The Podcast of Serial Is Over! Now What?: 6 True Crime Books to Investigate

Ipod playing podcast Serial.
Photo courtesy Casey Fiesler on Flickr under CC License.

If you, like much of America, became obsessed with the podcast Serial over the past few months and are still, several weeks after the last episode, mourning its loss, never fear, there are plenty of great true crime mysteries left out there for you to sink your teeth into. Below are some picks from the true crime genre that may help take the edge off that craving for some gritty investigative storytelling.

The Good Nurse book coverThe Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

Charles Graeber tells the story of Charlie Cullen, perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history, and how he managed to get away with continuing murders for so many years. Cullen was a nurse who worked and killed in nine hospitals over a period of sixteen years and who has now been implicated in the deaths of over 300 patients. Based on meticulous journalistic research into police reports and wire-tapping and interview recordings as well as jailhouse conversations with Cullen, Graeber here tries to piece together a portrait of who this man was that killed so many people and also tell the story of the two detectives and one courageous informant that managed to bring him to justice.

Lost Girls book coverLost Girls by Robert Kolker

In Lost Girls Kolker presents a harrowing and saddening portrait of the murderous career of the Long Island Serial Killer through the lives and deaths of his victims. This is a killer who has not been caught and is still operating today so it is to his choice in victims and the nature of his crimes that the author must turn to try to shed light on this mysterious killer. With no easy answers or serving of justice, this is a hard look at the people that this killer determined to be expendable, women with lives and families of their own, and at the world of the online escort business where he found them.

Under the Banner of Heaven book coverUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer offers a chilling and fascinating look at how the convictions of their faith motivated two brothers to commit a horrible crime. Ron and Dan Lafferty maintain that they were commanded by God to kill their sister-in-law, Brenda, and her young child. Over the course of this one narrative, Krakauer explores in-depth the crime itself, the history of the Mormon faith, and the deep division within Mormonism between the main branch of the LDS church and the various fundamental and extreme sects, one of which the Laffertys followed. Krakauer weaves together these various ideas, examining how the religious faith of the Lafferty brothers motivated their crime as well as more general links between religious beliefs and violence.

The Journalist and the Murderer book coverThe Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

An odd examination of the encounter between journalist and subject and the ethical dilemmas that lie therein, The Journalist and the Murderer examines the moral quandaries and strange happenings of the writing of the book Fatal Vision, a true crime story about the conviction of Jeffery MacDonald for the slaying of his pregnant wife and two children. The author of Fatal Vision, Joe McGinniss, was allowed unprecedented access to the details of the crime and to MacDonald himself with whom he struck up a friendship under the idea that he was writing a book about the crime portraying MacDonald as innocent. During the course of his investigations however, McGinniss became convinced that MacDonald was in fact guilty and wrote an explosive book portraying that point of view. MacDonald sued McGinniss from prison for falsely representing himself and continuing to pretend friendship even after he was convinced of MacDonald’s guilt. In this work, Malcolm examines this whole strange story, delving into the relationship between MacDonald and McGinniss, and the implications of this incident for the wider field of journalism.

People Who Eat Darkness book coverPeople Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Perry

In the summer of 2000 21-year-old Lucie Blackman vanished from the streets of Tokyo. After seven months of intensive investigating involving the Japanese police, British private investigators, and Australian dowsers, Lucie’s dismembered remains were found buried in a cave by the seaside. Here foreign correspondent Perry presents his intensive research into the mystery of what really happened to Lucie, whose case he had covered from the first news of her disappearance. Over the course of a decade he traveled all over the world to talk to Lucie’s friends and family, hear from the Japanese detectives covering the case, and interview extensively the man ultimately accused of her murder. People Who Eat Darkness is a portrait of both victim and killer, and ultimately a fascinating look at some of the hidden corners of Japanese society.

The Stranger Beside Me book coverThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

A classic of the true crime genre, The Stranger Beside Me is a shocking look at the actions of Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers, through the eyes of Rule who actually worked and was friends with Bundy before his arrest. As Rule was working on her first big story in Seattle, tracking the murders of multiple young women in the area, she was also working with Ted Bundy at a crisis hotline and they became good friends. When she finds out that the same man she worked with was the one who had committed the murders she was investigating, she was horrified and it led her to explore how little we actually know about the people around us. Rule’s intimate experience with the investigation and with Bundy himself gives a unique perspective to this true crime story.

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