We all have a guilty pleasure, and for me, it's reading true crime books. From fiction to best selling books about real-life serial killers, I dig it all. I recently finished a book called It's Always the Husband, a page-turning novel with, you guessed it, a surprise ending!
Needless to say, my husband wasn't too thrilled to see me reading that page-turner.
But really, the question remains, why is anyone fascinated by serial killers? It seems like mainstream media is flooded with true crime headlines—everything from podcasts to Netflix originals to the classic procedurals. Is it our escape from the real world? Do we live for a racing heartbeat? Perhaps we just love playing detective. Or are we just happy we did not grow up to be a serial killer?
If you grew up binge-watching Law & Order, Criminal Minds or have recently become obsessed with Mindhunter on Netflix, you are definitely going to want to pick up one of these books. Whether you are looking for a way to escape reality, learn a little bit of history and read some chilling graphic details about true crime, these selections will check every box.
And a fair warning, the truth can be a lot scarier than fiction.
Here are the 11 best books about serial killers out there.
1. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
If you haven't read any books by Ann Rule, this one is a must-read! Based on a true story of the relationship she had with Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious American serial killers.
Rule goes into detail that no one else could provide. It is no surprise that this is Rule's best seller, with the raw emotions and captivating details she offers about Ted, someone she thought she knew very well.
You might be able to flip through this book in one day. And if you are looking for more footage of Ted Bundy, the Netflix series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes should also be added to your list.
2. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Erik Larson takes you back to 1893, where the World's Fair was held in Chicago. This nonfiction novel tells the story of two men, an architect, Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer whose prey were the fairgoers.
This is an easy-read novel, but Larson did tons of research, so you feel fully immersed in Chicago life during the 1890s. The Devil in the White City will suck you with its descriptions of evil human nature, deception, scandal and the excitement of the times when the people of Chicago prepared for their first World's Fair. Erik Larson has a pretty great library of books if you’ve never read his work.
3. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
If you live in America, you've probably heard the name Charles Manson a few times. He was a California cult leader and criminal mastermind. This true story thriller is told from the perspective of Charles Manson's prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi and how he put together his case against the graphic serial killer.
There is a reason Helter Skelter is a New York Times bestseller!
From the vivid horrifying details to the in-depth descriptions of the various Manson family and cult members, this chilling story captivates every move chronologically from witness statements to paper trails and physical evidence.
It paints a true picture of the charismatic madman that was Charles Manson and hits close to home for anyone that grew up when Manson was all over prime time TV.
4. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
You may have already seen Mindhunter on Netflix, but the book by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker is one you will definitely want to pick up!
This thrilling read dives into Douglas' gruesome details as an FBI agent for 25 years and how he helped contribute to the term criminal profiling that is used today.
The book goes into several famous cases, including The Green River Killer and other sadistic serial killers over the years. You might want to break up this read with a few comedies or rom-coms, so you don't get too depressed!
5. Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation's Most Elusive Serial Killer by Robert Graysmith
You may also be familiar with this storyline from the Zodiac movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. from 2007. But Robert Graysmith was right on the front lines, working at the San Francisco Chronicle when this serial killer began his killing spree in 1969.
The obsessive reporter shares tons of facts that weren't originally released to the public, including copies of the letters the sadist sent to authorities. Graysmith's investigative work is unmatched and paints an even more gruesome picture than you can imagine.
The story told by a master sleuther is bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.
6. John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster: The True Story of the Lawyer Who Defended One of the Most Evil Serial Killers in History by Sam L. Amirante
Known as the killer clown, John Wayne Gacy was not only a serial killer but also a sex offender, double disgusting. His target audience was young boys and men, preying on his victims at charitable events and children's hospitals. Needless to say, he was quite a monster.
Sam L. Amirante, a Gacy's friend, dives into details and updated information about the case since it was originally published with this newer version. This shocking story left the nation in awe with what this gruesome serial killer did to his victims.
7. I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara coined the name Golden State Killer, and her novel proves she is undeniably an expert on the topic. While her novel was published a few months before the killer was actually caught and arrested, the years of research she did helps this gruesome tale unfold.
A violent predator was on the loose in Californa, sexually assaulting his victims for over a decade before heading south to murder ten more victims. This serial murderer and rapist eluded the police force despite the DNA evidence pointing to the same killer across multiple state lines.
McNamara was determined to find this sadistic killer, and her book delves into every single detail.
8. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
As a high school friend of Jeffery Dahmer's, Derf Backderf, shares a sad and graphic depiction of this young serial killer in My Friend Dahmer.
This book is unlike some of the others on this list, as the story is told from the angle of a friend who shares a sympathetic portrait of this convicted serial killer. He shares what Dahmer was really like before he began his killing spree and the early signs of his mental health struggles.
This raw and unconventional view will make you feel for Jeffery as Backderf sheds insight into his struggles with alcoholism, sexuality and his parents' rocky relationship.
Yes, we all know Jeffery Dahmer as a monster, but the details of this novel share insights you will never forget about a sad and lonely boy who never really quite fit in that lead him down a dark and graphic path.
9. The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers by Harold Schechter
This one is a collection of monsters and their madness, including a few already mentioned on this list, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and more.
Call it a serial killer fan club book if you will, but this one dives in deep to a multitude of murderers, violent acts and the terrorization of civilians over the years.
Although very graphic, The Serial Killer Files delves deep into the depths of the psychology behind serial killers and provides facts without the drama. This is not a book you can sit and finish in one sitting, but if you are looking for something to catch up on real true crime stories over the years, it's very educational and completely raw.
10. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Some may argue that In Cold Blood kickstarted the true crime genre. Truman Capote's story dives into the murder of a Kansas family in 1959.
This is a storyline where the research paid off. Capote gathered 8,000 pages of notes of this one crime and narrated this nonfiction novel by researching the residents, victims and killers. His attention to detail brings all of the characters to life and paints a picture you will never forget.
The tragedy of four family members savagely murdered and their murderers' prosecution is depicted with raw emotion and the psychology behind the criminal justice system.
11. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
This list would not be complete without including the first-ever Agatha Christie book I read. And Then There Were None is 100 percent fiction, but it is one of the best mystery novels I have ever read.
This is a story about ten strangers who are on an island, and slowly their deepest and darkest secrets start to unravel, and the dead body count starts to rise. Who is the killer? How will they escape?
You'll have to dive in to see how the Queen of Mystery wraps this one up.
From true crime stories to nonfiction serial killer books to New York Times bestsellers, there is something out there for everyone!
I am not going to promise some of the books on this list won't give you nightmares. But, the raw emotions and personal accounts of people involved with the serial killers will suck you in.
Playing detective is always a wild ride, and diving into a crime scene or the mind of a psychopath really does keep the pages turning.
You might also be interested in: Why is Everyone so Obsessed with True Crime? [Hello Darkness our Old Friend]
The 11 best books about serial killers:
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
- The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
- Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
- Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
- Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation's Most Elusive Serial Killer by Robert Graysmith
- John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster: The True Story of the Lawyer Who Defended One of the Most Evil Serial Killers in History by Sam L. Amirante
- I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
- My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
- The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers by Harold Schechter
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie