The rise of true crime as a genre has taken the world by storm. From Netflix true crime series like The Confession Tapes and the upcoming The Confession Killer, and BBC dramas based on historical crime like Peaky Blinders, not to mention the hundreds of different true crime podcasts out there, we must not forget that all good stories are written down first. We’ve selected our top five true crime books. Take the stand and examine our list, then tell us your own verdict.
Trigger Warning: References to severe violence and sexual abuse
Our Story – Reggie and Ronnie Kray
The most notorious gangsters of the London, the Kray twins ran the East End and spread their influence across the whole of London and beyond. Their gang ‘The Firm’ quickly rose to fame in the late 50s, and their notoriety led them to become celebrities in their own right, socialising with world-famous actors and musicians. Their main criminal enterprise was protection rackets, but the brothers were eventually imprisoned for life under separate murder charges.
“I was feeling really excited that night. When the fool started giving me a bit of mouth and started to get threatening I shot him in the leg. I was thinking to myself: that’s the last time that stupid b*****d will ever try it on with the Krays.”Ronnie Kray, Our Story
Stories of the Krays are knitted into the modern history of the East End as tightly as the Cockney accent. They are not being forgotten any time soon. In Our Story, each of the brothers re-tell events of their lives in their own words. They address the myths and rumours around their past and give very matter-of-fact accounts of their lives. It is important to note that the Krays are still admired by many, and the fairness of their sentence is still debated to this day.
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
One of the best selling true crime books to date, Truman Capote’s seminal non-fiction novel reconstructs the story of the 1959 Clutter family murders. The murders shook up the entire state of Kansas. In Cold Blood follows the murder investigation up to and after its conclusion. The journalistic style of Capote’s writing along with his history of literary fiction is what makes the book’s narrative so engaging.
“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”(Said by Perry Smith) Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
Capote’s examination of the two murderers and their motives, as well as emotional and moral growth (or lack thereof), is what makes this book such a compelling read. The assumption of general moral value as a part of human nature is torn apart, leading us to question where morality really comes from, and how it seems to overpass certain members of the human race.
Hope – Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus
A recent true crime story and one that most people will remember very well is the Ariel Castro kidnappings. The case was about three young females aged 14, 16, and 21, who were kidnapped between 2002 and 2004 on separate occasions in Cleveland, Ohio. The perpetrator, an ex-bus driver known in the neighbourhood, imprisoned the three women and held them captive in locked rooms his house for years. They faced relentless mental, physical, and sexual abuse at the hand of Castro. Castro hid his extreme brutality and monstrous deeds from his own family, including his daughter who was a friend of one of the victims.
“But our story is not just about rape and chains, lies and misery. That was Ariel Castro’s world. Our story is about overcoming all that.”Amanda Berry, Hope
Written by two of the survivors, Hope is the inspirational story of their resilience in the face of unimaginable cruelty and ongoing horror. Though in parts truly heartbreaking tale, the purpose of the book is summed up in its title. Hope. The women survived their ordeal through various techniques including writing diaries during the years of their imprisonment. Their hope is what kept them fighting and what eventually led to their escape and freedom, and ability to regain their lives on the outside.
Escobar – Roberto Escobar
Often named as the ‘world’s most powerful criminal’, Pablo Escobar has a story unlike any other. The Columbian drug lord and founding leader of the notorious Medellin cartel has been portrayed in the Netflix Original series Narcos. Escobar was the wealthiest criminal of all time, was elected to parliament, dubbed as ‘Robin Hood’, and ordered the killings of thousands of people. His story is one that every true crime enthusiast needs to know.
“If he is willing to hide an illegal rhinoceros there is no question he would hide cocaine anywhere.”Roberto Escobar, Escobar
Many books have been written about his life including books written by his son and wife. Find more books on Pablo Escobar here. But Escobar is the story from his brother Roberto’s point of view. Roberto was the accountant for the Medellin drug cartel; his knowledge of the comings and going from inside the organisation were so valuable. This insight is now laid out in his book. Throughout the book, Roberto put a lot of time into describing his admiration for his brother. Without condoning every action, he expresses active support of his ambition and influence.
The Devil in the White City – Erik Larson
This 2003 novelistic non-fiction features heavily researched accounts of the man who is described as America’s first modern serial killer, H. H. Holmes. Holmes was involved in a whole host of criminal activity from bigamy to financial fraud. His interest in human dissection and skeletal examinations, influence on the medical black market, and general disregard for human life led him to set up his very own murder chamber.
“I was born with the devil in me,’ [Holmes] wrote. ‘I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson interweaves the story of H. H. Holmes with the story of the designers of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition which took place in Chicago. Holmes lured a number of his victims to their death by using the attraction of the fair. He also constructed a building which he referred to as his ‘Murder Castle’, under the guise of a hotel business for the fair, to gas to death victims and dispose of their bodies.
We have curated a page bursting with hand-picked true crime books. For the obsessive reader to the timid beginner, you can get your true crime fix with us.
What do you think of our Top Five True Crime books? What true crime stories are you obsessed with? Let us know in the comments below.