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 33 best books serial killer books 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.
The year was 1958. Author James Ellroy was only 10 years old when his mother Jean was murdered and dumped on the side of the road in Los Angeles. If you’re looking for a truly personal crime novel, this is it.
Instead of diving into the psychology of a particular serial killer, this book takes an unflinching look at the dark places of criminal fiction writer James Ellroy.
Sadly, his mother’s killer was never found. Chalked up to a wayward Saturday night on the town, the crime was swept under the rug and forgotten. And though he tried to avoid it for nearly four decades, James Ellroy finally felt the need to come to terms with his past and try to uncover the truth.
My Dark Places reveals what he learned about his mother’s murder and himself when he teams up with a brilliant homicide cop to investigate the now very cold case.
This gripping tale of loss, redemption and American violence is sure to keep you riveted.
12. Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado
Named one of the best true crime novels of all time by Time, Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through A Country’s Descent into Darkness takes us into the dark heart of Mexico with journalist Alfredo Corchado.
Convinced that the drug cartels and corrupt government officials would one day be brought to justice, he refuses to stop reporting on the ruthless drug dealers and the politicians who profit from their murderous trade.
Even when he receives a tip that his life is threatened, he is undeterred. Instead of fleeing to save his life, Corchado goes behind the scenes to investigate. If you were addicted to series like Narcos, you’re sure to be fascinated by this tale of one man’s brave quest to report the truth while trying to save his own life.
13. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
This National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Best Seller is set in the 1920s on the Native American Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered on their land, the members of this tribe became some of the richest people in the world.
Unfortunately, their wealth resulted in anything but happiness. One by one, the Osage were being killed under mysterious circumstances. And what was worse, anyone who tried to investigate the crimes was also murdered.
As the bodies stack up, a young J. Edgar Hoover turns to former Texas Ranger Tom White to get to the bottom of the macabre events. With the help of an undercover team, they infiltrate the region and manage to expose a truly chilling conspiracy.
This dark chapter of American history that Killers of the Flower Moon relates is not only gripping, it’s a story that everyone should know about.
14. Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom & Jim Atkinson
Despite the placid exterior of their external lives, the friendship of two supposed best friends living in the Dallas suburbs ends in a grizzly murder.
Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs relates the stranger than fiction story of Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore. They attended the same church. Their daughters were best friends, and both of their husbands had great jobs in the tech industry. But the secret jealousies and hidden passions they harbored would result in unbelievable tragedy.
Based on interviews with both of their families, this book was also made into a TV movie (A Killing in a Small Town) and two limited series (Hulu’s Candy and HBO’s Love and Death).
If you’re a true crime aficionado, you won’t want to miss out on this ripped from the headlines tale of how savagery can surface even in the apparently perfect lives of two suburban housewives.
15. Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth
Ron Stallworth was the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. And he was also destined to pull off one of the most audacious undercover crime investigations in American history.
After answering an ad for people interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan, he receives a phone call asking if he would like to join their cause. Stallworth answers “yes” and launches a daring investigation in which he enlists his partner Chuck to play the “white” Ron Stallworth while he conducts all of the subsequent phone conversations.
Through the course of their investigation, they expose prominent white supremacists, prevent cross burnings and even manage to befriend grand wizard David Duke.
This unbelievable story of the Black Klansman was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie and is sure to amaze and uplift you as you get to know the heroes who dare to fight back against racism in a divided America.
16. The Night Stalker: The Disturbing Life and Chilling Crimes of Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo
Richard Ramirez, a truly sadistic serial killer, spread terror, death and destruction during the 1980s. This deep delve into his twisted psyche is based on extensive research by author Philip Carlo, as well as actual interviews with the murderer himself. What we learn in the process brings an even more chilling perspective to his horrific crimes.
This book chronicles the disturbing childhood of Richard Ramirez and his subsequent descent into darkness. Perhaps even more bizarre is that after the original publication of The Night Stalker, thousands of women contacted Philip Carlo begging to be put in touch with the killer.
In this updated version, Carlo reveals the bizarre stories of these women and even includes a death row interview from Ramirez about his “groupies.” Gruesome as it is, you won’t be able to put this book down.
After moving his family to Italy, Douglas Preston makes the horrifying discovery that the olive grove in front of his 14th-century farmhouse was the scene of one of the most notorious double murders in Italian history. Yes, true crime friends, this is the stuff that movies are made of.
Preston becomes intrigued and soon teams up with investigative journalist Mario Spezi in an attempt to sort out the mystery. Their search eventually leads them to a man that they believe is the Monster of Florence.
However, in a truly unexpected twist, Preston and Spenzi eventually become the targets of a police investigation which includes threats, phone tapping, and extensive interrogations. Spezi is even thrown in jail and accused of being the murderer himself.
A truly thrilling read, you’ll be glued to this harrowing tale from start to finish.
18. From Cradle to Grave by Joyce Egginton
With claims that her babies were victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, nine of Marybeth Tinning’s children died over the course of 14 years – one after the next. Bizarrely, neither the police, her neighbors or even her husband suspected a thing.
However, six weeks after the latest child’s death, everyone was forced to face the dark truth when she was finally charged with murder. In From Cradle to Grave, this nightmarish tale of a murderous mother relays the haunting story of Tinning’s children and her eventual arrest and trial.’
19. 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.
20. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
If you’re a horror fan, then you’ve already seen The Silence of the Lambs film. This totally fictional but totally riveting book about serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter is a must-read for anyone dipping their toe into the horror genre. After you’ve read this book, you can move on to Harris’s other Hannibal Lecter books in the series.
21. In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
In the Garden of Spite is a fictionalization of the life of the real serial killer Belle Gunness. As one of America’s earliest and most prolific female serial killers, Gunness was known for luring husbands to their graves, growing her wealth — and her lust for blood — with each passing husband. Still, for a book about a serial killer, author Camilla Bruce does an excellent job of making the reader see the human elements and emotions that inspired Gunness’s actions.
22. The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Whether you did or did not catch the major television series that premiered several years ago based on this book, you’ll want to pick up The Alienist if you love a good historical serial killer book. The novel follows the development of criminal psychology in the late 1800s in New York City, as an alienist and his team track down a gruesome murderer.
23. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton
If you’d prefer your true crime info to be a little less novelized and a little bit more all the facts, all the time, you might prefer this encyclopedia-style book that breaks down some of the world’s most famous serial killer studies, giving you details about cases, law enforcement techniques and more.
24. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Start listing the most famous serial killers in history, and Jack the Ripper is bound to come up at some point. While Jack the Ripper has been given a lot of spotlight and almost romanticized, The Five takes a different approach, focusing on the women who were killed by the infamous serial killer, and shedding light on their stories that were cut too short.
25. Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky
When you think of a serial killer, you likely think of a male criminal preying on women. This idea is so ingrained in the popular consciousness that when a female serial killer comes to light, it’s all the more shocking. In this non-fiction book, author Vronsky looks at how and why women turn to murder, examining a variety of factors, including political, economic, social and sexual.
26. Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, The Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson
Kate Winkler Dawson is a true crime mastermind (and if you need any extra proof before buying this book, just check out her podcast!). Death in the Air is her first book, and it follows an environmental disaster in London post-World War II and a serial killing spree that took place around the same time. If you liked Devil in the White City, you’ll love this one.
27. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
If you’re hoping for something a little less disturbing and a little more fun (if any serial killer book could be called that), consider this novel by Lyndsay Faye. The book combines Jane Eyre with Dexter for a historic, serial killer-infused fictional tale that’s anything but dull.
28. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Prefer to read about the OG Dexter rather than a new, Jane Eyre-inspired version? Then pick up the first book in the Dexter series, which started the hit Showtime phenomenon. Since this book came out a while ago (2000s), you can find it in affordable audiobook, e-reader and paperback formats, so it’s the perfect pick when you want to read something right now.
29. The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber
This New York Times bestselling book by Charles Graeber is coming to Netflix, but you can read the full story here first. The book tells the story of the career of Charlie Cullen, who worked as a nurse and, as such, was overlooked even while he caused the deaths of potentially 400 hospital patients, making him one of America’s most prolific serial killers ever.
30. Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door by Roy Wenzl, L. Kelly, Tim Potter and Hurst Laviana
This book follows the story of yet another notable American serial killer, the BTK killer (which, as you could probably guess by the book’s title, stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill”). For decades, the killer hid in plain sight as a respected member of his community, all while brutally torturing and killing men, women and even children.
31. The Galapagos Affair by John Treherne
The Galapagos Affair is a wild ride, for sure. While the book (and the story, for that matter) isn’t that widely known, it follows the true tale of a bizarre commune of settlers on a remote island, and the eventual discovery of dead bodies and the disappearances of some of the most fascinating commune members to call the Galapagos home.
32. Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho by Harold Schechter
This book is a true crime classic, as Ed Gein was the original inspiration behind some of our most notable fictional horror-genre killers. That inspiration can be seen in works ranging from Psycho to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and you’ll soon see those connections as you follow this book’s chronological tracing of Ed Gein’s life.
33. Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer, America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule
Ann Rule is one of the queens of true crime, and if you’ve picked up her book on Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me (first on our list by no coincidence), then it’s time to move on to one of Rule’s other books, Green River, Running Red. This one follows the story of the Green River Killer, who murdered more than 49 women.
Should I Go for Fiction or Nonfiction?
As you’ve likely noticed, our list above is a broad mix of fiction and non-fiction, historical and modern-day, true accounts and thoroughly-researched journalistic tales of true crime. So which option is right for you?
If you don’t mind reading about the spine-chilling truths of the world’s most awful people — or maybe even if you consider that a little exciting — you might find our non-fiction options listed above to be more your speed. If reading about modern-day serial killers gives you pause, though, you might want to consider some of the historical true crime fiction out there. You get all the thrills of true crime, but the historical setting makes the crime aspect a little more palatable for some readers.
If, though, you’d rather get lost in a fictional universe where anything can happen and the bad guys definitely aren’t real, then opt for one of our fictional picks above. You’ll find options that range in terms of gore and other similar content, whether you want something moderately tame, like our Agatha Christie pick, or something a little more bold.
Reading Not Your Thing?
We get it. It’s not always easy to sit down and read an entire book. You could break up your reading into chunks, but then you just end up leaving that book on your nightstand or coffee table for so long that you forget what’s even going on where you left off.
If you’re not a big reader, you can still enjoy many of these books in audiobook format for easy listening on the go. Whether you’re on a run, driving to work or cooking dinner, you can enjoy the reading experience hands-free while you multitask.
Of course, if you find that audiobooks just don’t do it for you either, you may prefer the more conversational format of podcasts. There are plenty of true crime and murder-centric podcasts available on all your favorite streaming services.
Popular picks include My Favorite Murder, for two short, true crime stories every week with a side of dark comedy, and Last Podcast on the Left, for thoroughly-researched crime stories that are broken down over multiple weeks, giving you a more in-depth look at a crime and the criminal, again with a side of comedy.
However, if you’d prefer a more interactive experience, rather than just reading or listening to someone else’s words, you might want to try a true crime-based board game or subscription box. These subscriptions and games typically feature a range of clues and ask you to solve a case, and you can find these games ranging from easy and family-friendly to as gory, challenging and realistic as it gets.
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 33 Best Serial Killer Books:
- 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
- My Dark Places by James Ellroy
- Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness by Alfredo Corchado
- Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
- Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs
- Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth
- The Night Stalker: The Disturbing Life and Chilling Crimes of Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo
- The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
- From Cradle to Grave by Joyce Egginton
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
- The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
- In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr
- The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton
- The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
- Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky
- Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, The Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson
- Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
- The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber
- Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door by Roy Wenzl, L. Kelly, Tim Potter and Hurst Laviana
- The Galapagos Affair by John Treherne
- Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho by Harold Schechter
- Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer, America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule
Christine Devereaux Evangelistaview post
Christine Devereaux Evangelista
Christine Devereaux Evangelista is the Editorial Director for ChatterSource. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, arts & crafts, baking and binge-watching crime dramas. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband, Darin and Goldendoodle, Walter.view post