by Brittney Reed-Saltz
After waiting on the holds list for weeks–see, it happens to librarians, too!–a copy of Michelle McNamara’s posthumous true crime blockbuster I’ll Be Gone in the Dark came in for me. It was exactly what I needed: I had been in a reading slump, but I tore through the pages. It would be hyperbole to say that I became as engrossed in McNamara’s writing as she did in the Golden State Killer case, because I’ve never seen anyone so doggedly obsessed with a project. But this book haunted me in a way that I haven’t been haunted by my reading in a long time. My tastes are hard-boiled, yet this book gave me nightmares.
The truth is, I’m a true crime newbie: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is only the second true crime title I’ve ever read, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I remember flipping through my mom’s beloved true crime paperbacks as a tween, poring over the glossy photo inserts with a mixture of disgust and fascination, but I never got into the genre.
Well, until now.
Here are the true crime books that I’m planning to read next, despite the havoc they will wreak on my sleep schedule.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and A Memoir by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich
Marzano-Lesnevich took a summer job working at a law firm in Louisiana when she encountered the case of Ricky Langley. Her reaction was so visceral and so contradictory to her anti-death penalty stance that she felt compelled to investigate more deeply. After I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, I’m ready to follow another DIY sleuth down a dark, obsessive rabbit hole, and The Fact of a Body sounds like just that.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This book has shimmered in my periphery for a long time. It’s an atmospheric examination not just of a murder, but of a unique town and its equally unique inhabitants: Savannah, Georgia, home to criminals, drag queens, society ladies, and voodoo priestesses, to name only a handful. I share McNamara’s opinion that the most interesting part of a crime isn’t the act itself, but the people it impacts, and I think that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil satisfy this interest.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (available through Hoopla)
When someone’s crimes are as lurid as Jeffrey Dahmer’s, it’s easy to conceive of the perpetrator as an inhuman monster. The thought that they were just a human being taxes the mind and inspires terror, because we don’t want to acknowledge that people are capable of such things. This graphic memoir, written by Dahmer’s former classmate and friend, presents the chilling truth: serial killers are people, and you might know one.
Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule
The Green River Killer was another serial murderer who, like the Golden State Killer, amassed a large number of victims and eluded capture for decades, which for me is the most bloodcurdling aspect of the GSK case. I have read reviews that attest to Rule’s focus on the victims, which is something I admire about McNamara’s approach, as well. This book also has the added scare factor of proximity to the killer: Gary Ridgway ended up living within a mile of Rule’s house.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
It’s hard to look into true crime without encountering Helter Skelter. This classic is massive both in terms of its size and the notoriety of the case it documents: the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson Family. Readers have described Helter Skelter as engaging to the point of dizzying, packed with twists, aliases, and chilling details aplenty about Charles Manson’s hold on his cult members. I feel like my exploration of the genre would be incomplete without giving this one a try.