Three Must-Reads for True Crime Junkies


The culmination of years of obsessive research, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the opus of the late Michelle McNamara, a brilliant writer and host of her own true crime blog (True Crime Diary – another must read). An astonishingly comprehensive work, this book follows McNamara as she tracks the Golden State Killer (originally the infamous East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, or “EARONS”) on a crime spree throughout the state of California. Part investigative crime journalism, part love story (more on that in a sec), and part memoir, this book is a must read for anyone interested in true crime or true crime literature, because McNamara poured so much of herself into it. She delves into her own psyche and fascination with the brutal aspects of human nature and what she thinks that reveals about her. It is also part love story, for it chronicles how the work affected her home life and professional life, as well as the lessons she learned about her relationships with others and herself. These observations come intertwined with her own research into the horrific spree of crimes the GSK committed before disappearing into anonymity. Her dogged research helped keep interest in the case alive, and even though McNamara passed away tragically before the book was completed, her husband Patton Oswalt ensured its completion and publication.  Given the recent arrest of the suspected GSK, this book is even more pertinent.

Why You Need to Read It:: Anyone interested in true crime, true crime literature, or writing in general needs to read this book, because it offers rare insight into the all consuming nature of writing and research. McNamara navigates her self-admitted obsession, her family life, and professional life in brilliantly crafted prose that keeps you engrossed in her quest to the very last page. By the end, you feel as if McNamara is a close friend, and you feel what she feels. A great story, a great read, and all around great work. This book deserves to be read and reread for years to come.

Get it here.


Decades of television programming have exposed us to the field of forensic science and have, to some extent, given us an expectation of extreme accuracy (if not near infalliability). By and large, forensic science is an ethical, research-driven field that helps to solve crimes and convict those responsible. However, that same science can be misused and erroneously applied or even corrupted to fit the needs of the system. In Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington trace the meteoric careers of two forensic “experts” in Mississippi who took advantage of gaps in the system to personally enrich themselves, often at the expense of the innocent. Balko and Carrington trace not only the careers of the formally-educated medical examiner, Dr. Steven Hayne, and the self-styled forensic expert, Dr. Michael West (who lacked any such formal forensic training), they also trace some of the lives destroyed through the pair’s often dubious testimony and the breakdown of a system struggling to balance justice and economy in one of the poorest regions of America. Meticulously researched, extremely well written, this book will most likely have you enraged and yelling at the page, and it will likely challenge the belief of many in capital punishment and the  legal system as a whole.

Why You Need to Read It:This book is, in many ways, investigative journalism at its finest. The authors are quick to acknowledge that not all of the testimony given by these experts was flawed, and do not necessarily portray either of them as “evil” men who seek to profit from the blood of the innocent. Rather, before diving headfirst into the gray, they acknowledge that the world is not black and white. Dr. Steven Hayne, for example, provided a much needed service by performing autopsies in a state that could largely not afford them. An honorable (although of somewhat questionable) goal, this book follows his career as it slips away from the science into the politics of our legal system. My husband, a staunch capital punishment advocate, came away from this book enraged at the egregious treatment of these victims and the refusal of the system to correct the wrongs it had perpetrated. This book is a MUST for understanding our legal system, and how the cliché that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions has more than just a decent basis in reality.

Pick up your copy here.


The memoir of a young woman working on a the defense of a convicted murderer and child molester, this book is another that will challenge your thoughts on the criminal justice system. Follow along with Marsano-Lesnevich as she struggles with the her own moral compass and with the weight of her traumatizing past. The child of attorneys, her view on the death penalty, at first steadfastly against it, begins to waiver back and forth. She comes to realize that often the dead are not the only victims of violent crime, and that the system tasked with convicting killers instead often masks or creates them. Well-written and visceral, this is another must read for any true crime junkie.

Why You Need to Read It: This book, like Balko and Carrington’s, will force you to examine your own views on life, death, and justice, and to explore how circumstances can put one on either side of the criminal justice system. The well-crafted narrative can help any aspiring writer understand how to effectively connect with the reader through more than mere memoir.

Get your copy here.

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