By Brittney Reed-Saltz
Recently I jumped onto the true crime train, which everyone else has been riding for quite some time. Although interest in true crime is nothing new, recent podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder, as well as books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the indomitable Michelle McNamara, have brought plenty of new fans to the genre.
But what if you want to explore true crime without reading about grisly murders, kidnappings, and other violent crimes? If you want to avoid this kind of content, are you just out of luck?
As it turns out, no! There are plenty of true crime books about heists, espionage, gambling, deception, and even arson that provide the adventure of complex investigations, real-life mysteries, and heightened danger, with less troubling content than the plethora of serial killer books that flood the market.
American Fire by Monica Hesse
A true crime love story, mixed with arson? The premise automatically sets this book apart from others in its genre. Hesse explores a series of arsons that took place in Accomack County in rural Virginia. Each abandoned building burned bred more suspicion among the county’s residents, tension growing as vigilante groups sprang up, the police force searched for the culprit, and residents worries when the arsonist would strike next. But when the culprit is apprehended, his reason for setting the fires will prove more bizarre than his crimes.
The Snowden Files by Luke Harding
In 2013, former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden became a household name–and a hotly debated one–when he came forward with information about the previously unknown scope of the NSA’s intelligence-gathering practices. Written “like a spy novel,” this is the book for you if you’re looking for an insider look at a case that changed how we think about our data.
The Woman Who Wasn’t There by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo
After 9/11, Tania Head came forward with the remarkable story of how she survived the World Trade Center attacks. She became a champion for other survivors, taking an active role in the World Trade Center Survivors Network, leading tours of Ground Zero, and providing leadership and advocacy. There was just one problem with her story: It wasn’t true. Take a look at the story behind this act of fraud.
The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
And now for a story of intelligence and espionage that predates Snowden, and was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks: the case of Brian Regan. A U.S. government contractor, Regan smuggled sensitive information out of his office, burying it underground in the hopes of selling their locations to foreign governments. Read this book to learn about his crimes, his brilliant cryptography, and how his dyslexia ultimately led to his capture.
Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom
Go inside the world of underground gambling with Molly Bloom, who at the age of 26 became the leader of the most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the world. Celebrities, financial giants, and politicians all played at Molly’s table, winning and losing millions of dollars and making her privy to exclusive gossip. But Molly’s empire came crashing down around her… Find out why in her memoir.
Hot Art by Joshua Knelman
As years pass and the value of art increases, so, too, does the lure of stealing it. Knelman spent five years immersed the world of art thieves, exploring their backgrounds and activities, as well as learning about the rare special investigators who specialize in foiling them. This book is the result of his research.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Before I found this book, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as “America’s strange flower-selling subculture.” Orlean follows eccentric John Laroche on his obsessive quest to clone an incredibly rare orchid. Where does the crime come in, you might ask? (I did.) Answer: from Laroche’s illegal attempts to poach orchids out of the Florida swamps, which led to his arrest. This story inspired the movie Adaptation.
The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales
Another case of unusual theft: When you think of a burglary ring, privileged teenagers might not come to mind. But during the Aughts, a group of Los Angeles teens used social media and TMZ to track the whereabouts of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan–and steal more than $3 million in valuables from them. Their crimes provided the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Emma Watson.