With so many true crime books published each year, selecting the next book to read can feel overwhelming. After all, there are only so many hours in the day. How’s a true crime obsessive supposed to track down and crack open the genre’s most powerful works? Not to worry. We here at The Lineup have conducted our own investigation—and assembled the best true crime books of 2019.
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This year saw a wide variety of true crime books hit the shelves. Among our favorites were gripping true-life narratives of identity theft, con artists, and a perplexing feather heist, of murders that weren’t and one of the most meticulous serial killers in American history, and revealing investigations into ripped-from-the-headlines cases. So settle in and prepare to update your true crime TBR list. Here are the best true crime books of 2019.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators
Ronan Farrow’s 2018 reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and significantly boosted the #MeToo movement. In Catch and Kill, the journalist reveals the tactics and maneuvering used by those in power to try to bury the story—tactics that are still used by predators to hide their abuses and cover up the truth. Catch and Kill is a real-life spy story of surveillance and intimidation; it’s also the story of brave survivors standing up against those who abuse and exploit them.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
Everyone knows the story of Lizzie Borden—or, at least, we think we do. When Borden was accused of murdering her parents in 1892—giving them “forty whacks,” as the nursery rhyme goes—she became the face of one of the most shocking murder cases in American history. Working from two decades of research, including trial transcripts, local accounts, and even newly unearthed letters written by Borden herself, author Cara Robertson explores not just the crime and the trial that followed, but what it says about American society then and now.
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide
The hosts of one of the most popular true crime podcasts around, My Favorite Murder, dig into everything from, well, their favorite murders, to their struggles with depression, eating disorders, the wonders of therapy, their deepest fears and biggest mistakes, and much more. According to Entertainment Weekly, this combo true crime/self-help/memoir book distills the popular podcast “into its most essential elements: Georgia and Karen. They lay themselves bare on the page, in all of their neuroses, triumphs, failures, and struggles.”
Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn’t
In 1989, JoAnn Parks’s house caught fire and her three children perished in the blaze. Though investigators initially thought faulty wiring caused the fire, they later concluded that it was actually the result of arson, and that JoAnn Parks had even gone so far as to barricade one of her children in a closet. Parks was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder. However, in the years since 1989, forensic science has advanced considerably. In 2011, an arson review panel determined that the fire was likely accidental after all. Still, JoAnn Parks remains in prison. In Burned, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes examines the evidence, the implications, and the repercussions of the case.
Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders
After years of work documenting unsolved cases, giving voices to victims and their families, Billy Jensen decided to make a change. It was spurred partially by a tragedy, the death of fellow true crime writer Michelle McNamara, whose true crime bestseller I’ll Be Gone in the Dark helped bring the Golden State Killer to justice. Billy knew he didn’t want to report on crimes; he wanted to help solve them. In this gripping book, you’ll hear accounts of some of his most harrowing investigations, and learn the tools and rules to help solve crack cases yourself.
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century
Described by one prosecutor as “a force of pure evil,” Israel Keyes was a serial killer who meticulously planned his murders ahead of time, even going so far as to bury “kill kits” years in advance. He took precautions to avoid detection. To this day, we aren’t sure how many victims he claimed before he was apprehended in 2012 and took his own life while being held in jail. In this New York Times bestseller, Maureen Callahan draws on years of research to paint a stark and terrifying portrait of a monstrous killer—and what the existence of such a killer means for society and for criminology.
The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity
When Axton Betz-Hamilton was 11 years old, her parents had their identities stolen. Yet this was just the beginning of the family's nightmare. They changed their names and moved to a new place, but the identity thief seemed to follow them. Soon, their lives were plagued by paranoia and uncertainty; the Betz-Hamiltons were convinced that the thief had to be someone close. In this tell-all book, Axton reveals the candid, shocking, and ultimately redemptive story of grappling with such an intimate crime, which led to her becoming a chief expert in the field of identity theft.
My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress
Rachel DeLoache Williams was a photo editor at Vanity Fair when she met Anna Delvey, a charming young woman who claimed to be a German heiress. The two soon struck up a friendship; Delvey picked up the tab on expensive dinners, drinks, and more. When Delvey proposed a lavish trip to Marrakech, Williams had no reason to be suspicious. That is, until Delvey’s credit cards stopped working. In a flash, Williams found herself $62,000 in debt, with her heiress friend promising to repay her as soon as they returned to New York. Instead, Williams ended up in the middle of an investigation that brought down a con artist—a story that she now tells herself in this first-hand account.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper. His identity remains a mystery, yet his nickname is synonymous with murder. Less well known are his five canonical victims, women whose lives were tragically cut short on the streets of Whitechapel in 1888. In her new book, historian Hallie Rubenhold sets the killer to the side and trains the spotlight on his victims, delivering a full portrait of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane, free from the misconceptions and moral scolding that so often plagued their lives and deaths.
Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America's Dad
On April 26, 2018, Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and assaulting a woman at his home. The high-profile case uncovered a starkly different version of the man once known to as “America’s Dad”—more than 60 women came forward accusing Cosby of similar crimes, and investigations indicated that he likely drugged and raped women for years. Nicole Weisensee Egan, a former senior writer at People magazine, was one of the first reporters to dig into the case after one of Cosby’s victims went to the authorities. Here, she lays out the entire case in clear—and chilling—detail.
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
Many true crime books focus on violent crimes, but The Feather Thief tells a rollicking and very different kind of crime story, even while it “contains many of the elements of a classic thriller,” according to NPR. While most of us may not know much about salmon fly-tying, for those who are active in the community, certain rare feathers can fetch an extraordinarily high price. This is what led twenty-year-old flautist Edwin Rist to steal hundreds of bird skins from a branch of the British Museum of Natural History after a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music. What followed was a strange and sometimes shocking worldwide investigation, which has now been captured in what the Christian Science Monitor called, “One of the most peculiar and memorable true crime books ever.”