Read a true crime story or an exposé.
June 1, 2021
True crime and exposés examine actual crime and detail the actions of real people.
While this genre often focuses on murder and other violent crime, we know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For stories about conmen (and conwomen!) check out Confident Women, The Falcon Thief, and The King of Confidence. For heists, try The Woman Who Stole Vermeer or Norco ’80.
This list is part of the 2021 Adult Summer Reading program.
Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate—there were hundreds of abandoned buildings.
A mesmerizing and crucial panorama with nationwide implications, American Fire asks what happens when a community gets left behind. Hesse brings to life the Eastern Shore and its inhabitants, battling a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. The result evokes the soul of rural America—a land half gutted before the fires even began.
The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century
An award-winning New York Post investigative journalist documents the story of enigmatic serial killer Israel Keyes and the efforts of the Anchorage PD and the FBI to capture him, discussing what his case reveals about 21st-century law enforcement.
My Summers With a Serial Killer
Liza Rodman, Jennifer Jordan
Documents the co-author’s childhood summer experiences in 1960s Cape Cod under the care of a friendly neighbor, who years later was discovered to be the infamous serial killer of numerous women.
Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.
Catch and Kill
Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.
This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.
Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion
The art of the con has a long and venerable tradition, and its female practitioners are some of the best—or worst. Telfer introduces us to a host of lady swindlers whose scams ranged from the outrageous to the deadly.
Among them: In 1700s Paris, Jeanne de Saint-Rémy scammed the royal jewelers out of a necklace made from six hundred and forty-seven diamonds by pretending she was best friends with Queen Marie Antoinette. Cassie Chadwick got banks to loan her upwards of $40,000 by telling people she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. In the 1970s teenager Roxie Ann Rice scammed the entire NFL. And the scams continue….
The Devil in the White City
Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium.
The Falcon Thief
A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird
A rollicking true-crime adventure about a rogue who trades in rare birds and their eggs-and the wildlife detective determined to stop him.
Flight of the Diamond Smugglers
A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa
Matthew Gavin Frank
Blending elements of reportage, memoir, and incantation, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers is a stunning investigation into the role of carrier pigeons in South African diamond smuggling.
Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Documents the remarkable story of 1970s Alabama serial killer Willie Maxwell and the true-crime book on the Deep South’s racial politics and justice system that consumed Harper Lee in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.
I’Ll Be Gone in the Dark
One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then in 1986 he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area. Three decades later, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.”
This book—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind.
The Killer Across the Table
Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators With the FBI’s Original Mindhunter
John Douglas, Mark Olshaker
The FBI criminal profiler and inspiration for the Mindhunter series shares the stories of four of the most complex predatory killers of his career, offering previously undisclosed insights into his strategies and profiling process.
This book offers Joe Kenda’s memories of homicide cases that he investigated or oversaw. In each case, he examines the trigger that led to death.
Killers of the Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
A a true account of the early twentieth-century murders of dozens of wealthy Osage and law-enforcement officials, citing the contributions and missteps of a fledgling FBI that eventually uncovered one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
The King of Confidence
A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
Harvey tells James Strang’s fascinating but largely forgotten story, an account of one of the country’s boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.
A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York
Documents the decades-long effort to capture the “Last Call Killer” of 1980s and 1990s New York City, discussing how he took advantage of period discrimination to prey upon gay victims against a backdrop of the AIDS epidemic.
How We Took Down Pablo Escobar
Steve Murphy, Javier F. Pena
A memoir by the legendary DEA agents who inspired the hit series Narcos describes the challenges and innovative strategies that marked their Colombian-U.S. task force’s successful 18-month manhunt for narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar.
The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer
Relates how respected local farmer and school board treasurer Andrew P. Kehoe blew up the new primary school in Bath, Michigan in 1927, an act of vengeance that killed thirty-eight children and six adults in one of the first and worst mass murders in American history.
Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Chronicles the experiences of several women in Missoula, Montana, who claimed to be raped by University of Montana football players, highlighting the inequities of the law in regard to rape allegations and the treatment of rape victims and perpetrators.
Monster of Florence
Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved with his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he has never been caught. He is known as the Monster of Florence.
The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History
An account of one of the most violent bank heists in U.S. history relates how five heavily armed young men, led by a religious fanatic, orchestrated a plot that culminated in several deaths, massive destruction, and a community-dividing trial.
Ripped From the Headlines!
The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes
Bestselling true-crime master Harold Schechter explores the real-life headline-making psychos, serial murderers, thrill-hungry couples, and lady-killers who inspired a century of classic films.
A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the Naacp
The best-selling author of The Vendetta chronicles the 1910 Asbury Park murder of 10-year-old Marie Smith and a rookie detective’s investigation against a backdrop of Jim Crow violence and the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Stranger Beside Me
The haunting true story of Ted Bundy follows the trail of an attractive, highly intelligent law student who lived a double life as a serial killer, in an updated, twentieth anniversary edition of the true crime classic by the author of Small Sacrifices.
The Third Rainbow Girl
The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
Emma Copley Eisenberg
An investigation into the 1980 murder of two women in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, recreates the events of the tragedy, the targeting of vulnerable suspects and the history of mysterious violence that continues to overshadow the region.
Till Murder Do Us Part
A woman begins to suspect that her husband isn’t actually who he says he is, and a teenager has her life upended during the hunt for a missing girl, in two true-crime stories from the prolific and best-selling author.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
A True Story
Drawing on twenty years of research and recently discovered evidence, an account of the infamous Lizzie Borden trial explores professional and public opinions while considering how Gilded Age values and fears influenced the case.
Two Truths and a Lie
A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice
An investigative reporter-turned-private detective describes the brutal state execution of a possibly innocent man that haunted her career, her decision to reopen the case and the complex web of crime and corruption that her investigation exposed.
True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession
Curated by the award-winning author of The Real Lolita, this anthology of recent true-crime tales includes Michelle Dean’s “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick” and Pamela Colloff’s “The Reckoning.”
We Keep the Dead Close
A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence
Documents the unsolved 1969 murder of Harvard student Jane Britton, sharing insights into how the case was clouded by false rumors and the realities of gender inequality and institutional silence in period academic circles.
We Own This City
A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption in an American City
Documents the corrupt activities of sergeant Wayne Jenkins and the Gun Trace Task Force of 2015-2017 Baltimore, revealing how they skimmed confiscated drugs and money while planting evidence to hide their crimes, triggering wrongful convictions and at least two deaths.
Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country
Sierra Crane Murdoch
Tells the true crime story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it.