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  • Kat Sarfas 4:00 am on 2020/06/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , true crime   

    Catching the Killer: Read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark Before it Hits HBO 


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    It’s okay to admit: Most of us are guilty when it comes to our collective obsession with true crime. What was once reserved for cheap paperbacks, late-night TV movies and Dateline is now a cultural phenomenon that stretches across multiple platforms. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder, or who hasn’t binged streaming documentaries like Making a Murderer, or more recently Tiger King and Wild Wild Country. It’s even the inspiration for popular TV shows like American Crime Story and The Act—it’s literally everywhere you look.

    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the bestselling book turned six-part documentary premiering on HBO June 28th, is the haunting true story of the “Golden State Killer” and one woman’s relentless search for justice. Michelle McNamara died tragically while still investigating the case and writing this book, but her obsessive attention to detail and ability to link cases together eventually led to the killer’s arrest two years later. Hailed as a modern true crime classic, Stephen King probably described it best when he wrote that “what readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.”

    So, if you’re one of the few who has yet to indulge in this addictive genre, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark might just be the perfect place to start. And if you’re already an armchair detective, we’ve got a few more that you can add to your list.

    Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit 

    Speaking of streaming documentaries, Mindhunter is now a Netflix original series and follows the harrowing career of Special Agent John Douglas. In case that name doesn’t mean anything to you, he was the model for the character of Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs. So, now that you’ve got that image in your head, know that this was the man responsible for pursuing some of the most notorious serial killers of our time. While this read is not for the faint of heart, the detailed account of Douglas’ interview techniques and processes are fascinating and forever changed the way we profile killers today.

    Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders 

    So, you’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, watched the documentaries … now what? If you’re ready to solve the case for yourself, then this might be the read for you. After fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, journalist Billy Jensen came up with a plan to solve them himself. Rolling Stone says, “Part memoir, part how-to guide, Chase Darkness With Me includes rules for responsible citizen detective work.” Jensen continues to pour all his resources into crowdsourcing ongoing murder investigations and has helped solve ten open homicides to date. Now in paperback, this edition includes a behind-the-scenes conversation between Billy Jensen and retired detective Paul Holes on their favorite cold cases.

    Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide

    And for something a little different, the voices behind the hit podcast My Favorite Murder turn their attention on themselves while still fiercely advocating the importance of personal safety. With the same dry humor you’d expect if you’re a fan of the podcast, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are like your two best girlfriends dishing out great advice while also filling you in on all the relevant true crime stats you need to know. Patton Oswalt, husband of the late Michelle McNamara and bestselling author of Silver Screen Fiend, raves that “Kilgariff and Hardstark bring a much-needed dimension to our current, true crime fever dream—an empathetic, slangy dose of acidic humor, weary compassion, and nervous hope.”

     

     

    The post Catching the Killer: Read <i>I’ll Be Gone in the Dark</i> Before it Hits HBO appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 5:30 pm on 2018/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: must lists, , , true crime   

    The Best New and Recent True Crime Books 


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    If your sole experience with true crime books was reading In Cold Blood in school, you might be unaware we’re living through a Golden Age for the genre. While TV events like Making a Murderer and podcasts like Serial have dominated the headlines, some of the best true crime stories of all time have been told in books published over the last few years. Here are ten true crime neo-classics offering all the tense thrills of an expert mystery, using only the facts of a real-world case.

    Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
    Considering how important they were in shaping the modern age, the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s are remarkably little-known today. When the Nation became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered on their land, more than 20 of its members of were murdered between 1921 and 1926. As public outrage grew, the federal government was pressured into putting the obscure Bureau of Investigation, led by a young Herbert Hoover, in charge of the case. Hoover used the notoriety of these awful crimes to establish what would soon be known as the FBI, which became the nation’s preeminent investigative body, with himself as its all-powerful chief. Grann, of The Lost City of Z fame, does a marvelous job catching you up on vital history that’s been nearly forgotten.

    The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
    This intensely powerful book is more than just a clinical investigation into a crime—it’s a personal journey through anger, shame, and the legal system. As a child, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich was abused by her grandfather. Her parents intervened when the abuse was discovered, but never said anything about it. Years later, while working an internship during law school, she viewed the taped confession of Ricky Langley, a man accused of molesting and murdering a six-year old boy, and was surprised at the intense hatred she felt for the man—despite being opposed to the death penalty, she found herself wishing he would die for his crimes. She begins an investigation into Langley’s case, finding in it parallels to her own horrific experience, and leading her to questions of blame, responsibility, and punishment. By bringing herself into the story with such brutal honesty, Marzano-Lesnevich transforms the true crime genre into something new.

    Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime, by Ben Blum
    In 2006, Alex Blum (the author’s cousin) was arrested as part of a four-man team that robbed a bank in Tacoma, Washington. What made the crime unusual was that Alex was an active-duty Army Ranger, and the crime was planned by higher-ranking Ranger Luke Sommer. Alex claimed he believed the heist was part of a special training course, opening up a national conversation about the military mindset, training techniques that often involve brutal psychological attacks, and what exactly our soldiers are being trained to do. Ben Blum explores this complicated case with incredible skill, sifting through the mind games and bringing a fair-handed sympathy to all involved.

    The Black Hand, by Stephan Talty
    Talty tells the story of Joseph Petrosino, one of the first Italian-American police officers in New York City, whose extraordinary memory and investigative skills earned him the nick name “the Italian Sherlock Holmes,” and his crusade against The Black Hand, a precursor of the mafia that plagued Italian communities in both Italy and immigrant-crowded New York. Starting in 1883, when a young Petrosino joins the force, and ending in 1909, when he was assassinated while following leads in Sicily, Talty takes a big-picture approach, not focusing on one specific event, but relating the totality of evil imposed on a city by a shadowy organization. The Black Hand served to reinforce negative stereotypes of Italians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Petrosino was celebrated as a hero by his community for bringing them law and order when the bulk of the city’s government didn’t care to.

    American Heiress, by Jeffrey Toobin
    Toobin’s book is an examination of the curious case of Patty Hearst, kidnapped and held for ransom by perhaps the least-organized and most-dimwitted revolutionaries to emerge from the 1970s  radical left, only to undergo the most famous case of Stockholm Syndrome in recorded history. Seeing Hearst wielding a semiautomatic rifle during a bank robbery shocked the nation, as did hearing her voice as she declared her allegiance to her one-time kidnappers. Toobin fleshes out the characters who made up the small, bumbling Symbonese Liberation Army, and offers insights into Hearst’s own psychological issues. It’s the sort of story that would be criticized as unbelievable in a work of fiction, and offers a fascinating assessment of a modern world where incompetents can leverage the media to make an outsized mark—something that still happens today.

    A False Report, by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
    Miller and Armstrong expand their award-winning reporting on misogyny and rape culture across the U.S. into a book that focuses in on a single, horrifying story. A woman named Marie had just left foster care to live on her own for the first time at the age of 18 when a man broke into her apartment and raped her. The police—and her former foster parents—doubted her story, and Marie was slowly convinced that she had imagined the assault. Years later, an investigation into a separate crime turned up evidence that demonstrated Marie had, in fact, been raped. This story seems unbelievable until you put it into the context of the current #MeToo moment, and Miller and Armstrong begin to paint a portrait of an entire culture that’s turned blind to violence toward women. It’s one of the most important, timely true crime books of recent years.

    The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson
    The horrific 1955 murder of a young African-American boy named Emmett Till by a white lynch mob, and the trial that followed—which resulted in acquittal from an all-male, all-white jury—remains one of the most shocking crimes of 20th century American history. Tyson doesn’t simply reexamine the facts of the case, but investigates the people involved in every facet of it. He sketches the relationships between families and neighbors, between the accused, the victim, and law enforcement, and between witnesses and other actors. He uncovers the people behind the names, slowly sifting through details to study the humanity of each, and consider the steps that led to such a disgusting act of brutality and injustice. The end result isn’t reassuring when it comes to human nature, but it is one of the most essential, educational books you’ll read this year.

    Truevine, by Beth Macy
    In 1899 two brothers—10-year old black albino children named Willie and George Muse—were kidnapped from a tobacco field. For more than a decade, they were displayed as a part of traveling freak shows, represented as missionaries from Africa, genetic oddities, and even Martians. Their mother’s tireless efforts to locate and reclaim them finally succeeded in 1927, but the brothers returned to the freak show circuit, this time as slightly-better treated contract performers. The idea that this story could happen in the 20th century is a chilling reminder that we haven’t come as far as we think in terms of race relations—or human relations.

    The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber
    Charles Cullen is suspected of having killed upwards of 300 people under his care while he worked as a nurse in New Jersey. Graeber takes a classic approach, remaining at a neutral distance as he relates Cullen’s horrifying childhood, offering neither exoneration or damnation and letting the facts speak for themselves. There’s less sympathy for the various hospital administrators who knew enough about Cullen’s activities to push him out of jobs but never went further, and never warned other hospitals of their suspicions or made any effort to stop him. Alternately chilling and terrifying, this new true crime classic serves as a reminder that serial killers aren’t always the obvious psychos of movies and TV shows.

    The Midnight Assassin, by Skip Hollandsworth
    Despite our collective fascination with serial killers, the story of what might be the very first example of one operating in the United States remains obscure. Hollandsworth tells the amazing story of the Midnight Assassin, who terrorized Austin, Texas in the late 1800s, murdering women from all social strata. The crimes were brutal and violent, and the murderer seemed to almost be supernatural, killing at will and disappearing. The authorities were completely clueless regarding how to deal with such incessant and sociopathic violence, which in turn ratcheted up the terror even as racist attitudes saw them pursue several pointless leads. In the end, 10 people died, no one was ever caught, and several prominent people saw their careers and lives destroyed as a result. This is an important look at one of the earliest serial killings in the country, and the peculiarly American response to them.

    What true crime stories do you recommend?

    The post The Best New and Recent True Crime Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lindsey Lewis Smithson 3:00 pm on 2016/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: american crime story, , true crime   

    5 Astonishing Reads for American Crime Story Fans 


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    The thrill of celebrity, the intrigue of an unsolved crime, the search for closure and justice; American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson brought it all to TV and then some. While few things have the pop culture impact of that infamous glove, there are plenty of gripping crimes that are worthy of our attention. From stories as well known as Waco and Tupac to twisted tales of murder in the desert, international espionage, and cannibals, these five books all make worthy reads for American Crime Story fans, and fans of its inspiration, The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson.

    Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mojave, by Deanne Stillman
    In 1991 two girls were murdered outside Twentynine Palms Marine Corp Base. The Marine in question had recently returned from the Gulf War and found himself readjusting to life in another desert setting. But how did they all find themselves in the same apartment in the middle of the night in Twentynine Palms? Was there something in their pasts, their families, maybe even their cultures that brought this unlikely set together. And what ultimately sealed their fate? What is life really like for those who live outside military bases? What does this rootless culture do to towns, neighbors, even individual families? With so many questions, an amazingly vivid setting, and bigger—even national—implications, Stillman’s exploration is a must read.

    The Waco Siege: The History of the Federal Government’s Standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, by Charles River Editors
    People may mention the Waco massacre in passing, thinking they know the details, but this story is one that has changed law enforcement in immeasurable ways. With a paper trail running all the way from local law enforcement to then President Bill Clinton, there is much more to this 50 day standoff than meets the eye. With a mix of high profile government involvement, extreme beliefs, and terrifying violence, the Waco Siege is a gripping story of unanswered questions and the cult of personality. In the aftermath of David Koresh’s standoff with authorities, local and national law enforcement agencies have reworked how they respond to large scale situations and domestic terror attacks. This case shaped America, and it is fascinating.

    Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest, by Carl Hoffman
    Travel back in time to the 1960s and the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the son of New York Governor, and later Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller (and yes, a member of that famous family). The who’s who connections of the Rockefeller family, the remote terrain, and the still-unanswered questions about Michael Rockefeller’s death make this a most fascinating read. In the same way that most questions will never be resolved in the OJ Simpson trial, we may never know if Rockefeller drowned or was taken—and eaten—by local cannibals in New Guinea. The art that Rockefeller collected and can be found in some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the MET in New York, but this mystery may be his biggest legacy.

    LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, by Randall Sullivan
    Tupac and Biggie, two of the biggest names in the early LA rap scene, are also at the center of some of the most wide-spanning conspiracy theories and fan fantasies. Is Tupac living peacefully on an island somewhere? Were the two killed by rival gangs? The police? Their own label—or maybe a competitor? Russell Poole, a highly decorated LAPD detective, was called on in 1997 to investigate a controversial cop-on-cop shooting that turned into more than he could imagine. Eventually Poole came to discover that the officer killed was tied to Marion “Suge” Knight’s notorious gangsta rap label, and the Bloods street gang. The shocking crossovers between the police, gangs, and the rap industry are as as riveting as they are controversial.

    Hard Drive: A Family’s Fight Against Three Countries, by Mary Todd and Christina Villegas
    This more recent story is still playing out in three countries, yet no one seems to have the answers. Or do they? What appeared at first to be a standard tech industry job for Dr. Shane Todd turned into an international intelligence nightmare that caught the Chinese government, Singapore police, and one American family in the same net. Dr. Todd was found dead by apparent suicide in his apartment, but among his personal belongings his family discovered an external hard drive with thousands of files that called everything they were told by police into question. The information in those files transformed this story from a tragic suicide to an international saga of mystery, deceit, and coverup. What do you do when all of your attempts to get the truth are thwarted by every level of international government and no one wants to help?

    What crime story do you think needs the American Crime Story treatment?

     
  • Jeff Somers 9:49 pm on 2016/01/14 Permalink
    Tags: true crime   

    7 Books to Read After You Binge-Watch Making a Murderer 


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    Crime is fascinating. At the same time, most people have faith in our legal system. Endless TV shows about noble lawyers—even TV shows about sketchy lawyers—reinforce the idea that while our system might be flawed, it works most of the time. In recent years, however, a string of documentary-style programs have brought to light the failures of that system in fascinating ways. Documentaries like HBO’s Jinx and podcasts like Serial orove we have an intense interest in stories of true crime and miscarriages of justice. The latest program turning us all into armchair investigators is Netflix’s Making a Murderer, a dense documentary, 10 years in the making, exploring the extraordinary case of Steven Avery, a man wrongly convicted of sexual assault who served 18 years in prison, was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2013, announced a $36 million lawsuit—and was promptly convicted of murder in a case that appears to have been badly mishandled at best, and a frame-up at worst.

    The series is an incredible achievement, combining exhaustive research, on-the-ground intimacy, and precise journalistic distance. Those who watch it tend to fall down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories—and usually come out of it wanting nothing more than to replicate the experience. If you’re one of them, here are eight more fascinating true crime explorations.

    The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
    Larson’s investigation into the true—if absolutely bonkers and unbelievable—story of Dr. H. H. Holmes, one of the most prolific serial killers to ever exist. Holmes built a literal “murder house” on the edges of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, complete with soundproofed rooms equipped with various ways to kill, including poison gas and metal-plated walls for incineration. Yes, this actually happened, and Holmes may be responsible for as many as 200 murders. Larson’s novel explores the case in detail, and while Holmes, unlike Avery, is absolutely certainly guilty, it’s still a mesmerizing glimpse into the void.

    The Wicked Boy, by Kate Summerscale
    Summerscale recreates the setting, people, and circumstances surrounding Robert Coombes and his brother Nathaniel. In 1895, after the boys were observed spending money freely in London, their mother was discovered dead in the house, stabbed to death and badly decomposed. Robert confessed to the crime and showed no remorse, and was judged insane and committed to a notorious madhouse. In Summerscale’s remarkable book, she explores the frenzy surrounding the crime, the heated atmosphere in the air when the boy was convicted, and, most surprisingly, the life that Robert Coombes eventually led. Summerscale brings meticulous research to the true story of one of the most unusual cases in crime history.

    In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    The original “non-fiction novel” explores the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas, delving into the minds and lives of the victims, the murderers, and the men and women involved in the investigation and prosecution. While no one seriously doubts the police work and court mechanisms in the case, it remains one of the best-researched and best-written works of true crime ever put to paper, and is the work that made Capote a superstar. Even 50 years later, the book is chilling, absorbing, and thrilling.

    The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
    If shows like Making a Murderer cause you to believe that the Justice System in America is The Worst, allow us to direct your gaze to Italy. In 1996, author Douglas Preston moved to the countryside outside Florence and became interested in the case of the Monster of Florence, a serial killer responsible for 16 deaths in the area. The sheer insanity of the Italian justice system comes into focus when Preston and local journalist Mario Spezi begin investigating the crimes, and are ultimately accused by the Italian authorities of obstructing justice, accessory to murder, and—in Spezi’s case—of actually being the murderer. Preston was run out of the country and Spezi was imprisoned. A horrifying tale of institutionalized incompetence and malice that anyone will find chilling.

    Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
    No one doubts Charles Manson’s guilt in the seven murders he and his “Family” committed in the summer of 1969. But delving into the details of how this man, who seems obviously insane and creepy to us today, gathered a small following of devotees and set them on a bloody path is tense, gripping reality, and Bugliosi—the prosecuting attorney in the case—will give you back at least a little faith in the justice system as he describes his incredible detective work involved in building the case against one of the most notorious monsters of the 20th century.

    The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, by John Grisham
    Grisham’s first work of non-fiction is perfect for fans of Making a Murderer: In 1988, Ron Williamson, former major league baseball prospect suffering from depression and alcoholism, was convicted of raping and murdering a local cocktail waitress—but as Grisham documents, the incompetent local police and prosecutors more or less constructed the flimsy case against him using every tool of bad police work and overly-agressive prosecution available. Williamson was released in 1999 after—you guessed it—DNA evidence proved his innocence. This book will challenge your faith that everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty.

    Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
    In 1984, a man broke into Jennifer Thompson’s apartment and raped her at knifepoint. She later positively identified Ronald Cotton, who denied the charges but was convicted and served more than a decade in jail. In 1995, DNA evidence proved he was innocent. Then something amazing happened: Cotton forgave Thompson, the two became friends, and they wrote this alternating memoir of the incident, a sobering exploration of how emotions and the justice system itself can lead to unjust convictions, even when everyone truly believe they are in the right.

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

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


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    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?

     
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