As the year draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the true crime tales that had us obsessed in 2017. From mass murderer Jim Jones to the notorious Black Dahlia case, these true crime books offer compelling new theories, fascinating forgotten histories, and portraits of terror. These true crime books of 2017 may well be on their way to becoming modern classics of the genre.
The Road to Jonestown
From the author of Manson, the critically acclaimed biography of Charles Manson, comes a portrait of another seriously disturbed megalomaniac: Jim Jones. Guinn begins in the early days of Jones’ ministry in Indianapolis where he converted followers by preaching the benefits of Communism, through Jones’s dark evolution to cult leader, ending with mass murder. In November 1978, Jones convinced more than 900 of his followers to poison themselves with cyanide. Even more disturbing? A third of his victims were minors, including very young children.
The Fact of a Body
In this true crime memoir, lawyer Alexandria Marzano-Lesenvich’s obsession with one case leads her to investigate the crimes in her own family. As an intern at a Louisiana law firm she’s determined to see a convicted child murderer be put to death, despite the fact that she had been against the death penalty. As it turns out, Marzano-Lesnevich’s bloodlust is driven by secrets she’s held for years: sexual abuse at the hands of her own grandfather and a sister she never knew. Blending true crime and memoir, The Fact of a Body asks difficult questions about guilt, trauma, and bias.
The Man from the Train
Baseball statistician Bill James applies his keen eye for detail to the long-unsolved case of a serial killer who may have murdered upwards of a hundred people in the Midwest in the first two decades of the 20th century. Writing with his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, this true crime account gathers evidence from these diligent citizen investigators, putting forth a theory on the identity of the killer they call “the man from the train.”
Hesse’s true crime portrait of an arsonist and his fiancée was a favorite on summer reading lists in 2017 and earned Hesse a rave review from The New York Times. Charlie Smith is the arsonist at the center of the story, found guilty of 67 arsons in Accomack County, Virginia over the course of five months in 2012. But the facts of Smith’s guilt is the least fascinating part of this delightful read, which draws on the eccentricities of Smith and the bizarre crime of arson, giving it the feel of fiction.
Death in the Air
Though you might be familiar with the Great London Smog of 1952 and the crimes of serial killer John Reginald Christie, you might not realize these two events overlapped. Christie murdered six women under the cover of one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters. Dawson blends the harrowing events of that winter and the devastation that the smog and Christie wreaked upon the citizens of London.
Killers of the Flower Moon
A New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Finalist, David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon was one of the most critically-acclaimed true crime books of the year. In the 1920s, the Osage Indian Nation of Oklahoma was thriving, thanks to the oil that flowed underneath their land. But then the murders began. An investigator named J. Edgar Hoover with a new agency called the FBI put together an undercover team in order to solve the homicides, revealing a vast and bloody conspiracy to own the land that rightfully belonged to the Osage. Introducing new evidence in the case, Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles a crime that is as fascinating as it is devastating.
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes
In 1917, women didn’t even have the right to vote, but that didn’t stop Mrs. Grace Humiston from achieving her goals. She became a lawyer and opened a legal clinic to serve the low-income immigrant population of New York. As she worked with the immigrants, she followed, then solved the mysterious disappearance of an 18-year-old girl named Ruth Cruger, which had captivated the city. Nearly everyone else had tried to solve Cruger’s disappearance and failed. Humiston prevailed, leading her to become the first ever woman that served as consulting detective to the NYPD.
The Grim Sleeper
Investigative crime reporter Christine Pelisek broke the story in 2006 of a serial killer that plagued Los Angeles for decades. Known as the Grim Sleeper because of the 14-year-long break he took from his killing, the case was eventually solved and the killer brought to justice. Pelisek details the incredibly frustrating case, including all the social and political obstacles in Los Angeles that kept the Grim Sleeper at large for so long.
Black Dahlia, Red Rose
The 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia, is one of the most notorious unsolved murders in the history of American crime, mostly due to the brutality of the killing. Short was found on the side of the road in Los Angeles, her body cut in half, her face disfigured with a Glasgow smile. Piu Eatwell uses her background as a lawyer in this novelistic account of a violent crime that has produced endless theories and as many as 150 suspects ... yet still remains unsolved.
Related: Who Killed the Black Dahlia?
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