been able to look at children, nurseries, or lions the same way.

    Joel: Night Shift, by Stephen King
    The scariest book I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s Night Shift. I know, real original, but there’s something about King’s short fiction that burrows into my brain and refuses to leave (and I suss I’m not the only one, as 10 of the stories in this collection have been adapted for film or TV). Of course, it’s best read on a frigid, sleepless winter night, lest you realize that the climax of “The Mangler” is really quite ludicrous.

    Dell: Perfume, by Patrick Suskind
    In the grimy slums of 18th-century Paris, a baby is born and abandoned. Christened Jean-Babtiste Grenouille by the nuns who raise him, the peculiar boy grows into a sinister man possessed by a cool, dark rage and an unparalleled sense of smell. Though he oddly possesses no odor himself, Grenouille’s exceptional olfactory sense shapes his future, and his demise, and his obsession eventually leads to murder. This novel, originally published in German in 1986, is utterly depraved and diabolical. Indeed, I should’ve turned back the instant I started it, but instead I devoured it. Do you dare?

    Lauren: Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
    I became a tad obsessed with the story of Charles Manson after reading Helter Skelter. It consumed my thoughts—I couldn’t stop looking up pictures of the crime scene. I set google alerts for Manson’s followers so I’d know if they were released from prison. I spent hours glued to my peep hole, positive my (kind, sweet, Mormon) neighbor was going to murder me in my sleep. It’s because the story was honestly the most horrifying thing I could possibly imagine, and Bugliosi’s crafty telling is so raw (Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the case against Manson) I couldn’t categorize it into a safe little corner of my brain called “stuff that isn’t real.” This is the weirdest, most gruesome story I have encountered. And it totally happened.

    Melissa: “Harold,” by Alvin Schwartz
    Raise your hand if you, too, were traumatized by the blotched, spindly embodied terrors ink drawings accompanying Schwartz’s children’s horror staple, a collection of stories so ghoulish I STILL can’t believe I found them on my third-grade teacher’s bookshelf. “Harold,” the most terrifying of the bunch, tells the story of two disenchanted farmers who take their anger out on a scarecrow they name Harold—until the night they hear his footsteps walking back and forth across the roof of their cottage. It’s not long before the men are driven out of their home by fear of their vindictive living scarecrow, but, of course, they leave something crucial behind. One brother goes to retrieve it and never comes back. What’s waiting for the other brother when he follows is a vision of such singular horror I can still quote it from memory. I’ll spare you: read and discover it yourself.

    Ginni: Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy
    An unparalleled novel of gruesome depravity told in beautiful, raw prose. Falsely accused of rape and then released back into the world, Lester Ballard is a violent social outcast roaming the hills of Tennessee. What he does in the caves out there is shudder-inducing and unforgettably disturbing.

    Shaun: It, by Stephen King
    I first read It when I was a freshman in college, though I had been terrified by the movie for years. If I thought Tim Curry’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown was scary, it was nothing compared to the book version. I spent two sleepless nights staring suspiciously at my roommate’s birthday balloons, waiting for IT to peek out from behind them. After all, what could be scary than a terrifying god-clown that can turn into a spider and feeds on children’s fears? I’ll never look at a storm drain the same way again. Enjoy your nightmares!

    Tori: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    UGH! THIS BOOK IS SO SCARY! There are books that are scary—like, “whoa, the mom was just a corpse in a rocking chair this whole time?”—and then there are books that are scarring, which is much much worse. In Cold Blood is the latter. Sure, it’s a work of genius, the suspense is unbearable, and the empathetic treatment of the antihero is something to marvel at, but I wish I’d never read it. The utter randomness of the brutal crime is so, so terrifying, and the fact that it’s nonfiction makes it that much worse. My takeaway from the book? You can live in the cutest farmhouse in the sweetest, most innocent town in Kansas, and you will still probably be gunned down after midnight.

    What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

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